The Ultimate Social Media Engagement Tool: Free Tuition

Idaho State University wants students and fans to be engaged with their social media channels, so they thought they’d run a contest. How about a year of free tuition and fees? The Ultimate Bengal Challenge for ultimate social media engagement. Too wild to believe? Check out the YouTube video introduction here


The Ultimate Bengal Challenge website. See it at
The Ultimate Bengal Challenge website. See it at

There are some simple rules to the contest, and it is open to current students, entering freshmen, and pretty much anyone over 16. Entrants can win the scholarship for themselves or win it for someone else. In order to be eligible, contestants first have to like the contest Facebook page to get the rest of the details revealed. Entrants win points by following the school’s social media accounts and then gain points by sharing the promotion socially with others.

Screen shot from the ISU Facebook page
Screen shot from the ISU Facebook page

The contest is housed mainly on the university’s Facebook page and was the brain child of ISU’s University Social Media Committee. Stuart Summers, Director of Marketing and Recruitment for the Idaho State University College of Technology, is head of that committee. I asked him to answer a few questions about the promotion. First, I wanted to know how the committee operates.

Currently, the strategic plan for social media is developed by a team of university professionals from all over campus. Our backgrounds and jobs at ISU vary from development and marketing to recruitment and photography.  The 12 member committee was organized last year under the direction of the Vice President for Advancement.  Our initial goal was to make improvements to existing efforts and increase traffic on ISU’s social media platforms.

Summers went on to explain the origin of the promotion.

The Ultimate Bengal Scholarship Challenge was a collaborative idea developed during one of the first social media committee meetings.  The group was comparing ISU’s “social media footprint” to other peer institutions, and we were trying to come up with ways to increase our followers and likes.  Everyone in the group is very connected on social media, and we all immediately knew that we needed to come up with a promotion that would attract a lot of attention.  The idea was tossed out to the group to give away one year of tuition.  We knew we could probably go one step further, and from there, the Ultimate Bengal promotion grew to include everything needed to go to school for a year.  We are thrilled to be able to award more than $13,000 of college assistance to one person.  It truly is the ultimate scholarship that is already causing a lot of positive reaction on campus. 

I would think a year of free college would cause a lot of positive reaction. But what is ISU hoping to gain? Summers discussed the promotion’s goals:

The goals of this promotion are quite simple.  We primarily want to increase traffic on our platforms, generate interest from prospective students, and build excitement with our current students.  Our goals are more focused on qualitative results versus quantitative numbers.  Sure, we also want to increase our “footprint” on social media and grow the numbers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but it goes beyond that.  We will consider this promotion a huge success if we see a lot of excitement and buzz around the community to become the Ultimate Bengal.

One of the dangers of a promotion of this type is that a flurry of engagement in the short run could result in a lack of long-term interest. Summers talked about what was next for the committee.

We have a very thorough marketing plan that is focused on keeping our engagement active after the conclusion of Ultimate Bengal.  Our engagement with social media constituents will not end on April 25.  We have other promotions that will be rolling out immediately after Ultimate Bengal to keep the online excitement alive.  We want people to know and realize that ISU is making a serious investment of time and resources in social media.  Our university understands that prospective students, current students, alumni, and the community as a whole are using social media as the main source to gather information and engage with one another.  We want to be in that sphere.  ISU will be working hard over the next four months to create meaningful dialogue with our followers and hopefully build lifetime loyalty.  We have a very strategic approach to both the number and types of posts that are being disseminated on a daily and weekly basis.  We’ve taken four months to carefully craft this promotion to ensure it will be successful.

I asked Summers about the logistics, legalities, and amount of time it took to pull this off.

It took us about two full months of working with our legal department to draft the official rules of the contest.  The conversations also involved representatives from the financial aid office.  In drafting the terms and conditions, we wanted to make sure that the entire process was clearly defined for anyone entering the contest.  The scholarship is valued at more than $13,000 and involves a lot of departments and units from across our campus.  It was important to make sure that all concerns were addressed before any announcement about the promotion was made.  We also have the full support and backing of our president.  He is excited to see ISU proactively moving forward to engage with constituents on social media.  As far as we are aware, ISU is the only school that has ever attempted a promotion of this kind on social media.
This is not something that can be developed overnight or in a few days.  The Ultimate Bengal promotion has taken a team of talented professionals more than four months to successfully pull together.  We have great support from administration, which has been important every step of the way.  If another school was looking to make an attempt at a similar campaign, the first thing I would encourage them to do is sit down and evaluate their current social media efforts.  We spent almost an entire month diving into analytics, evaluating the engagement of our current posts, and looking at immediate ways to improve existing content.
The contest runs until April 25. Know somebody who wants to go to college? I know where you can get a year’s tuition for free. What do you think?