January 2017

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In the past decade, social media platforms have become increasingly important tools in the higher education marketing and communications professional’s arsenal. Why? It gives us the opportunity to connect with our audiences in real-time and at minimal cost. In the world of reduced advertising funds and budget cuts everywhere, social media is where we get to flex our creative muscles and leverage major university events and activities to reconnect with and expand our online fan base. As the largest campus event, our 2016 graduation ceremonies were a perfect opportunity.

We chose to visually profile the graduating class – using multimedia content to tell their stories; create online interest and participation in the ceremonies; and increase our fans and reach.

When one considers that at the St Augustine Campus we have over 50K fans and 10K followers on Facebook and Twitter respectively, developing a social media strategy for graduation meant taking our knowledge of the audience and mapping out the kinds of content that people would want to see. We used photos and video to develop a campaign that would resonate. Our guiding theme: simple but effective.

We maximised in-house resources and chose to focus on three areas of innovation: introducing Graduation Correspondent Interviews with graduates after each ceremony; using Facebook Live as a second live streaming medium to complement the existing UStream channel, and publishing the Humans of New York type stories to profile our graduates. We decided on the unique hashtag #UWIGrad2016 to brand all our content across both Facebook and Twitter. The use of the hashtag allowed us to see how users were interacting with our content and sharing their own.

What were we able to achieve across those three days?

On Facebook, we generated 1,394,565 impressions. Impressions refer to the number of times a post generated by UWI St. Augustine was displayed on Facebook. 41,666 users were engaged and we reached 397,339 users. We had 72,550 video views (these were viewers of both the Facebook Live stream as well as our interviews) and we also earned 472 new fans. The top 10 countries engaging with our content were those residing in Trinidad and Tobago (naturally) as well as the US, Jamaica, Guyana, Canada, Barbados, the UK, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and St. Lucia.

Whilst our reach was less on Twitter, we were still able to generate 63.3K impressions and engage 7,952 users. It was interesting that the top performing post on Twitter was the same as Facebook – the image of student Amanda Thomas in tribal makeup. On Twitter, that Tweet amassed 22,115K impressions and engaged 3,877 users on Twitter.

When compared to last year, the introduction of the three areas of innovation in the approach resulted in a 61% growth in impressions, a 200% growth in reach, a 131% growth in new fans and 200% growth in engagement – this was all on our Facebook page. In retrospect, the strategy we developed focused heavily on Facebook interaction. As a result, whilst there was a 24% growth in impressions on Twitter, our engagement levels dipped by 25% and there was also a 51% decline in our number of new followers. Developing specific strategy for Twitter for the 2017 ceremonies, therefore, is one of our key lessons.

Being one of four campuses of the largest and longest standing university in the region, serving The UWI has a unique position of influence among some of the newly emerging institutions. Here are some of our major takeaways for graduation.

  • USE LIVE–STREAMING TO CONNECT WITH THE WIDER COMMUNITY – Facebook Live was a great strategy for increasing the reach of the ceremonies and helping boost our social engagement overall.
  • GET TO KNOW YOUR GRADUATING CLASS – what are the interesting stories emerging from the graduating class? Find these graduates and capture them. These personal accounts resonate best with the audience.
  • MAKE SOCIAL MEDIA A TEAM EFFORT – every member of the team (even those who did not have a specific responsibility for social media) were apprised of the strategy and on the lookout for content and would alert the team to capture a moment worth sharing. You don’t need fancy equipment to create great content – we shot a lot of our student interviews with a smartphone. A steady hand is all it takes.
  • USE STUDENT TALENT – postgraduate student Nikoli Edwards was this year’s graduation correspondent. Nikoli has broadcasting experience which made him a great asset to our team. As a student, he was also flexible enough to be on-call for each of the ceremonies.
  • GET CAMPUS MANAGEMENT INVOLVED – have leaders on your campus who are socially inclined? Let them help you with content. I mean, how else could we have landed this ‘behind the scenes’ selfie of our Campus Principal, Professor Brian Copeland and Chancellor, Sir George Alleyne?

Christine Nanton is the Marketing and Communications Officer with responsibility for conceptualising how social and other new media are integrated into the Marketing and Communications function at the St Augustine Campus