Virginia Peninsula Community College's EMS and Fire Science Program is active on social media, including TikTok.
J.J. Bonavita calls himself an old millennial and admits to joining Facebook when it primarily was for college kids. He didn’t use Instagram or Twitter or most of the other popular social media apps. TikTok wasn’t on his radar, either.
That quickly changed. As the department head of Virginia Peninsula’s EMS and Fire Science program, he does more than teach. He does a lot of promotion, and he was using Facebook and traditional ways to target potential students.
He wasn’t reaching the demographic he wanted, which was the younger generation. He figured he needed to learn some new tools.
“I just started playing with it until I started getting hits,” he said of TikTok.
And boy is he getting hits. One TikTok video has been viewed more than 87,500 times. Another one, 37,000 times. A third one topped 28,000.
“You never know what’s going to gravitate, what's going to blow up and go and move,” he said. “And some of them I just got really lucky. Again, trial and error.”
The one viewed the most featured an elderly woman who “had” low blood sugar.
“We were studying geriatrics and how you interact with the elderly,” Bonavita explained. “People just loved this little lady. She played along with the scenario, and her daughter was with her too. But it caught on fire.”
In another popular one, students were learning about cardiology and EKG rhythms, so they acted out what the heart was doing. For yet another, the topic was hormones, so students had to create a dating profile for a hormone.
“We believe in active learning, so it helps solidify the concept better, and they remember it better,” Bonavita said.
The College’s EMS and Fire Science program has TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook accounts, but doesn’t use Snapchat or Pinterest.
“My videos don't seem to move as well on Instagram,” he said. “TikTok is all videos and short videos. Whereas if we have some longer videos, we put those on YouTube, and I use YouTube in the classroom.”
Local fire departments often share his Facebook posts, but Instagram and TikTok are bigger with younger people. Those younger people are the key demographic for Bonavita. One of the requirements for the EMS program is being an EMT.
“That's at the beginning of their career,” Bonavita said. “Who's going to come out and go into fire departments? That's that younger group.”
While using the social media apps started as a marketing tool for Bonavita, the videos have been adapted for classroom use.
“It’s a good feedback tool,” he said. “You can record them doing a scenario, and then you can make them watch.”
Bonavita’s not sure if there is a metric to measure the effects on enrollment, but knows it is good for the program.
“It’s definitely generated buzz around the program, and I’m getting a lot of good comments,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot of contacts out in the departments. I’m hearing it’s really building good favor.”
He sees no downsides to using the most up-to-date social media tools. Yes, middle-aged career-changers make up a big student population, but those people usually don’t look for the College on social media.
“If you're trying to catch the younger generations, you need to get on social media,” Bonavita said. “If you’re not there, you’re not relevant.”
Check out the College’s EMS and Fire Science social media at https://www.tiktok.com/@vpccfireems.