Twitter Tips from the Education Dept: Don't Try to be 'the Cool Mom'

Ivelin Radkov/

FAFSA’s team is known for its social engagement and its ability to leverage prominent hashtags, like yesterday’s #Maythe4thbewithyou.

Last week, the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid tweeted a response to dozens of prospective college students who had sarcastically asked via Twitter if the agency might loan them money to buy tickets to a Drake concert.

Most official social media accounts – corporate or federal – would ignore such questions. But FAFSA’s four-person team is known for its social engagement and its ability to leverage prominent hashtags, like yesterday’s Star Wars-inspired #Maythe4thbewithyou.

Engaging with prospective college students through social media is a key part of FAFSA’s customer experience strategy, according to Nicole Callahan, digital engagement strategist at FAFSA.

“Don’t try to be like the ‘cool mom,’ but use your channels,” she said.

The Drake tweet, she said, went “mini-viral,” earning nearly 200 retweets and likes. While it didn’t answer any serious student loan-related questions, engagements like that show that FAFSA is paying attention to its customers.

“The customer listening process is really important,” Callahan said. “We approach social media here from the customer’s experience.”

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FAFSA officials typically answer questions from more than 20 million prospective students and their parents each year.

Increasingly, FAFSA’s social media team members engage directly with students who tweet at them. 

This year, Callahan said, FAFSA’s social media team members are on pace to answer between 12,000 and 15,000 questions through social media, double their output in 2015 and four times more than they answered in 2014.

It’s a time commitment: Callahan said she and her colleague spend “10 to 15 percent of our time, each, doing this.” But it's a worthwhile cause, as it leads to positive digital engagement with customers and better customer experience.

“Our vision is to be the most trusted source of student-loan related information,” Callahan said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated how many employees work on FAFSA's digital engagement team. The story has been corrected and updated.