I’ve long been chasing the perfect social media report, and discussing the importance of measurement based on strategic goals. To help inform my quest, I’m hoping to learn from all of you out there in the world of social media in higher education. If you are responsible for any sort of social media reporting for your college or university, please fill out the survey below. And then share the survey. I have only the promise of possible inclusion in a future blog post or presentation to offer you, as well as my eternal gratitude. Thank you in advance!
On October 11, 2012, the University of Michigan-Flint embarked on its first 24-hour photo project. We weren’t the first to try and capture a “day in the life,” but our successes and challenges were our own. It was #UMFLINT24, and it was beautiful.
I knew I was going to love it. A day full of activity on Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr—what’s not to love? But I didn’t fully grasp the emotional commitment I would make in that 24 (plus)-hour time period until it all began. I laughed. I cried. I stayed up later than I knew was possible. I absolutely did love it.
None of this is to imply that the day was without mishap. API limitations caused hiccups in our photo stream. Lack of moderation ability created one or two moments of panic. I was very lucky, though, to have a team of ITS guys to call on when things got messy. I learned a lot on October 11.
And now a recap of my #UMFLINT24. Perhaps we’ll call it #Alaina24. I like it. Here goes.
The #UMFLINT24 website proclaimed: “For the first time on October 11, 2012, UM-Flint will document a full 24 hours in the life of the university. We’re asking our campus community to take pictures during a 24-hour period beginning at 12:00 a.m. on 10/11/12 and ending at 11:59:59 p.m.” We did our best to get the word out. Promotion included Facebook posts and tweets, a Facebook cover image, posters around campus, a splash image on the university’s home page, and ~300 informational cards attached to lanyards distributed at the campus’s Welcome Back Picnic in September. The instructions to participants were simple: Post your photos to Instagram, Twitter, or Flickr and tag them #umflint24.
We in University Relations were quite excited about our day-long photo extravaganza—and also petrified that no one would participate. We’d created a website that was set up like a timeline, allowing visitors to view each hour individually. As the date drew near, we all began to imagine empty screens in the wee hours of the morning.
To be sure photos would stream into the #UMFLINT24 website from 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. I created a schedule of everything I could find happening on campus on October 11. And I mean everything. The department staff then volunteered to work shifts that would cover the entire 24 hours beginning at midnight Wednesday night. (I’ve included a snapshot of the schedule. I think the color-coding made it particularly great.)
Wednesday, October 10
Those brave souls who volunteered for the 12-5 a.m. shift have my utmost respect. I volunteered for a 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. shift, thinking that I would probably check the website during my off hours, too. Oh, how naïve I was to think that I would sleep. How could I have slept with so much going on?
Wednesday night I vowed to stay awake until 12:05 a.m., just long enough to see the first photo post and make sure the website was working properly. I settled in on my couch around 8 p.m. and started tweeting reminders to the university community. When students began tweeting with the #UMFLINT24 hashtag, hours before the kick-off, I was shocked. Students I’d never seen interact with the university on Twitter before! Students that were staying up late just to start submitting photos when the time came! Students that were explaining to each other how to take part in #UMFLINT24!
At around 10 p.m., the university webmaster (my friend Tim, who was anxiously awaiting the launch from his own couch) redirected the #UMFLINT24 URL, from the descriptive page we’d created to promote the project, to the live-stream page that would showcase all photos tagged “umflint24” on Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr. Then we waited. Have you ever posted a link or made something live and then stared, unblinking at real-time Google analytics to watch visitors enter and exit a page? Imagine it now and you’ll have a mental picture of me and Tim during the hours between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m.
Thursday, October 11
At 12 a.m. I posted to Instagram/Twitter from the university account: “#UMFLINT24 begins NOW!”
Photos immediately started populating the page. There were nearly 60 in the first hour! What began as fear of an empty page quickly turned into fixation. I couldn’t look away.
Then, a hiccup. When clicking around on the #UMFLINT24 page, I noticed that images were showing up inconsistently between the “All” and “12AM” views. By some miracle, another of our web guys was online and watching the website, too. Within 20 minutes, Donald had our first glitches fixed and things were back on track. I was so lucky that help was available.
I forced myself to go to bed at 1 a.m. and was back up at 5 a.m. Who needs more than four hours of sleep before working a 12-hour day?
In the office at 7 a.m., I found photos missing from the #UMFLINT24 site—many of them. My friends in ITS spent hours working through issues with the Twitter and Instagram APIs to make sure that all of our photos were pulled into the website. So that I could share with you some of these issues and resolutions, the web team (a.k.a. Joel Howard, Tim Todd, and Donald Wilcox) put some notes together which are included later in this post.
