Student Participation

This section highlights both outreach strategies used to promote the Big Ideas contest to potential student applicants and the materials used to advertise the Contest. For information about outreach to prospective mentors, judges, and sponsors, see the chapters on Mentorship, Judging, and Funding & Partnerships, respectively.

outreachStudents are inundated with information on opportunities to participate in campus life activities. Creating interest  around an innovation contest amidst many competing opportunities is no small feat. As a result, Big Ideas uses a variety of strategies to maximize outreach opportunities. These strategies include face-to-face efforts (e.g., tabling, class announcements), indirect efforts (e.g., informing academic advisors of the Contest), and use of social media. Outlined below are the strategies that were used in the last few years and comments on their effectiveness:

Primary Outreach Efforts

Email Campaigns: Big Ideas finds that email campaigns are the most effective way to encourage student participation and thus conducts a robust email effort in the first half of the contest. Typically, three types of emails are sent out before the pre-proposal deadline:

  • Big Ideas issues a monthly newsletter that provides information on contest deadlines, alumni updates, upcoming events, and additional opportunities for social innovators. All student participants, judges and mentors, and alumni are subscribed to the list. Others can also sign up via the Big Ideas website or at a Big Ideas event.
  • General contest promotional emails are sent to a wide audience including undergraduate and graduate academic departments, campus centers, and innovation, research, and entrepreneurial networks. The content of these emails focus on general contest information, prize amounts, deadlines, and upcoming information sessions.
  • Category-specific emails are tailored to academic departments, classes and professors, and student groups. They provide an overview of the category requirements and a few examples of winning projects, in addition to contest information, prize amounts, deadlines, and information sessions. Big Ideas has found these emails to be particularly effective in driving interest around the contest.

The Final Round requires far less contest promotion, as participants are selected through the existing pool of Pre-proposal applicants. Email reminders are sent out to encourage participation in additional contest opportunities such as the People’s Choice Video Contest, and at end of the year events such as Grand Prize Pitch Day and the Awards Celebration.

Word of Mouth: A quarter of all Big Ideas applicants reported that they heard about the contest through a friend or colleague. After 10 years, Big Ideas benefits from an extensive network of alumni, professors, and other social impact leaders able to spread the word about the contest. This type of outreach is more difficult for a newer contest to build, but contest staff can still build strong partnerships with academic and student leaders to help spread the word. Continuing to engage contest alumni by including them on a newsletter distribution list, or announcing kickoff information via email, will also encourage them to spread the word.

Posters: Posters are the next most effective way to reach students. They are regularly posted across the UC Berkeley and other participating campuses. Some of these posters are generic and are applicable to any department, some advertise particular Contest categories, and some are targeted to students in particular departments. The following types of posters are designed each Contest year:

  • Once the fall semester begins, Contest Kickoff Posters are put up across campuses announcing the start of the Contest, this year’s categories, and the Pre-proposal deadline.
  • Category Posters are printed with specific category descriptions and targeted at the areas on campus that specifically tie in with that category. For example, Art & Social Change Category posters are posted in the Art, Film, Architecture, Political Science, Sociology, and Peace and Conflicts Studies departments.
  • Event Posters also advertise upcoming information sessions and writing workshops for students interested in participating.

Secondary Outreach Efforts

Press Releases and News Articles: At the beginning of each Pre-proposal application period, Big Ideas puts together a press release that kicks off the contest, advertised through its blog. This article typically contains general contest information and is posted on the front page of the UC Berkeley news website. Newspaper advertisements are also run in UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian. In the second half of the contest year, Big Ideas articles typically highlight the finalists participating in Grand Prize Pitch Day, and document the full list of winners from the year. The Big Ideas blog also frequently features past winner updates that are advertised through its newsletter.

Classroom announcements: Big Ideas staff make classroom announcements when the Contest has started. This strategy is effective especially if there is a category relevant to the class material or subject, or if the class is project or research-based. Professors can also be encouraged to integrate some of their deliverables with Big Ideas requirements to allow for students’ ease of participation.

awards

Events & Tabling: At the beginning of the year, Big Ideas identifies major upcoming events that are likely to draw large numbers of students interested in international development, social impact, innovation, or entrepreneurship. Big Ideas has made event announcements at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Expo, Launch Startup Expo, Berkeley Festival of Ideas, Haas Food Entrepreneur Event, and Clinton Global Initiative University Events. To raise more visibility amongst Berkeley’s general student population, Big Ideas also set up tables at the UC Berkeley’s summer student orientation, welcome week activities, and prospective student days. Big Ideas also takes advantage of events and workshops hosted by the Blum Center (which typically draws a large global development-focused student body) to further market contest participation.

Social Media Outreach Efforts: Evaluation results indicate that very few students learn about Big Ideas from social media sites. However, it is likely that students who first learn about Big Ideas from their advisors, advertisements, or by other means join Big Ideas social media networks to gain additional information and stay informed about the Contest. Social media platforms are especially useful for finalists or winners looking to advertise their success to their classmates and friends, and shares/retweets are common on Facebook and Twitter platforms.

Big Ideas created a Facebook page where staff post information about upcoming events (e.g., writing workshops, information sessions, etc.) and post pictures from these events. The cover photo on the Facebook group page serves as a page billboard, advertising and alerting group members to upcoming deadlines. Big Ideas social media staff change the cover photos weekly to ensure that the Big Ideas group is frequently seen in group members’ news feeds. Big Ideas has also tried creating event pages to encourage attendance at events, without much success. Big Ideas created a Twitter page where Big Ideas staff tweet about upcoming events or share interesting updates from past winners.

LinkedIn: Big Ideas created a LinkedIn group in an effort to stay connected with past winners, however, LinkedIn is typically a less popular social network for students, and therefore less effective. Without an incentive to keep Big Ideas alumni engaged, it is also difficult for an online social network to remain relevant to teams after they leave the competition.

Vimeo/YouTube: Vimeo and YouTube are mostly used to house the People’s Choice Contest Video submissions. By posting the videos on these sites, Big Ideas hopes members of their social media networks will like and share videos, thereby raising awareness about and promoting the Contest.

T-Shirts & Giveaways: Big Ideas orders t-shirts each year to hand out at Big Ideas events (such as writing workshops and information sessions). T-shirts serve as mobile billboards: When students and staff wear them, they advertise Big Ideas to other students and increase brand awareness. The same goes for tote bags, pens, etc.

Tips

  • Timing is key. Especially for a contest that coordinates across 16 universities, scheduling outreach, events, and deadlines with consideration to the various academic calendars can be tricky. Be sure to ensure application deadlines straddle finals weeks between semester and quarter-school systems, and that contest promotion is strategically timed.
  • Tailor messaging to your audience. The 2015-2016 contest saw an increase in applications by 37%, largely the result of targeted messaging to specific departments and student groups on campus aligned with that year’s categories, and advertisements at other high-profile socially focused contests on campus. (e.g. Emails sent to the UC Berkeley Center for Neglected Diseases highlighting the “Global Health” category.)
  • Use personal contacts. Big Ideas staff can tap into their respective classmate, colleague, and friend networks to spread the word, especially on remotely-based campuses. This has been an effective means of tapping into more development or entrepreneurship-focused student populations.
  • Do not hesitate to send frequent reminders. Given the extensive amount of mail that flood into students’ inboxes each day, Big Ideas has found that there are never too many reminders detailing information related to contest participation or deadlines.
  • Get on as many people’s radars as possible. As word of mouth is one of the most effective ways of garnering attention around Big Ideas, it is important to constantly be pitching and advertising the contest to individuals who may not always seem to be the most interested parties.

Tools

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