Great Facebook Idea: Showcasing Your People

Vanity alert, vanity alert – it’s that time on this blog again where I write about myself and things I’ve worked on. I’ve done it before here (Building School Spirit), here (Launching Instagram), here (Fashion Photos), and here (Orientation). Why? Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! And also because I worked a lot this weekend and am too lazy to do a bunch of research into what other schools are doing. (And, of course, are much better at doing... sigh.)


I’m going to write about a project we called “Proud to Be a Pilot” that was implemented during the 2011-12 school year. Inspired by a highly successful marketing campaign by the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer, this initiative involved taking hundreds of professional photos of students, alumni, parents, employees, fans, and friends and using those photos in marketing materials. The goal was to increase school spirit, create quality content that people want to consume and share, and connect on an emotional level by stoking feelings of school pride while also making people feel valued by being the faces of an official university marketing campaign.

It proved to be one of the most highly successful things I’ve ever worked on in terms of social engagement (hundreds of thousands of photo views, tens of thousands of likes, hundreds of people using them as their own profile pictures, etc.), and there was a tangible buzz about it both on campus among students and off campus among alumni.



A quick tangent on “engagement” – please feel free to scroll down if you want to skip the screed. Retweets, likes, comments, shares: these are the currency of social media. But I’ve just about had it with “hollow” engagement that does nothing more than stockpile numbers for vanity metrics. Fill in the blanks, caption contests, inane open-ended questions, memes, useless contests… sure, they’ll get likes and comments and shares, but does any of that actually mean anything? Does it make people feel more deeply connected to your school? And don’t even get me started on the shocking numbers of fake Twitter followers and phony Facebook likes. We all have to dance the EdgeRank dance, no doubt about it, but let’s not lose sight of the digital forest for the engagement/ROI trees. Social media at its best connects on an emotional level. As community managers, we have tremendous power to build exactly that – community. But we can’t do it simply by having an Excel sheet with columns of likes, comments, and RTs. We can’t get stuck in the engagement rut. We have to reach for that deeper level. Having fun, keeping things light, not taking yourself seriously – that stuff is canon for me. But so is foregoing fish-in-a-barrel engagement more often than not and striving to scratch at things no statistical model can capture the value of: increasing student school pride, stoking alumni nostalgia, making parents feel connected to their children, forging feelings of familial bonds. Of course, working in higher ed allows me the luxury of this opinion. I don’t have a bottom line to meet and I don’t have a pushy sales manager breathing down my neck, mainly because I am not selling something. (At least not directly.) Yes indeed, we are fortunate people, we higher ed social media peeps.




Step 1: Taking the Photos

We arranged for four separate photo shoots over the course of a few months, one at a soccer game, one in our school cafeteria during lunch, and two prior to basketball games. Anyone and everyone was welcome to take a picture, and we also provided a large selection of UP clothing and props (many of which were sports equipment, since many of the photos were used to promote our athletics teams).

Myself and a co-worker (the fabulous Mary Beebe – hi Mary!) managed the shoots. We publicized the photo shoots as much as we could on social media and other various campus outlets, and once we had a good sample of photos, promoting the shoots became very easy – in fact, at the height of this campaigns popularity, people were willing to wait for upwards of 45 minutes and we eventually had to turn away many disappointed photo seekers due to lack of time.

Pro-tip: Have a few small white boards and erasable markers handy, and have each person write down their name and take a picture with it before beginning the photo shoot.




Step 2: Selecting and Editing the Photos

The biggest time commitment of this project was going through the (literally) thousands of photos and selecting the best ones for each person or group of people. We ended up picking a wide cross-section of photo types, from “tough” game-face type shots to cuteness overload.

We solicited many opinions on this, and sometimes there were some pretty strong disagreements over which photos we liked the most. I tended to gravitate toward the more "serious" pictures - I liked how they were different from a standard posed photo and I liked how much attitude they showed. But others really liked to have smiles. We went back and forth a lot about whether or not we needed to be consistent with that, but ultimately we simply decided to pick the best photos and trust that the spirit of the campaign would shine through, whether the pictures were of people mean-mugging for the camera or laughing with their friends.

Then we adjusted, cropped, and added a UP logo to each photo before posting them on Facebook and Flickr.




Step 3: Using the Photos

As would be expected, these photos absolutely blew up our Facebook page every time we posted them. If there’s a cardinal rule of social media, it’s that people love professional photos of themselves. Can’t get enough of them. And they have the added benefits of being the most-consumed social content, tagable, and ideal for profile pictures on a variety of social media outlets, extending their potential reach far beyond anything one page is capable of.


One of the coolest things we did with the photos was make a poster out of each and every one of them and deliver five copies to the people in them. This took a lot of work and required a bit of a budget for printing and delivery, but it was SO worth it. As much as I live and work in the digital world, I’m a big, big believer in the value of providing people with something tangible that is “special” and has a bit more permanence for marketing purposes. These posters have enjoyed long lives pinned up in the halls of dorms, on bulletin boards, on the walls in rooms, in offices, in parents houses, etc.

We hand-picked a few of the very best, made large banners of them, and put them up in our main athletics arena as well as in one of the primary cafeterias on campus. These stayed up for about a year, and were probably the primary way the general public got to see these photos. We also created several simple slideshows that were shown on the video board during basketball games.

The photos have been used in countless e-mail campaigns, from faculty/staff giving requests to admissions. They also continue to be used in print, online, and athletics marketing materials.



Summing Up

As I wrote in the italicized tangent above (I totally understand if you skipped over that): Social media at its best connects on an emotional level. And I believe this campaign did indeed at least scratch at that, especially when it comes to helping build school spirit and pride. Any time you can get students to wait in line for half an hour for something that doesn’t involve free food or free t-shirts, you know you’re onto something. And there is tremendous value in making people feel like they are a big part – the focus, in fact – of your marketing campaigns. It reinforces the idea that this place is first and foremost about the people that make up its community. Plus, it’s just cool to see yourself on a poster. That will never not be true.

Social Media ROI. Just typing those words starts to give me the shakes. Perhaps because I’m not a marketer by trade (I studied English Lit, political science, and German – there’s a good buck in that racket, believe me!) or because save a brief stint at a book publisher I’ve only ever worked in higher ed, but I find myself cringing every time I see articles about “Social ROI.” Yes, metrics are important and yes, you have to justify your existence to the people signing your paychecks, but – and I fully admit you can accurately label me as naïve on this point – for me the “fuzzy” value of social media will always trump the value of conversion rates and, the favorite buzzword of every social media “ninja” (eyeroll), engagement.

And in my book, this project had more Social Media ROI than just about anything else I’ve ever worked on.


You better believe I took a picture too. Pretty intimidating, huh?

You better believe I took a picture too. Pretty intimidating, huh?

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