Despite the technical difficulties, I was truly amazed at the level of participation I saw throughout the day. Photos came to me by email from faculty and staff across campus, which I then posted to Flickr for inclusion. I saw connections happening between people who’d never worked together before, and learned so much about how my campus runs over a 24-hour period. The adrenaline kept me going. I didn’t want to miss a single thing!
My #UMFLINT24 shift officially concluded at 7 p.m. I admit I drove home faster than I should have. I ate dinner as quickly as I could and got on my laptop. Again I was fixated, but I’d also realized that we were about to enter Thursday night. For many students on a college campus, Thursday nights mean drink specials and parties. Because we hadn’t built a moderation function into the website, we had no ability to remove individual photos. Our only recourse in the case of an inappropriate photo was to take the website down—the horror! So I watched and waited.
I must say that the entire UM-Flint community was incredibly respectful and good-spirited throughout the project. There was only one photo, out of nearly 1,500, that caused concern. Thankfully the author of the photo was reachable through a network of students and it was taken down by the source. We weren’t forced to decide whether to pull the plug or not, but there was more than a moment of panic. Moderation is definitely something we’ll incorporate if we do this again.
Running on the momentum of a very rewarding day, I somehow kept my eyes open until 12:10 a.m. Friday morning. I’d made it. #UMFLINT24 had exceeded my wildest expectations.
- Photos submitted: 1,475
- Unique users: 253
- 871 unique visitors to #UMFLINT24 website, from 10 countries and 20 states
- #UMFLINT24 hashtag on Twitter: 764 tweets (average 31.83/hour), 67 retweets
- Unique reach of tweets and RTs: 78,156 users
- Most photos were first posted to Instagram
- Peak hours of activity: 12:00 – 12:59 p.m.; 7:00 – 7:59 a.m.; 6:00 – 6:59 p.m.
The Technical Stuff
From UM-Flint ITS:
While working on #umflint24 a few problems were encountered that had not been accounted for. The biggest problems came from the social media (Twitter, Instagram, Flickr) APIs (application programming interface). These APIs provided access to images tagged with the #umflint24 hashtag.
During initial testing of the APIs there were not enough images available to load-test the limits on content being served per call. Due to this limitation, at around 7 a.m. staff noticed all images were not being displayed on the timeline. After ITS web developers analyzed the feed of images coming in from Twitter and Instagram, it was concluded that multiple calls to the APIs would be needed for all images to be pulled in correctly. With multiple API calls now being processed, end user load times suffered.
Later in the day it was also discovered that Flickr wasn’t serving all of the images tagged #umflint24. This fix was simple compared to the Twitter and Instagram fix. However, due to poor documentation of the Flickr API, the actual fix took longer than expected.
By the end of the 24-hour period, one last obstacle was encountered. Because of the sheer amount of traffic #umflint24 was generating, we began to max out Instagram’s API request limit. Luckily, this was in the last hour of the 24-hour period. However, after the 24-hour period all images were pulled in with no problems.
#umflint24 has been archived and code has been optimized to speed up load times. To view the archive visit: http://www.umflint.edu/umflint24/
- Testing conditions will not match actual conditions—be ready.
- Be sure technical/web staff are available for trouble-shooting at project launch.
- Assume you will work most of/all of/more than 24 hours.
- If accepting photos by email, think about how to organize them on Flickr (i.e. “staff submissions” album, included in university’s album, etc.).
- If you are the social media person for your campus, don’t expect to have much time to be out taking photos.
- The option to moderate the photo stream is important, as well as clear parameters for what should be removed.
At UM-Flint we’re already discussing “next time.” Are you planning a 24-hour project of your own? Please share your ideas and outcomes! You can find great examples from SUNY Oswego, University of Wisconsin- Green Bay, and the University of Wisconsin, but let’s build a longer list.
Working in higher education likely means something different to every person who finds herself here. For me, it’s opportunity. It’s empowerment. It’s independence. It’s decisions and growth and responsibility. It’s being a part of a place where so many people come together to do, make, build, change. It’s all of the things that were so monumental in my own life as a student at the very institution where I find myself employed today. I love higher ed. But even more, I love this place.
As a social media specialist, it’s admittedly easy to get caught up in the marketing of it all. My days can quickly get tied up in numbers, trends, and research. “Engagement!” “Impressions!” “Reach!” “Blah!” The “social” part of social media can start to feel like a contest to talk to the most people. And at the root, that conversation can become self-serving if we’re not careful. This is marketing, after all. Of course our goals revolve around driving applications and enrollment, and then retention, and so on.
