going social with commencement: hits and misses.

With our 150th spring Commencement events taking place, looking to make it special and use the connective power of social media, we added a few new wrinkles. Some worked, some didn’t. As always, I like to chronicle such efforts in case they are useful to others.

Facebook event page. We established a Facebook event for Commencement, for which I invited people I knew and then we promoted it via our official channels. Posting plugs on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the viral nature of users interacting with the event showing up in their friends’ streams, we picked up 267 RSVPs. Not a huge number, but it existed outside official communication — and it was extremely gratifying in seeing how parents and others turned it into a place to congratulate graduates, as the snapshot below shows.

Interactive webcast. We plugged a Facebook comment box into our live stream and, as the iPhone screen captures at right show, relatives and friends who couldn’t attend had great comments and interacted with each other from time to time during the two ceremonies. Since I was working the ceremony, and our webcast system doesn’t work for a mobile device, I couldn’t do a screen capture of them interplaying, but it points to a need for us to work with the broadcasting arm to make live web video more mobile-friendly. Google Analytics logged a decent 1,222 views for the webcast page, compared to 3,042 visits to our main Commencement page (which also had a link to the feed). Interns monitored the thread and could ban users who did not adhere to our very simple guidelines (No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity.) listed right on the page. No one got out of line and most were effusive in congratulating graduates. I thought of incorporating Facebook and Twitter feeds on the same page, but wiser minds convinced me all the plug-ins could slow down the process … and the video part feeding well was the most important thing. We did include a plug for the official hashtag on the page.

#ozgrad hashtag on Twitter. This took a while to take off, but especially during the morning Commencement we saw nice activity. The morning ceremony included our communication graduates, who are more Twitter active (including the ones who go through my class that requires getting a Twitter account). Interesting to see that some of the first people to pick it up were former students of mine who follow me and the @sunyoswego account, so they most likely picked up the tag from observation. We also did pre-event promotion of the tag, which likely helped. During the event — during which I also supervise the ushers and have media-relations responsibilities, I tried to live-tweet via @sunyoswego when I could. The behind-the-scenes shots — such as of the WTOP control room for the broadcast (above, which had many retweets) and our organist playing beforehand — seemed popular.

Countdown to Commencement. Borrowing from another colleges, we thought another way of building excitement would be asking graduating students to document via tweeting photo or video what they were doing in the days up until graduation. Good idea? Perhaps? Willing participants? Not exactly. Granted, some of this may have been from not having a lot of promotion other than what we could put on our social media channels. But participating was pretty much limited to my graduating interns tells me this format may not be viable for us. I rounded out our proposed slideshow with photos from our photographer or that I took for much of the Flickr gallery. Colleges with dedicated social media staffs and more general resources probably could do this better. Still, it was good to have a Countdown to Commencement page where I could aggregate social media details and multimedia efforts. And publicizing it did result in a spike in Twitter followers.

The lessons learned underscore good basic social media philosophies: be present, use your channels and cross-promote when you can. Know where your audiences are and, as the Countdown to Commencement fizzle showed, accept the occasional failure and learn from it. We don’t control many of the “official” Commencement messages that go out to students and parents, or that appear in the printed program, but our office does official top-level websites and social media … where the participating audience members already are. We’ll take our lessons and move forward. And know that maybe, just maybe, we helped some people enjoy this special day just a little bit more.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “going social with commencement: hits and misses.

  1. Great post with some great ideas for others to learn from, especially those without a large social media staff. It seems like the countdown to commencement ideas was pretty, some ideas may take a bit longer to catch on then others. Just because an idea doesn’t work the first time, and if you think it is worth the time, make some adjustments and try one more time. Maybe it could use a bit more promoting, as you mentioned it was a bit light for the countdown page. Also nice use of cross promotion to build more followers and more engagement.

  2. Tim Nekritz

    Some good points, Travis, as always. We generally try to do something because we find or perceive a demand and/or audience. This was more an old dude like me thinking it sounded interesting. When I explained it to our more spirited students, their responses were closer to “oh” than “wow,” which should have been a clue. It’s not gone and buried, but if it’s going to succeed, it’s because students have ownership in it. Thanks!

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