Photo by Keila MacPherson
The TCSA has created three new positions this year under the title “Brand Ambassadors.” They are a paid staff that work from 8 to 10 hours a week and whose main responsibility is to have face-to-face interactions with the membership.
Stephanie Laing McKay, the Board Resource Manager for the Trent Central Student Association, spoke to Arthur.
She expressed that the Brand Ambassadors were essentially created to foster engagement, communication and accountability with the student members; to really ensure that there is a strong sense of continuity and a team there to let students know about the services, campaigns and events that the TCSA runs.
She furthermore added that there is not always public knowledge of all the services that the TCSA offers, such as the groceries assistance program or the go transit sales; so in a way the Brand Ambassadors help students have a better experience at Trent by benefiting from these services.
She also added that the Brand Ambassadors work both ways since students can come to them with questions, and so in that way they can link the TCSA with the student membership directly.
In terms of their actual activities, Laing McKay explained that the Brand Ambassadors have participated in many productive ventures. For instance, they were in charge of the TCSA table at Clubs and Groups Day, something new since the TCSA does not typically have its own table. During vendor day they interacted with students through games, representing the TCSA and individually talking to students.
Laing McKay agreed that the brand ambassadors had a foremost important effect on the recent increase in the voter turnout in the fall by-elections. They went from 2.7% last year to 6.7% this year.
Face to face interaction is their main responsibility, Laing McKay expressed. For instance, during midterms, the TCSA bought cookies for students and the Brand Ambassadors were handing them out to give students a bit of a smile.
Moving beyond their function, Laing McKay also explained other reasons why the Brand Ambassadors team was created. She stated that today we rely too much on social media, and on letting students know what is going on by means of Facebook, Twitter, myTrent etc.
She did agree that these are effective but argued that they are not always getting to every student, since not every student is on Facebook and not every students checks myTrent everyday.
In this way, she adds, the Brand Ambassador team is a way to make sure that the TCSA is really on the ground level with the students, and engaging with them.
The Brand Ambassadors idea has many positive features in terms of increasing the engagement with the student membership. However, it would be difficult to really assess the extent to which they have a real impact in enhancing student participation and knowledge about the TCSA.
First, there is only so much three people can do to promote a student association. Even though face-to-face interaction is of foremost importance to engage with the student membership in a meaningful manner, the activities that the brand ambassadors do fall more under the jurisdiction of promotion rather than interaction.
They are there to answer questions, but also more often, to redirect you to the right people to ask those questions. Maybe a good idea would be to go directly to the office instead.
It is important to not fall on romantic discourses of interaction. If the TCSA is committed to increase its engagement with the student membership then maybe a more direct approach is necessary.
And interaction goes both ways. It is actually important to make the TCSA office more accessible to the public. The ways to do this are up for discussion. A starting point would be reforming the infrastructure of the TCSA office to make it a more open and welcoming space.
In terms of representation, it is also important to make note that if only three students are selected to represent the TCSA and promote its services, then it is difficult to choose students that are representative of the whole diversity of the student body and their different backgrounds.
Moreover, the positions are a fantastic idea from a promotion point of view because it allows the TCSA the opportunity to always count with staff to carry out outreach activities.
However, social media has and will reach more students. A clear example is off-campus students.
Maybe these Brand ambassadors would have neither the work force nor the responsibility to manage to reach out to off-campus students. It is not possible, nor desirable, to pinpoint them in comparison with social media, since they both serve different functions regardless of their advantages and disadvantages.
At the end of the day, it is important to invest on positions that help bridge the gap between the students and their main association, while creating much needed student jobs at the same time.