February 17, 2016
How I Got 100+ Alumni to Participate in a Social Media Chat
There are seminal moments in the life of every graduate student. They include graduation day; the first and last (thankfully) class of one’s master’s or Ph.D. program; and, of course, the moment a student finds out he/she was accepted to the college or university–hopefully–of their choice.
Aside from graduation–the exact day when a graduate student becomes an alumnus/a–my social media work on behalf of the Harvard Business School (HBS) has not included these other moments…until a few weeks ago, that is.
Two months ago, a colleague at HBS contacted my supervisor and me about a project she had in the works. The co-worker, who is part of the MBA admissions team at the business school, was preparing to launch an initiative titled, #NextStopHBS. This social media-driven initiative–coinciding with the day select applicants were informed that, yes, they had been accepted to HBS–would be a means of welcoming members of the Class of 2017 to the business school community. As social media manager for the HBS alumni office, my mandate was simple:
Find a way to engage alumni in this new student “welcome.”
It didn’t take long for us–my supervisor and I–to arrive at a promising strategy. Since all alumni, regardless of whether they had graduated two years ago or thirty, had received a notification email or letter from HBS, we decided to ask a simple, yet relatable question which was…
“What went through your mind when you found out you were accepted to #HBS?”
Once our plan was in place, we pushed this question out via Twitter (as well as on Instagram and Facebook) on December 8, THE notification day.
Our Twitter strategy focused on our five different alumni lists (for more on our approach to list management, see “Tipping the Social Media Scales”). Starting on the 8th, I began sending our question to alumni on these lists who had tweeted within the last twenty-four hours. I figured alumni who had been tweeting recently would be more likely to respond.
Below are a few of the responses we received.
While things “took off” on Twitter, our progress was much slower on Instagram. Part of this, I believe, is how HBS alumni interact with the platform. Alumni, as a rule, tend to “like” our Instagram posts–to a significantly higher degree than they do on Facebook–but are less likely to comment on a post “organically.” That is, they rarely comment on one of our photos or videos without being prompted first.
But, when it came to the #NextStopHBS project, not all hope was lost. Since we knew who was “liking” our posts for this initiative–that is, we could differentiate between an alumnus/a and someone who had no connection to the school–I then had an excuse to send targeted messages to specific alumni (for more on our tracking strategy and how we know who is an alumnus/a and who was not, see“Rules of (Twitter) Engagement”).
Below is a perfect example of this strategy in action.
Kobbina Awuah (aka, @koby_tuyee_awuah) is a 2014 graduate of HBS. When I saw that he “liked” one of our #NextStopHBS Instagram posts, I decided to ask him–and a few other alumni–our question directly.
Here’s what he had to say….
Megan Ritter (aka @meganritter9), who I also included in my query, responded as well.
While our success on Instagram paled in comparison to that of Twitter (we probably received seven Twitter responses to every one on Instagram), the comments via the former were often longer and displayed more emotion and humor; this difference can be attributed, in large part, to the character restrictions of Twitter. In my experience, it’s very difficult to express emotion, humor, and nuance when you only have 140 characters to work with. These character restrictions are not an issue when it comes to comments on Instagram.
My biggest challenge came with Facebook. Time and time again this platform has perplexed me and the #NextStopHBS initiative was no different. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when my first post didn’t engender much activity, aside from a decent amount of “likes.”
But I did have one possible solution to this Facebook impasse. Last year, we began tracking alumni interactions on Facebook. When an alumnus/a liked or commented on a post, I would not only add them to my records, but I would also send them a “friend” request via my personal Facebook account. Hopefully, my request would be accepted and, if it was, I could then send targeted outreach to these HBS graduates as well.
So, once I posted the Storify of our #NextStopHBS chat–more on that to come–I posted the following content on my own Facebook page.
Once an alumnus/a “liked” my post, I followed the same approach we did with Instagram, asking them the same question.
And this is when the responses REALLY started coming in.
So, how did we do?
When I last checked, more than 120 individual alumni had responded to our question on one of the three social media platforms.
And the nice thing about this project?
We can repeat it EVERY year when notification day rolls around.
You can see our #NextStopHBS chat in its entirety on Storify at https://storify.com/hbsalumni/nextstophbs.
About the Author
Robert Bochnak is the Assistant Director of Alumni Communications and Marketing for Harvard Business School.
Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.