Chapter participation and integration is enhanced through effective marketing.
Why & How Should Chapters Communicate?
Communication is a vital management component to any organization. Whether the purpose is to update Chapter Members on newly available resources, to prepare for an upcoming event, or to survey the interests of Chapter Members, effective communication is an integral issue in effective management.
Therefore, Chapters with policies and strategies for communicating with their members and stakeholders as well as with the community at large, are better prepared for success. The following communication topics are discussed in this section:
- The impact of communication on the Chapter and its members.
- Building an effective communication strategy.
- The constituencies affected by Chapter communications.
- Measuring results.
- Selecting the appropriate audience for each type of message.
- The types of communication methods used in Chapters.
Specifics to marketing activities and brand development and management are covered in the next section.
Effective communication may contribute to Chapter success in many ways. It can maintain engagement with Chapter Members, families, partners, and allies. It builds satisfaction and loyalty with the Chapter and encourages participation in programming and events. It educates the spectrum of those with whom the Chapter engages on the assets and capabilities present within student veterans. Communication offers the opportunity to check assumptions and lessens the chances for misunderstandings, reducing issues for the Chapter.
Communication makes for greater efficiencies and improves the effectiveness of your programming. There are many other benefits, but the bottom line is that effective communication is a key component to success. Ineffective communication may increase the chances for misunderstandings and damage relationships. It may stem from a poorly aligned strategy, a failure to execute the strategy, use of the wrong communication method, bad timing, or even nuances such as word choice or tone of voice.
Chapter Leaders may initially think of communication mainly in the context of delivering messages to Chapter Members regarding resources or events, to university administrators regarding issues facing student veterans, or to donors regarding opportunities to support the Chapter. However, two-way communication plays an essential role in a comprehensive communication strategy.
When constituencies provide feedback Chapter Leaders truly hear, Chapters are better aligned with members, families, partners, and allies for success. Chapter Leaders can learn through listening about potential issues or concerns before they become realized. Being able to provide feedback also encourages member participation throughout the Chapter.
To develop a communication strategy, Chapter Officers should begin by linking communication to the strategic plan, including the organization’s mission and value; its strategic goals and objectives; and its brand, discussed below. Effective communication strategies are incredibly important in that they establish credibility, legitimacy, loyalty, and trust.
They maintain consistency to establish a strong Chapter brand. They incorporate feedback from Chapter Members and allies as much as Chapter Officers and partners. Finally, they assist Chapter Leaders in serving the Chapter by providing the tools to maintain open and effective communication.
A Chapter communication strategy is often aligned with both the college or university and National Headquarters. This ensures the weight of both are behind the Chapter. It includes a budget that allows for the use of various types of communication methods depending on the message to be delivered and any unique issues associated with it, a method for generating feedback and using it to shape follow-up messages, and a customized delivery approach unique to each Chapter with communication materials that are easy to understand and that meet constituencies where they are.
The Chapter President and other Chapter Officers have the ultimate responsibility for setting the tone and establishing organizational culture, while Chapter Members have a responsibility to voice concerns and issues, provide feedback, and listen effectively.
External communications, including public and community relations, may also be a part of a Chapter’s communication strategy.
While measuring and quantifying results of communication plans are beneficial, this goal is difficult to accomplish. Given the elusive nature of communication data, determining a cost-benefit ratio, for example, may be challenging. Despite the difficulty of doing so, Chapters should brainstorm tactics for collecting information to evaluate communication efforts.
The Vice President of Communications and Marketing could collect anecdotal evidence that Chapter Members responded well to distributed information regarding a new campus resource. They may also collect attendance numbers for Chapter meetings to understand how various communications brought in membership.
Identifying a message’s audience is a key task in ensuring effective communication. What is the ideal audience for a particular communication? The audience may include everyone who influences or is influenced by the information being shared. For the most effective communication, audience size must also be appropriate given the information being shared and whether interaction will be permitted. If a Chapter anticipates that Chapter Members will have several questions regarding a new campus resource, for example, audience size should be limited so that questions can be adequately addressed.
Communicating “up.” While much of a Chapter’s communication strategy is focused on imparting Chapter information to Chapter Members, another central component is ensuring the Chapter has a voice on campus and with university administration.
Geographically dispersed audience. Many Chapters are members of satellite campuses or are integrated with other Chapters from the same university system. It is important to recognize these challenges and create opportunities for collaborative messaging while still understanding that certain communications should be tailored to one campus’ Chapter.
Diversity and global issues. Chapter Members are often very intersectional in their identities, embodying many dimensions of diversity: age, disability, ethnicity/national origin, gender and race, for example. Although all are, understand, or support student veterans, these intersectional identities may bring different perceptions and expectations when giving or receiving information, and these differences should be considered when developing messages to a broad audience.
Approaches and media. One of the major challenges in developing and executing communication plans is to select the best medium for delivering messages both internally and externally. When selecting the best communication medium, Chapter Leaders may consider factors such as timing, location, and message. The timing of the information may be imperative, such as in emergency situations (i.e., issues on campus or immediate changes to resources or VA education benefits that directly impact members). Chapter Members’ locations may affect this selection. Are all Chapter Members on one campus or at multiple sites? Message is driven by Chapter and campus culture.
