This week's #casesmc chat was co-moderated by Chandra Towler of Big Fish, a marketing firm located in Memphis,Tenn.
In many ways, graduations are the ultimate social event. Thousands of people gather on your campus simultaneously to celebrate the achievements of their friends and family members, happily producing and sharing photos, video and other content.
Here are some tried and tested techniques along with some new ideas for extending the reach of your graduation season in 2013.
Pick a hashtag early and thoroughly cross-promote
This is the most powerful decision you will make—the right hashtag will help collate tweets, images and video that you can use in the lead up and beyond. And with some luck, it may even become a trending topic. Keep it simple (and short)—#UWgrads, #HokieGrad and #VU2012 are good examples. Promote the hashtag well in advance on banners via your student portal, graduations website and ideally, your university homepage. Keep banner designs clear, consistent and uncluttered, allowing people to remember the hashtag more easily.
If you use SMS alerts, why not send a reminder to students on the day of their ceremony? Promote the hashtag shortly before the proceedings via projection screens and also in the printed program. Of course, you should also keep an eye on what students are tweeting and add popular hashtags as required. Creating hashtags at a school or date-specific level is probably not a great idea, however, as it splinters the conversation and may detract from your key messages (such hashtags can also be rather long!)
Leverage what you already have
Central, university-wide social media accounts generally have superior follower numbers whereas graduation-specific ones will tend to be activated for limited periods each year (a social media no-no). Work with your colleagues to schedule posts for the largest accounts used for distributing university news releases and other campus information.
Graduations are perfect social media fodder because of the stories that accompany them. Many institutions encourage their grads to bring signs and wear accessories that tell their individual graduation story. (In Australia, this includes special graduation accessories for indigenous students.)
Feature inspiring and humorous images in your posts and photo albums to generate maximum buzz. Have your photographers take names wherever possible (more tags = greater exposure), but if groups are too large, let your students know where to find the images afterwards and allow them to tag themselves.
If you’re not already using platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr and Tumblr, graduations can provide a great opportunity to start. Search for graduation-related images that people are posting on their personal accounts and share this content where appropriate.
Live stream it
In 2013, this should be a no brainer. Use a free service like Ustream or Livestream and work with your information technology and media teams to test and promote the feed in advance. Most live-streaming sites include their own comments window and you can also add plugins for Facebook and Twitter. Once the ceremonies are complete, create a new folder on your YouTube page, and promote the page widely. This is particularly important if you have celebrity speakers.
Not everyone can persuade Neil Gaiman or Barack Obama to do the honors, but the words of particularly prominent guests will resonate around the world. Try and be the first to get the full recording of big speeches online and then push it to your social networks so that followers can share with their contacts. Wherever possible, encourage interactions with your content—ask people what their favorite part of the guest address was or whether they know someone who walked across the stage.
While staff members from your alumni and advancement teams will be leading the way on graduation day, it’s also important to reach out to others. Many faculty members have powerful virtual networks that you should leverage. Does your university have a weekly, staff e-newsletter? Ensure faculty members know the official hashtag in advance and encourage them to get involved during the ceremonies. It’s also an opportunity to recruit your existing alumni as school ambassadors—let them know the schedule of ceremonies and guest speakers beforehand to encourage timely displays of school pride.
Devise a LinkedIn graduations campaign
This could be the most important call-to-action you make during graduations. LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network and a good way to stay in touch with those who won’t follow your other social media accounts or open their university emails following graduation. Remind graduates to create (or update) their LinkedIn profiles with their new qualifications and invite them to join your official LinkedIn groups. (If active groups exist at discipline level, provide a simple list so graduates can self-select which ones to join.)
Wrap it up
Work quickly to capture and curate content across platforms and then share it with your graduates in one convenient package.
Send an email to all recent grads within a week of their ceremony with links to photo albums, LinkedIn groups, and video content. Remind them of the benefits of staying in touch and joining alumni organizations and include links to your alumni magazine website and social media accounts. And for good measure, plug the official graduations hashtag one more time to see what extra activity you can generate.
You could also use Storify (as Harvard did for its 2012 graduations), but you'd need to promote this to your newest alumni if they're not following you already.
Some other ideas
Which social media strategies have worked for your graduations and which new ones would you like to try in the coming year?
These days, many institutions produce online and mobile magazines that provide unprecedented opportunities to engage with a global audience and unlock the gates. But simply placing everything online or on an app won’t engage your stakeholders. The right social strategy can help your print magazine do its job year-round and not just in the short window after it arrives in mailboxes.
