Baylor Parking Services wins award, fuels social media outreach through mascot

Tommy Wilson and Niki Nix, two of Parking Services' nine staff members, work to enforce parking regulation for over 11,000 parking spots on campus with the help of their mascot, Parker. Luke Lattanzi | Staff Writer

By Luke Lattanzi | Staff Writer

University parking programs aren’t typically known for their creativity in campus outreach efforts, but Baylor’s Parking Services and Transportation found a notable way to go about it — and it was recently awarded “Excellence in Parking Programs” during the annual Texas Parking and Transportation Association conference.

Parking Services won the award due to its mascot, Parker. An orange traffic cone with a cartoonish smiley face, the mascot is regularly featured on the Instagram account, @buparkingwithparker. Over the past year, the account has gained a little over 1,000 followers, which is quite an achievement relative to other university parking programs. According to Parking Services business manager Niki Nix, such growth usually takes anywhere from four to 11 years.

“We did that in a pretty short amount of time,” Nix said. “We were like, ‘Hey, people need to know.’ We’re proud, and we think that other universities might want to do the same or at least see what we do.”

Nix said the idea for Parker was a joint effort from all of Parking Services’ nine staff members, who are responsible for enforcing university parking regulations for over 11,000 parking spaces on campus. Given the inherent mundanity associated with parking regulations, the staff wanted a fun and distinct way to engage with students while effectively conveying necessary information.

“We wanted to make it also relatable,” Parking Services operations lead Tommy Wilson said. “So if you look at Parker’s page, you’ll see that we’ve gone through the process [of] student orientation. So he’s got a Line cap; he’s got an ID card. So that helps us get relatable with students with regards to your day-to-day [campus activities].”

Wilson also said the program’s social media strategy was based on determining which platform would garner the most engagement. Trying to appeal to the age group of 18 to 24 years — the prime age group for college students — they determined that Instagram featured the greatest opportunity.

“Facebook is more tailored toward, I would say, alumni — not so much your current student body. So we were probably not going to go with that,” Wilson said. “[X, formerly known as Twitter] can be the wild west at some times. We don’t want to really get engaged [in that] aspect. So we looked at that, and [our] engagement rate [on Instagram] … is 6.4%, which is considered very high.”

Wilson said the Instagram account allows Parking Services to communicate important information that students need to know, such as how to obtain parking permits or student ID cards, in a fun way. The addition of Parker, he said, allows them to maintain the balance between lighthearted humor and the dissemination of necessary information.

Wilson said Parking Services is adamant about leaving the comment feature on to allow students, faculty and staff to ask questions right in the comment section, adding another method of communication between parking staff and those who may need help.

“We find that balance to where we can be informative, but if we have to escalate it to an email, we can send a tab and escalate it to an email,” Wilson said. “So they do get that, but we haven’t had negative comments, and we haven’t shut them off, and I think that goes a long way.”

Additionally, Parking Services does Instagram collaborations with other Baylor accounts, such as the Baylor Student Foundation account, @bustufu.

“So now if you have an account that has, we’ll just say a thousand followers, they repost it on their story and they have a thousand followers, your message continues to grow,” Wilson said. “And if it’s providing good information, you’re going to have a tendency to gain followers in that aspect, so that’s kind of the strategy in a nutshell.”

Nix said that with only nine staff members to handle the university’s entire parking operation, the mascot can help when dealing with students who may occasionally get angry with staff members due to a parking ticket or a major lot closure.

“It’s a challenge sometimes,” Nix said. “I think Parker’s account has helped us with communicating the expectation of parking. I think students feel more informed and more like we’re trying to help them, which makes our jobs easier, because we’re not getting phone calls like, ‘Hey, I’m frustrated. I don’t know where to park. I don’t know what to do.’ So that’s been helpful, just having another communication avenue besides our website.”

Nix also said that when calling Parking Services about a problem, even when angry, being calm and polite to staff members will always help resolve the situation sooner.

“As much as you’re frustrated, try to take a deep breath,” Nix said. “Approach that person on the phone, email — wherever you’re encountering them, out in the field, in the parking lots — try to be as polite as you can. I think that goes a long way.”

Luke Lattanzi is a senior political science major with a minor in news-editorial originally from Monroe Township, New Jersey, now based in Houston. In his last semester at the Lariat, he is excited to learn more about what it takes to report for a daily news publication. Luke also serves as assistant editor for conservative digital magazine American Pigeon. He hopes to work for a publication as a reporter after graduation.