#MarjonTogether: The stories behind the hashtag

hashtag in a heartWhat makes a popular hashtag? It’s really simple – if it means something to people it gets used. I’m going to share the story of a hashtag that connects the Marjon community while we are apart. The hero of our story is #MarjonTogether.

In the past two months, since the lockdown, we’ve had some incredible weeks on social media. The first week we saw numbers like never before as people looked online for answers and reassurance. We could see people connecting on Twitter, evoking a sense of community, so we created #MarjonTogether in the hope that it would help. Here is its first ever outing:

That first week we posted updates on the evolving situation and tips for adjusting to online teaching. We had fabulous positive feedback on our posts, for example “This is probably the best post I’ve seen all day, typical Marjon, always supporting their students” and “Well done Marjon, leading the way again”. The credit for this goes to fast updates from the senior team as well as to every staff member who responded with care to student questions. No carefully crafted tweet could ever elicit this response if things had been wrong elsewhere.

I’m seeing a pattern amongst universities on social media since the lockdown where some are feeling the love from their followers and others are feeling the backlash. I’m not saying that Marjon gets it right all the time but we are focused on listening and responding. There are close relationships between staff and students, as well as effective comms channels like Chatback where students can give anonymous feedback and Marbot, a chatbot which went live two weeks into the lockdown to give students and applicants quick answers to their questions. The result is that conversations on our socials are mostly very positive. Sometimes they are just lovely, like this direct message from an applicant’s Dad:

“In normal circumstances my daughter would’ve been sitting her A levels next month… She was absolutely gutted at the news that exams were cancelled and colleges closed. We were both heartbroken, literally. She had her heart set on coming to Marjon ever since we visited and she has worked so so hard like others to fulfil her dream. I’m getting in contact to let you know the impact you guys have had since receiving the unconditional offer. My daughter is over the moon, never seen her so happy and I just wanted to thank all of you at Marjon. We have visited twice in the last six months and I couldn’t envisage her being at any other uni. I’m so grateful that you have removed the stress and anxiety away it really really means a lot! Thank you, totally amazing and really showed the family values.”

As the lockdown has progressed the nature of our social media content had to adapt. We’re now running a mix of support, entertainment, messages from staff and students, as well as stories about the amazing things Marjon folks are doing. We’re mindful of striking the right balance, remembering that while some people are happy enough, others are having a heartbreaking or really stressful time. In these times #MarjonTogether is a short cut to find positivity and reassurance.

We’re seeing good engagement with our socials, so much so that it can be hard to keep up with creating enough content. A post that takes a couple of minutes to view can take hours to put together. Luckily the Marjon community has rallied around to help, I’ve had amazing help from Dan Grindrod on videos, Alex De Tisi in the VC’s virtual office and journalism student Jack Horswell have been writing, whilst Laura Butler launched our Instagram takeovers. I’d call that #MarjonTogether in action!

#MarjonTogether started to encourage photo sharing, but then organically grew to encompass so much more. Last week it was attached to lots of posts about the 5K challenge. The students set the staff a challenge to walk, run or ride 5K and then donate £5 to a charity that supports key workers. 56 staff members responded and together we raised at least £300 for charity. Everyone sent in a photo of their 5K and we put them together into a video, to a great response from students. One student tweeted: “Almost all of my lecturers are in this lil video and it makes me so thankful and proud to be part of such a fantastic Marjon family”. Another student simply tweeted this:

Thanks to staff and students authors we’ve also added 30 new posts to the Team Marjon blog since the start of lockdown. This is same number as we added in the whole of 2019. They span diverse topics but my favourites are the personal experiences. These take me to places I might never otherwise go and I think it is brave of the writers to open up their personal stories to ultimately help others. Through the blog we can share thoughts while we are apart and introduce our applicants to Marjon.

I’ve saved my favourite story until last. To me it perfectly captures the famous Marjon sense of community, and how we are staying strong together in these times. I hope you like it too…

It starts with a comment on Facebook. Someone complained that an unnamed lecturer wasn’t responding to a student. I’d never seen that before because Marjon lecturers pride themselves in looking out for their students. I looked up the person on our systems but there wasn’t anyone with that surname. I wanted to help but there wasn’t much to go on.

The comment also thanked another lecturer for being exceptionally helpful so I got in touch with him. He didn’t know the person, he asked some colleagues but still no luck. I started a conversation with the person over direct message. It turned out that she was the mum of a student but she wouldn’t tell me her daughter’s name. I explained we wanted to help but I guess she was worried she’d get her daughter into trouble (she wouldn’t!). We still didn’t have a name.

She did tell me which lecturer she was unhappy with so I got in touch with him. He was concerned (and gutted) and even though he didn’t have much to go on he double checked his class lists and checked back through his emails in case he’d missed one. No luck. It was frustrating because we knew help was readily available, if only we knew who needed it.

But the lecturers weren’t done yet. Next they looked at the mum’s Facebook page and they found a photo of their student. Yay, we knew who it was and we could help her!

The lecturer checked his emails again but he’d not missed anything from this student and had been in contact with her several times that week. He was puzzled so to be sure that the student was OK he asked her Personal Development Tutor to check-in with her to ask how things were going.

Marjon lecturers tracked down one student out of hundreds and they did so because they care; and that is the story behind the #MarjonTogether hashtag.

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