The following case studies show how some universities are using social media to extend and enhance the reach of their magazines.
Building your brand in between editions—Harvard Magazine
“Keeping alumni of Harvard University connected to the University and to each other.”
That’s the blurb at the top of Harvard Magazine’s Facebook page, and it’s a succinct reminder of why alumni publications exist in the first place. Harvard's enviable resources have been put to good use and the magazine's Twitter account is now followed by 17,878 people. (That’s more than most institution-wide accounts!)
Harvard Magazine’s Facebook page gets things right—it posts daily, almost always links back to its own content and provides a simple sign-up form for the magazine’s weekly e-news to grow the readership even further.
Using social media in a time of crisis—University of Virginia Magazine
The University of Virginia acknowledged the transformative role played by social media in the wake of the controversial firing and re-appointment of President Teresa Sullivan earlier this year. In a special e-newsletter edition produced in July, the magazine offered deep coverage of the issue, including a Storify-esque round up of coverage that included substantial critical commentary.
The extraordinary fall 2012 print edition subtitled “17 days in June” provides dozens of additional pages of coverage and contains illustrated timelines and lengthy perspectives from the major players, including President Sullivan. This multi-platform approach provided alumni with complementary and timely coverage of a defining event in the university's history.
Let’s get visual—using Instagram and Pinterest to engage alumni
Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Florida regularly post Instagram campus shots that encourage students and alumni to share their warm and fuzzy feelings with their university communities.
Drake University, meanwhile, is all over Pinterest, with more than 100 pins inspired by its loveable bulldog mascot. Whether deployed on a photo-specific platform or shared via Twitter or Facebook, images are a great way to build school pride and encourage alumni to contribute to the conversation.
Alumni magazine social media tips:
In the spirit of sharing, how are you using social media to increase the lifespan of your alumni magazine?
Looking at “Cube Light” is like watching fractured sunlight on the ocean’s horizon, but contained within the geometric perfection of metal lines and angles. This is part of the “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” exhibition on view through Feb. 24, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.
When I describe what the best social media people do, my favorite term, hands down, is curating. Curating speaks not only to the importance of visual storytelling but also to the idea that communicators are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that inspire people to stop, look and interact with them.
The best art exhibitions do this too. Museum curators are successful when people respond intellectually and emotionally to the art, spend time with it and come back and see it again.
Those of us who handle social media at colleges, universities and schools seek to curate content that will convince people to invest in our institutions and form relationships with us in some way. Lately, I’ve been mulling over the dynamic between user-generated content (independently created content that we happen to discover, like students’ YouTube videos) and the content that colleges and universities create themselves, and the best ways to make that user-generated content an asset. I was considering this when I wandered into the Hirshhorn Museum recently and saw Ai Weiwei’s “Cube Light” (2008). Ai, who is from China, is not only is a contemporary art rock star but also someone who is highly fluent in social media. During his ascent as an idea leader in the art world, he has often turned to Twitter and blogs to express his opinions, which have both enthralled and enraged a country where the government carefully controls media and messaging.
Ai’s cube series is inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 film October which features a shaking crystal chandelier that suggests a society undergoing major change. Higher education is without a doubt experiencing an earthquake of change, every day. We’re dealing with MOOCs, the need for academic programs that are more relevant to workforce needs and new developments at every angle.
Marketing and branding are also pretty tumultuous territory. Suddenly we have new social media platforms to consider colonizing, mobile apps to develop and people who are frustrated by the job market questioning the value of a college degree. And the carefully prepared, one-way messaging we’ve treasured for decades is no longer as effective. We’re realizing that our students, alumni, parents, donors and friends can be terrific storytellers who can help us get our message out.
So how we do harness the power of these storytellers while also ensuring our marketing and branding messages are still getting through to the masses? You can follow some basic steps to make this happen, including asking interesting questions on Twitter and retweeting people’s answers with commentary, and creating Spotify playlists of alumni’s favorite songs from their college days to promote homecoming.
Here are two examples from colleagues I know through the Mid-Atlantic Higher Ed Social Network.
At Frostburg State, we’ve organized YouTube contests to net cool videos. We also take screenshots of people’s tweets and pop them up on our Facebook Page and crowdsource Instagram imagery each week. We launched our Pinterest account with the goal of empowering our recent graduates to create their own stories, through resources like articles on job-hunting advice and volunteering.