The really cool part, though, is that there’s more.
This week, a student on my social media team wrote a beautiful blog post about the passing of a fellow student. And suddenly, I saw it. Or was reminded of it. My efforts in social media do more than to push university content out into the world. When things work as they should, social media give everyone a voice. We hope to use those voices to amplify our messages, sure, but sometimes our message isn’t what matters.
When I do my job well, I show students that they have a voice, that their voices matter. The mission of higher education goes beyond enrollment and dollars, and so should the goals that we set as social media managers. Let’s build communities and share our stories, but let’s also empower others to tell their own stories.
A million years ago, I was a student at my university. I will forever be grateful for the experiences and people here that shaped me. Today, thousands of new students are going through the very same process of self-discovery and growth.
This job is important. Higher education is important. These students are important. I might not be able to quantify a touching blog post in a marketing report, but the blog post is important, too. Sometimes I just need the reminder.
Back in March, I wrote a post called “Facebook Timeline for Pages: Why is this so hard?” To date, the post has been viewed 9,160 times, and continues to be the most-read post on my blog every single day. This tells me two things: 1. I was not alone in my frustration; and 2. People still think Timeline is hard.
Most of the issues I originally complained about seem to have resolved themselves. Milestones no longer (as far as I know) inexplicably disappear. I’ve gotten used to the notification process and Admin Panel. Are others still having trouble? In reviewing the search terms used to find my post in recent days, a common theme is apparent.
“I wrote something on a timeline page and it won’t show up.”
“When I post on a page it’s not visible to others.”
“Posts not showing up on timeline.”
There it is. While many of us have come to accept the fact that posts from our communities are relatively buried on our Facebook Page Timelines, the sad truth remains. I lamented about this very point back in March: ”Posts by Others that are marked to be ‘Highlighted on Page’ are not highlighted in the default view of Timeline. In order to see these posts, users need to switch their view from ‘Highlights’ to ‘Posts by Others.’ Is anyone going to take that extra step?”
If the Facebook Pages I admin or the searches that lead people to my blog are any indication, it’s probably safe to say that users are not taking that extra step. Here are a few ways I’ve worked to bridge the gap and connect users with each other.
Repost questions with links to original posts, and solicit responses
This summer, a newly accepted student posted on my university’s Facebook Page, “Hii! =) I Got accepted here yaay.” When the conversation moved to questions about scholarship opportunities and weather in Michigan, I posted a link to the university Page and said, “[Student] is from Washington D.C. and has just been accepted to UM-Flint. She’s wondering what it’s like in Michigan and on campus. Can you help us answer her question?” The result was a fantastic string of supportive responses. And the student concluded with, “Awww I was kind of nervous…at first but not anymore. I’m really excited I’m an incoming freshman.”
Share users’ content
The highest level of interaction my university’s Page ever saw was the day I shared someone’s photo of a double-rainbow over campus. I credited the photo and thanked the sender. The photo received 289 likes, 37 shares, and 23 comments. The next day someone else posted a photo of the same double-rainbow. Yes, audience, you can share your photos!
Remind users that they can join the community conversation by checking out the “Posts by Others” view.
More than once I’ve posted things like, “Still finding your way around the new Timeline? Here’s how to find what people are talking about.” Or, “Did you know you can find what other people are saying about UM-Flint?” These aren’t exact quotes, but you get the point. Each time one of these posts went out, I received a handful of responses from people who were surprised and glad to have the information. If you tell them about the “Posts by Others” tab, they will come… or something.
Have you tried any of these tactics? Have they worked for you? Have you seen other great examples? Are you having an entirely separate issue with Facebook Timeline? Please share your experience in the comments.
During one of my social media strategy presentations this summer, an audience member asked me if I used Klout as a measurement tool. You see, we were discussing goal-setting and defining success so that progress can be measured. Truly, until I was asked about Klout that day, it hadn’t occurred to me that people might use a Klout score as a concrete gauge of social media efforts.
There’s been a lot of talk about Klout lately. Most recently, an article in the U.S. News & World Report cited a couple of my very-smart higher ed colleagues, J.D. Ross and Patrick Powers, “Professor Sparks Controversy for Klout-Based Grading.” Then yesterday, a recent graduate from my university posted this on Facebook: “I’m looking at Foursquare because I’m working on upping my Klout score…” He wasn’t even talking to me, but I couldn’t keep my nose out of the conversation.
Turns out my friend Marcus, who’s new to the job market, is applying for social media positions, and the companies hiring for these positions are asking for a Klout score as part of the application. The applications also ask how many Facebook friends and Twitter followers applicants have.
