Jason Boucher

Welcome back to the #HESM Community blog. We recently spoke to Liz Harter, social media manager at Notre Dame University about COVID, its effect on the South Bend, Indiana campus, and how Notre Dame used social media and video to connect with the student body to help answer big questions and provide information during the pandemic.

I hope everyone at Notre Dame is well and staying healthy and safe and as we try to come out of this pandemic. How has COVID affected Notre Dame’s in-person classes, athletics, and campus life over the last academic year?

Liz Harter: We actually returned to classes in-person and full capacity in Fall 2020. A strong residential campus experience is one that we value greatly at Notre Dame and being in-person is key to that, so we mounted a huge return to campus campaign to share important information, and health and safety protocols – the HERE campaign. Classes began August 10 and we were off and running!

Obviously, COVID impacted quite a bit of the usual on-campus experience but students, faculty and staff were still able to attend football games (including our much needed for morale double overtime win against Clemson in the regular season), and our Student Activities Office and Student Affairs teams did an incredible job putting together safe activities for students from fall festivals and spring carnivals, to cookies and canvas painting on the quads and movies in the Stadium.

We also transformed some of our outdoor spaces into Library & South Lawns complete with Adirondack chairs, fire pits and twinkle lights to give students a cool place to hangout safely outside and then – because we DO live in Northern Indiana where we get to enjoy lake effect snow and polar vortexes – we opened South & North Lodges, two structures we put up on the quads to provide some more safe indoor spaces to ride out the winter. North Lodge was pretty cool with an art/coffee house vibe, but I loved South Lodge’s ski lodge feel.

I enjoyed you video series, One Big Question. Can you tell me what it’s all about? 

Liz Harter: One Big Question (OBQ) was a video series we launched for the Spring 2021 semester in our weekly COVID info and FAQ email newsletter and that found a home on social media. It was hosted by Fr. Pete McCormick, our director of Campus Ministry and a much beloved figure on campus, and Lynnette Wukie ’21, who served as our first female Notre Dame Leprechaun, and answered – like it says – One Big Question each week.

How did this idea come together and how often does One Big Question occur?

Liz Harter: It kind of all started with Instagram Stories Q&As. We launched a question in July 2020 to answer students pressing questions as they looked at coming back to campus for the year and received 597 questions in 7 hours. After my boss, Andy Fuller, Director of Strategic Content, and Staci Stickovich, the Marketing Program Manager for the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on campus (who joined our team to help us out with social media last year), and I spent the day running around finding answers we realized there was a real need to continue this service to campus and launched a twice-weekly Instagram Q&A series throughout the Fall semester.

When we were coming back for Spring 2021, our HERE campaign team was looking for ways to answer some of the FAQs in a different way and came up with the idea of having Fr. Pete and Lynnette “seek out” the answers to these big questions to get answers from administrators. A lot of the questions were sourced from questions we saw over and over again in our Q&As, but also from our COVID Response Unit and virtual town halls. Guests included Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., our University president, Melissa Stephens, the assistant director of the Genomics and Bioinformatics Core Facility who established our on-campus saliva testing lab, Dr. Mark Fox, the Deputy Health for St. Joseph County (where we’re located), and, of course, other students.

What does Notre Dame hope this campaign will accomplish, or did it already?

Liz Harter: One of our main goals of the HERE campaign overall and the One Big Question portion of it was to keep students informed and safe on campus while also answering their questions and being as transparent as possible about the decision making process.

I’ll never forget the moment I took for myself at this year’s Commencement standing overlooking the crowd of masked guests but unmasked graduating seniors sitting on the field of Notre Dame Stadium. To be completely honest, if you’d have asked me in September (or October … or sometimes February) if I thought we’d have made it to that moment I would have told you no, but we did – and with 90% of our student body already vaccinated at that moment and the vast majority of our classes having been in person for the entire year! So, yes, I think the campaign accomplished its goals.

Would you consider this video campaign a success?

Liz Harter: Yes. Aside from getting through the full year on campus and hosting a great mini-Senior Week celebration and Commencement Weekend for our Class of 2021, the numbers and decrease in repeat questions in our Instagram Q&As showed that our message was hitting the intended audience and making an impact. Additionally the series had 600,000+ impressions and 104,000 views across our social media platforms.

How did you promote this and what was the response from students? Parents?

Liz Harter: Like I mentioned, the two primary avenues for OBQ was our weekly COVID info newsletter to students, faculty and staff, and our social media accounts. We shared all of the One Big Questions on Instagram where we know our audience is primarily students, and most on Twitter which is more of a catchall for overlapping audiences. We shared some of them on Facebook, as well, when we knew it was a hot topic (vaccine requirements or supplemental surveillance testing) or larger messages we wanted to send to parents or the ND family as a whole based on campus feedback and social listening.

The response was mixed among students, as was nearly anything we posted last year, but we saw parents positively sharing the pieces in parent-focused FB groups to get the word out.

Do you see One Big Question coming back in the fall?

Liz Harter: One of our talented hosts, Lynnette, actually graduated this May (congratulations Lynnette!) so “OBQ with Fr. Pete and Lynnette” is no more as of right now. We’ve also sun-setted the HERE campaign after commencement with an eye towards a much more normal on-campus experience this Fall. I never say never, but I think the video aspect of the campaign is over, though I hope to keep the Instagram Q&As around.

About Liz Harter:

Liz Harter is the social media manager at the University of Notre Dame working in the Strategic Content department, the University’s primary storytelling unit in the Office of Public Affairs and Communications. Serving as the social media manager since 2013, she serves as the voice behind the institution’s flagship social media accounts and consults on strategy with others both on campus and off. Liz is passionate about social media and helping brands project their best selves on new media platforms. With a background in journalism and public relations, she is, at heart, a storyteller – though the stories are often told in 280-characters or less now. Follow Liz on Twitter at @EAHarter.