None of this amounts to an exact science, and you’re not always going to get the best content. But those moments when you do get something amazing, and your constituents notice you shared their stories on social media and recognized them ... those moments build relationships. Like sunlight on broken water, these stories can never be perfectly controlled or directed, but they can inspire you with their brilliance, if you organize them in an interesting way and invite others to look.
Just a few years ago, the idea of alumni around the world attending the same on-campus event in real-time was a pipe dream. Actually, it probably wasn’t even a dream because such a notion would have seemed ludicrous at the time. Now, we find ourselves smack in the middle of a technological great awakening that has advancement professionals stirring like prospectors during the gold rush.
As prospectors of this new frontier, we’re frequently tempted to try anything and everything in hopes of engaging our thousands of alumni who have staked their own claim in social media. However, as we sift through the waters of technology looking for a great discovery, we have to guard against selfish acts that threaten to sour our audience during the early stages of experimentation.
Moving beyond the unintentionally lengthy gold rush analogy, I turn your focus to livestreaming. At Cornell, we have streamed around 40 events in the past year and a half. We continue to learn something new about the process with each broadcast. Recently, it dawned on us that we’re not always considerate of the virtual audience. As I’m sure many of you know, it’s not uncommon for an event to start late because the speakers and audience members are in the lobby enjoying snacks and spirits, while reconnecting with old classmates. Events slated for 7 .pm., frequently kick off around 7:10 or 7:15 p.m. For those people who are physically present, this is of no consequence, but for the virtual audience, it’s kryptonite. While the in-person guest enjoys the splendors of food and conversation, the virtual viewers sit alone in their house or office, anxiously awaiting the start of your program. These people are busy professionals with families, rich with the responsibilities that didn't exist during their undergrad years. What they do NOT have is an abundance of time. If you make them wait, there are plenty of other things online vying for their attention.
Cornell recently livestreamed an event that started 15 minutes late, and during that delay, we saw roughly a quarter of our viewers drop-off before the event started. The lesson here is clear: Treat the virtual audience like it doesn't matter, and audience members will make sure YOU don’t matter the next time you promote a livestream event. We can’t SAY we want an engaged online audience then treat them as if they need us more than we need them…they don’t.
If you’re going to embark on the journey of streaming LIVE events, make sure you have a production plan that provides the virtual audience with the same high-quality experience you would expect to give the in-person attendees. If there’s a chance the event might not start on time, have filler material ready that you can roll out to keep them from logging off.
The evolution of technology is fun and exciting, but regardless of how revolutionary the tools are, a poor user experience will render them irrelevant. Technology is only as good as the content, and the content is only as good as its accessibility. After all, the virtual audience isn’t interested in the event JUST for the open bar…
Keith Hannon is the assistant director for social media at Cornell University.
During the past few months, several peers at other institutions have asked me for my job description. Typically, I just forward the job description my supervisor posted when he was hiring for my position, but lately I have been thinking about how hard it is to determine whether or not someone would make a good social media or community manager. There aren’t too many people out there with a bachelor’s in social media, so determining who is worthy of owning the keys to your institution's social media castle can be a challenge.
While living and working in Hollywood for seven years, I met many talented people whose jobs couldn't be further from their career aspirations. I'll shoot straight with you—I was one of those people. With a degree in video production and ambitions to write and perform comedy, I spent my days working as a production assistant for Nickelodeon. If you're not familiar with the entertainment industry, production assistant is short for "shut up, do what you're told, and feel lucky we're paying you." The skills I had developed in college grew dustier with each passing year. Just when I thought my life would be devoted to meeting the demands of 10-year-old divas, something interesting happened.
Facebook and Myspace were just beginning to fight it out for online social supremecy, Youtube was starting to heat up and most relevant to me, social gaming was creating online communities at an unprecedented rate. Anxious for a change of scenery, I decided to roll the dice on a new gig with an online game publisher looking for someone with sports journalism experience. I would be the new community manager of its sports-themed virtual world. In college, I was the voice of the Ithaca college football team for four years, a sports anchor for the school’s TV station and an intern at the "Best Damn Sports Show Period." I was excited to be back in a sports-centric industry. My only experience with virtual worlds was the five minutes I had spent in Second Life before a guy approached me and asked if I knew where he could get a gun. I was hoping this position would be a little more wholesome.
What I thought would be a sports writing job turned out to be much more. Learning the online community management business opened my mind to a whole new world of entertainment possibilities. All of a sudden, that dusty communications degree was alive and well as I began crafting content to engage more than 300K monthly uniques! Fast forward a couple of years and I'm staring down the barrel of parenthood. Instantly the City of Angels becomes undesirable. Luckily for me, Cornell's alumni affairs office was looking for a community manager and was willing to take a chance on a Hollywood drop-out.