Say what? Sigh. So many articles written. So many smart people opining about this very thing. Why aren’t hiring companies paying attention? Why are things like Klout scores and Twitter followers impacting hiring decisions? While I’ll concede that high Klout scores may result from quality social interaction and relevant content, I fear that considering counts and scores as part of an application will weed out smart, qualified candidates that have great ideas but little time in the field.
Social media marketing is growing as a profession, and companies are still struggling to define those roles within their existing structures. I understand the desire to apply a metric to something. I do. But let’s all agree to define our own metrics. Let’s not use Klout (or anything else) as a measurement tool simply because we cannot come up with a way to measure on our own. What if Klout’s definition of social media success isn’t the same as ours? Or these companies’? Then we’re making decisions based on someone else’s criteria—or, in this case, “standard of influence.”
That sounds dangerous to me.
Image source: Wired
Too often on my campus, social media are an afterthought when it comes to marketing campaigns—and I have no one to blame but myself. Big campus event coming up? Let’s promote it on Facebook. College visit season in progress? Let’s retweet students when they talk about a good experience. Great conversation happening? Let’s capture it with Storify. Valuable practices, sure. But what could we accomplish if we made social media a part of every campaign from the very beginning?
More than anything, this investigation is a personal one. As the designated social media person at my university, I am frequently asked to promote things on Facebook or Twitter. I am Reminder Central for upcoming events, deadlines, and programs. I am the sharer of web addresses where students can find official university information. Lately, though, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m missing the boat. I want to be involved sooner. I want to know more. I want to involve our online communities in more of the process.
With a season of campus visit events on the horizon, the resolutions that follow were born with a specific “visit campus” campaign in mind—but the concepts could be applied to nearly any campaign.
Set Goals and Measure Progress
The time to discuss social media’s role in a campaign is at the outset. Let’s not use our social networks as broadcast channels, leaving little time to make an impact. Instead, an examination of a campaign’s goals should guide us, and social-specific goals should be set that are tied to those campaign goals.
For example, a campus visit event aims to bring prospective students to campus and, in turn, boost applications and enrollment. To support these efforts, the content I share through social media should work to increase attendance to these events.
Considering goals at the start will guide content. Processes to measure success can also be put in place. Maybe the registration form for the campus visit asks how respondents learned about the event (Facebook? Twitter? Postcard?). With the right data, the impact of social media on event attendance should be easier to identify.
Make a Personal Connection
As invitations arrive in mailboxes urging prospective students to come to campus, I envision personal invitations also hitting our social networks. How about videos from Admissions counselors or student tour guides? Just 30 seconds is plenty of time for a real, live person to say, “I’m looking forward to meeting you this fall!” These videos could be posted to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. They might be part of a series that includes a whole cast of people that prospective students will meet when they arrive on campus.
Research shows that students rank personal attention among the top factors in a college choice. A note from Julie Bryant of Neol-Levitz:
Delivering personalized attention at every point of contact—in the mail, online, over the phone, and on campus—can make a big difference in persuading a student to enroll and to persist. It’s also an area where your campus has a unique opportunity to differentiate itself from other institutions. (Julie Bryant, Noel-Levitz)
If personal attention can’t be delivered in person, let’s use our resources to make communication feel as personal as possible. Let’s do all we can to help prospective students feel comfortable and see themselves as part of our community.
Let the Community Shape the Experience
Is there a way to let guests help build an event? I say, “yes!” As an experiment, I’d love to leave an event program entirely up to an online audience. Success would depend on participation, sure, but let’s assume we have that. Then we can post questions like: What would you like to see while you’re on campus? Who would you like to hear from? What do you want for lunch? Do you want to stay overnight? Would you rather get a t-shirt or a hat?
In the real world, I know we can’t leave event planning to the masses (Past-life Events Manager Alaina is appalled at what I’m saying right now). We can let the masses have some input, though. Let’s get them invested early on! If they know the event is tailored to them, they just might be more likely to attend. If we want them to visit campus, attendance is a necessary part of the goal.
I’m excited to jump in. First on the agenda: talk with our Admissions office to get some tracking in place. Next: create or gather some great content, involve our community, and measure. I hereby commence my push to better integrate social media as a thoughtful part of new campaigns—from the beginning.
Moments ago, I concluded my Penn State Web Conference presentation, “Your Data-Driven Social Media Strategy” with a promise of resources. And resources you shall have!
Below are the links to the resources from my slides (in no particular order).
Thanks so much to everyone who attended my session this morning. I hope you were able to take away a bit or two that will help you build your own social media strategy. Find me on Twitter and we can continue the conversation.