How User-Generated Content Drives Virtual Events and Builds Community


Education, Nonprofit, NGOs, and Advocacy

User-generated content helped a strategic communications agency quickly pivot its nonprofit client’s in-person event to a virtual celebration due to the pandemic while engaging their audience.

College Decision Day is a celebration of college-bound high school seniors from across NYC and the surrounding area supported through college access programs that help bridge opportunity gaps – many of the students are first-generation college attendees. Each year, the event is managed by the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) in coordination with 20 peer organizations. For the last several years, the event has been held at the world-famous Apollo Theater, where 200+ students come together with their families, friends, and the program staff and teachers from nearly two dozen college access programs to announce and celebrate their college plans. Many of the students who walk across the stage to announce their college acceptance are the first in their families to be college bound.

“The Apollo Theater has long been a gathering place for the Harlem and Greater New York community in times of celebration. During College Decision Day, HEAF showcases many of our city’s best students and the next generation of leaders and innovators. The future is bright for our HEAF students and College Decision Day is just the beginning. We will marvel at our students’ contributions to our communities in the years to come,”

— said Lauren Girshon, Director of Development, Harlem Educational Activities Fund.

As the team was gearing up for the 2020 event, the pandemic hit, and it became clear that an in-person event would not happen. However, the HEAF team knew that in an uncertain and interrupted senior year – with in-person classes canceled, graduations and proms canceled, etc. -, celebrating college acceptance and plans would be more important than ever. With some brainstorming and quick action, HEAFs agency JVComms began to develop a virtual event that would allow for congratulatory messages of pride and love to be shared, just like any year.

JVComms strategically created and built a community of celebration for the first-ever virtual College Decision Day utilizing TINT, resulting in user-generated content (UGC) messages of congratulations and encouragement for the future college students.With the platform, JVComms was able to encourage sharing content, identify that content through the tool, and pull it into the board for an impactful celebration.

The Challenge: Turning an In-Person Event into Virtual Event

HEAF and JVComms were faced with a need to reinvent a yearly event and build engagement online for the first-ever virtual College Decision Day. JVComms needed to find a solution to bring content together from across the students, families, and communities of 20 college access programs and key thought leaders and celebrities.

Due to the pandemic, each of HEAF’s college access peer organizations had several immediate priorities in terms of supporting the students they serve. College Decision Day was not the #1 focus in the early days. JVComms was mindful that a turnkey solution would be necessary to minimize each organization’s required input and still deliver a successful experience. Everyone agreed the primary celebration would be a live-streamed remote celebration, but how could they have a lasting impact, build anticipation, and ensure participation? While looking for a system to execute the virtual event, JVComms emphasized finding a solution that would maximize their effectiveness in submitting content, participating in the event, and bringing awareness to the college access organizations involved with College Decision Day.

TINT allowed JVComms and HEAF to limit the stress of building an event for many participating organizations by bringing it together on one website – By utilizing TINT’s Experience Builder Page Creator, JVComms and HEAF were able to quickly and effectively brand the event, get messaging out, and begin highlighting submitted videos.

Building the strategy: Bring the content from users together

JVComms’ strategy focused on bringing messages together to build celebratory energy online that matched the in-person event of years past. Working with a solution like TINT allowed them to build excitement around the event effectively.

“The decision to create a virtual event was clear, but the strategy to make it successful was in encouraging content creation and showcasing that content pre- and post-event. There was not a better way to do that than through a TINT board. It allowed us to highlight all the messages in one place and bring the event to life,”

— said Jennifer Vargas, President and Founder of JVComms.

This virtual event powered by TINT allowed for submissions from the community. There were announcements, words of encouragement, and advice for the future that will continue to serve as reminders for the dedication of the college-bound students and the success that awaits them.

JVComms leveraged TINT’s “upload” functionality to manage the event alongside the UGC aggregation of TINT as keys to the event’s success.

“Some students were happy to participate but preferred not to use their personal channels, and some family members are not active on social but wanted to post congratulatory messages. TINT’s direct upload functionality let us increase engagement because people could post for moderation directly on the board. And, we could use the direct upload tool for some of the produced videos that key thought leaders and celebrities produced for the students rather than relying on email – ultimately TINT’s platform streamlined operations for us.”

— said Jen Vargas of JVComms.

Another essential element of the in-person event that HEAF and JVComms teamed up to solve was how to bring awareness to the importance of college access and success organizations. The JVComms team that produced the virtual event incorporated some of the UGC identified and posted via the TINT’s Board within the video celebration. With the promotion of the virtual event, HEAF’s 2020 College Decision Day video saw over 1,000 views — 700xs the views of 2019’s College Decision Day video.

The team concluded that by utilizing user-generated content and providing the community with the option to upload video content directly, the event’s engagement surpassed expectations.


This process engaged the audience and minimized the effort needed to create the experience.

The UGC gave relevant, unique content that celebrated a community while driving many submissions and producing high-engagement for the day.
By providing a virtual experience for College Decision Day, the community was able to celebrate the students in a new and unique way, garnering:

1,000 visits

to view the College Day Decision user-generated content

700% views

in comparison to 2019’s College Day Decision video

These results go beyond numbers. The event brought students, their families and friends together across NYC and well beyond during the beginning phases of social distancing to virtually celebrate high school seniors who overcame obstacles and opportunity gaps with the support of critical college access programs like HEAF not only to be accepted, but to attend college – many as the first ones in their families.

“I am both honored and humbled to be part of our signature College Decision Day event. Not only is the event full of energy and excitement, it is also an opportunity to honor young people’s academic achievements and continued commitment to their education, leadership development and service,”

— said Ruth Rathblott, President & CEO, Harlem Educational Activities Fund.

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