Most community managers agree that each social network requires its own unique touch. Spreading one piece of content across all of your networks is a sure way to scare off your followers. While the content should be different, the goal is usually the same—to tell a compelling story. Whether recapping an event, highlighting an alumnus in the news, spreading a campus press release, gamifying a piece of nostalgia or producing a video, community managers are storytellers. The specific platform dictates HOW we tell the story and that's the real challenge.
Certainly enthusiasm and familiarity with the tech sector and with social media are important, but I'm of the opinion that it's crucial to find someone who can tell a story both in 140 characters and in a 1:40 video. In alumni affairs and development, we frequently talk about how we have to compete for donors with other nonprofits. In social media, we're not comepting directly for an alum's wallet, but we are competing for their attention—which is a much more daunting proposition. With an endless number of distractions on social media platforms, mobile devices and the web, it's imperative that we craft an engaging story to draw them in. To be successful, you need someone who knows how to not only communicate but also entertain.
Am I a tad biased? Probably, but I think you have to consider what we're after. We want Facebook posts that generate comments and likes. We want tweets that are catchy enough to be clicked on and retweeted. We want videos that strike a chord in the hearts of our constituencies and that have the potential to go viral. The frontier of alumni events is clearly livestream and that requires someone who is both video production-savvy and story-minded.
Social media is a serious business but there are skeptics out there who fail to understand how important these channels of communication are to institutions. If social media is going to be taken seriously in higher education, we need people who can produce compelling content on a regular basis.
If you're looking for a community manager, don't look for someone with a lot of social media experience, because you could be looking for a long time. Instead, look for someone who has the production training, creativity and personality that enables them to convey the story that is unique to your institution.
Matthew Herek currently serves as the associate director of young alumni engagement in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University.
College football at U.S. institutions seems to dominate news headlines in the fall. Some of us work on campuses where whether the team is a success or not determines more than bowl position, but also how happy alumni will be when a brave student makes a phoneathon call.
Earlier this month, my alma matter Michigan State, pulled off a last second and somewhat miraculous win against the University of Wisconsin. I want to talk about how my numerous viewings of the big play on YouTube led me to connect with our alumni relations work.
With respect to Michigan State's win, user-generated content helps tell a more complete story than any one camera angle could.
In 1984, Doug Flutie, playing for Boston College, threw a similar touchdown pass, winning the game against the University of Miami. If you search YouTube, you will find exactly one video of this pass. It has been uploaded multiple times by multiple people, but you'll find only one angle.
I’m sure the two institutions have that image seared into their institutional memories, for better or worse. I’m also certain that if we could see a video of the reaction from the fans in the stadium, we'd have a more complete picture of what happened.
Fast forward 27 years. If you watch the Michigan State vs. University of Wisconsin game below for about 45 seconds, it will give you a good idea of how many different angles from which the play was viewed within the stadium. The many angles were filmed through handheld cameras, phones and other video-supporting media.
Following the play, there was a video review. Numerous videos of fans waiting for confirmation of the touchdown have cropped up, but this one is my favorite. It's what I think it would be like to be in the middle of a sonic boom.
As an alum of the school, I can tell you that it’s the poorly shot video of the crowd waiting in anticipation that I could watch over and over (and 24,000 people agree with me). On that Saturday night, 72,000 people might have been in the stadium, but many more felt a strong connection to the event. The connection did not happen because the marketing team was ready to produce content about fan reactions. The fans reacted and produced their own content, providing numerous perspectives that when combined created a panorama of emotion.
There are a couple of lessons here about social media. Social media allows us to engage our alums in the moment in a more authentic way than the most well planned marketing piece could ever hope to. From my own point of view, the videos of fan reactions stoke memories of similar reactions I had in the same stadium and remind me that passion is an important driver for inspiring alumni to engage and participate in meaningful ways.
A second lesson is to rememember that our obligation to tell the story supercedes our desire to own the story. There are moments in the lives of our alumni that should not be edited or made more palatable for wider consumption. If you decide to view the world through the lens of your alumni, make sure the view is authentic.
Practically speaking, isn't this an opportunity for your alumni magazine to provide a QR code linking back to some of these exciting videos? And, why not alert your campus archivist to alumni content?
The motto of the state of Michigan where the game took place is “If you seek a pleasant peninsula look around you.” Fellow social media curators, if you seek engaging content look around YouTube.