Chapter Leaders have many options for communications mediums, including newsletters, town hall meetings, e-mails, surveys, stories, social media, messaging apps, a post on campus, and others. Newsletters are used to communicate new information about the Chapter, its events and services, and its members. Newsletters today are generally delivered electronically, though some are mailed, and may be published on a regular basis—whether weekly, monthly, quarterly—or whenever the Chapter has news to report.
Town hall meetings are an option to gather the Chapter together to share news, celebrate successes or communicate impactful information, that should be done in-person. These meetings are most effective when Chapter Members are physically located in one geographic area. Alternatively, town hall meetings may be held electronically via teleconferencing services for those whose members are geographically dispersed.
Electronic communication is a fast and easy way to reach many Chapter Members at once. It may be best used when information is important, such as in changes in VA Benefits. E-mail communication presents some difficulties because tone of voice and inflection are absent, making an ironic or sarcastic remark appear rude or harsh, which may not be the intended message.
Two-way communication is vital to any effective communication strategy and developing formal tactics to listen to Chapter Members is essential. Chapter Leaders can elicit fast feedback through surveys and polls about specific issues, such as event or programming ideas, or general concerns.
Storytelling creates a picture through words so that the message becomes memorable. Storytelling can be used as a powerful tool to impart Chapter culture, to create a Chapter brand, and to build trust and loyalty among Chapter Members and partners.
Social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook have become ubiquitous on campus, for personal updates, and as an organizational communication tool. Social media can help spread news about the Chapter or capture new members by affiliating with the larger university social media account.
Messaging applications such as SMS texting, Facebook Messenger, GroupMe, and WhatsApp are excellent options to coordinate with one or more Chapter Members. Campuses with a centralized office for student veterans and military-connected students may have a place to post Chapter communications. If not managed by Chapter Leaders, permission should be granted before posting Chapter information.
Types of messages. The type of message sent is a major factor in choosing the appropriate communication channel. General Chapter updates may be communicated through newsletters, e-mails or town hall meetings or in small group huddles. Chapter Leaders should consider using several different means to announce and update Chapter Members when the Chapter is facing challenges or when impactful information needs to be communicated to everyone.
Before Chapter Leaders tell the world about the Chapter, it is important to think about key messages. These talking points can help guide conversations with potential members, reporters, community partners, university administration, etc. All Chapter Officers—and even Chapter Leaders or Members— should have these talking points for reference, as each reflects the Chapter’s brand and can be a spokesperson for the Chapter at any time.
Chapter talking points can begin with the Chapter mission statement or value proposition, and can be backed up by data from the Chapter’s performance (e.g., number and types of events), member academics (i.e., average GPA, graduation rate, common majors), or even information from National Headquarters research, such as NVEST.
National Headquarters maintains a social media presence on behalf of the SVA network.
In addition to the platforms above, SVA maintains a Chapter Leader Forum Facebook group and the SVA Professional Development Community on LinkedIn.
Social media is a great way to market a Chapter, and Chapter Officers are encouraged to create a social media presence, if one does not already exist. Generally speaking, social media content performs better if it contains both graphic(s) and text. Candid photos of members in action, volunteering, trying new activities, etc. are often the most interesting ones to share. Tagging other student groups, partners, donors, the university, or others can amplify a message, gaining engagement.
Twitter Best Practices
Best practices for Twitter recommend at least one tweet per day, but more daily tweets and retweets are encouraged for higher engagement. Twitter only allows 280 characters to tell a full story and less if a photo or link is included. One to three hashtags at the end of each tweet is good practice to track engagements on specific topics. One common tweet for Chapters, particularly during regional or national events, is #SVALeads. Tagging the university, partner organizations, or individuals increases engagement and impact. Retweets are a great way to spread the word about @studentvets updates in real time. Add a new piece of information to the retweet. The ‘quote’ retweet option is a great way to expand upon the story in a tweet, integrate hashtags and messaging that may have been left out.
Best practices for Facebook recommend posting three to four times per week. Hashtags integrated to posts increase engagement and create a thread that’s easy to search. When posting articles from a public page, the link photo can be changed if it is inappropriate for the post. Changing the photo drastically increases the visual appeal of posts.
Instagram posts serve a direct purpose of sharing a Chapter’s a narrative through images. Real photos of Chapter Members will lead to the most engagement. To contribute to the wider story of student veterans, Instagram posts can tag @studentvets. The text that accompanies Instagram posts is generally kept brief, but hashtags are used extensively to extend the reach of the post. Because Instagram focuses on images, higher quality photos are the standard.
There are certain times of year that Chapters as well as National Headquarters are most likely to generate more attention and engagement with their communications efforts. Stronger messaging and communications efforts during these times are often picked up and shared more. These times include Veterans Day, September 11, Memorial Day, graduation (including terms beyond spring), and back-to-school (generally reserved for the fall term).
For big accomplishments, events, fundraisers, or milestones, issuing a press release may be an effective way to reach local reporters and communicate the student veteran story. A sample press release is available here.
National Headquarters is always looking for great content from Chapters and communities to share with our larger audience, including government officials and partners. SVA logos and t-shirts in Chapter photos with #SVALeads on social media, whenever possible. Chapter Leaders are encouraged to share success stories regarding the Chapter or individual members representing the Chapter. These stories can be sent to [email protected].