Ma'ayan Plaut is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College
As a young alum working at my alma mater, each fall, I'm awash with memories of my orientation at the same time as the new class begins flooding campus. My own orientation was filled with names and faces and meeting people in person who I had so happily met and fallen head-over-heads in friend-crush with through our Class of 2010 Facebook group.
Even as an administrator, I have been deeply involved with the incoming class on Facebook. I knew I had to do something to try and meet as many of these fascinating new students in person as possible, so I pulled out my trusty dragon backpack, filled it with the necessities (camera, iPad, water bottle and business cards) and informed my audience of my outfit on Facebook and Twitter. My plan was to embrace the "social" part of my social media coordinator job title.
I began with the northern part of campus, popping my head into as many rooms in as many dorms as I could—my only criteria was that the room contain first-years. My basic spiel was, "Hi! I am from the Internet! I answered your questions all summer, I blogged about you and I just wanted to say hello in real life and see that you're a real person. What's your name?"
This turned out to be a magical introduction. Most students (and parents!) recognized my name or identified my outfit from my Facebook post and were really excited to become involved with the two social media projects I had created for move-in day.
The first was a simple photo project, a snapshot of a new student (or students, if a roommate was also around) plus something to represent Oberlin or the class of 2015 in the photo. I got shirts (worn, held up to smiling faces or modeled on a sibling who was helping move in), sweatshirts, blankets, bracelets, IDs, lanyards and the ubiquitous hand signs for OC or 15 if it was too early in the unpacking process to have the Oberlin swag unpacked.
The second project was a video with a simple concept—grab as many new students as possible and have them say one sentence for the camera. The sentence had to include answers to the following questions:
I had planned to shoot videos just on move-in day, but many other interview opportunities arose during orientation so I extended the interviews through the end of the week. What emerged were a few gigabytes of spectacular videos of glowing incoming students in a variety of dorm rooms as well as inside, outside and hanging out in groups, grinning like their lives depended on it and with their voices dripping with the most natural enthusiasm possible. Need proof? See for yourself.
Why make a video?
What sorts of activities did your campus have planned to welcome the new class?
Jennifer Doak is the online communications specialist at CASE.
We all know your institution has amazing faculty, first-class students and a meaningful piano soundtrack—but what makes it compelling? Let’s take a look at some creative (and not necessarily high-budget) uses of online video.
1. Tell stories.
Valencia College, “Dear Valencia”: This promotional video centers on students writing letters to the school, the faculty and eventually the community, thanking Valencia for believing in their abilities. It’s a simple concept, but the editing and content are incredibly well-done—and the cast outtakes give it a real human touch.
University of West Georgia, “Go West”: These three promotional videos for the University of West Georgia use a great slogan, “Go West,” to its advantage. Proactive students head to campus on different roads, using various vehicles, to find their own way to success. Simple, effective and beautifully done.
2. Create intrigue.
Park Tudor School, “Founder’s Day 2011: A mystery’s a-brewing on campus”: I just love this Founder’s Day mystery. A team of two students travel across campus trying to find the president’s backpack, solving clues that use trivia about the school’s history. The video features a cackling villain, “Yackety Sax,” and karate-chopping staff members. It may not be the most viral video out there, but it’s a great way to build community—and I bet alumni loved it.
Whitworth University, “The Quest for the Golden Pinecone”: The pirate mascot’s choose-your-own-adventure-style journey was featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this summer, and for good reason. Admitted students were invited to watch the video and then choose what would happen next – progressive videos were then linked to the Class of 2015 Facebook page.
3. Find out what’s hot.
Online content is all about creating, sharing and paying homage to memes—why not join in?
Oberlin College’s Friday parody: Rebecca Black’s infamous earworm gets the commencement treatment for the Class of 2011.
Murray State Flash Mob: Flash mobs have become a huge trend on campuses in the past year, but I think Murray State’s got some amazing choreography here. I’m also a sucker for 90s dance tunes, school mascots and presidents riding the train. C & C Music Factory, anyone?
4. Show that you’re listening.
You may remember a previous blog post on Florida International University’s “Betsy Reads Your Comments” videos. But it’s not the only institution out there responding to their audience through YouTube.
Aberystwyth University’s social media team answers frequently (or infrequently) asked questions, taken from its Facebook page, and puts them on an interactive YouTube menu. I love its top 10 tips: “Don’t get too attached to kitchen utensils” is advice we should all pay attention to, in my opinion.
Do you have numbers to add to the list? Other fantastically creative ways institutions are using YouTube? Post ‘em in the comments!