Facebook, the World Series and combined relevance

Since meeting Dan Zarrella at a social media workshop last June, where he presented his “Science of Social Media” talk, I’ve been experimenting with some of his principles for spreading ideas via social media. One of his principles — that of combined relevance — has been of particular interest to me, and during the World Series, I had a chance to put it into practice on behalf of our university.

I bet you thought I’d shut up about baseball by now, more than a week after my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, won the World Series. But even if you aren’t a baseball fan, I think you’ll find that this topic has a bit of combined relevance for you as a higher ed marketer. So, please bear with me.

Zarrella explains combined relevance as the merging of “two seemingly distinct interests,” and it works in social media because it connects organizations with the interests of their audiences in unexpected ways. Combined relevance finds a connection with audiences that often have little to do with an organization’s brand or sales pitch.

“By combining two apparently unrelated niches,” Zarrella writes, “you can create a piece of content likely to go viral with people who just happen to be into both things.”

In Zarrella’s oft-cited case, the two unrelated niches were “gadgets and Victorian era intoxicants.” (You really need to read his post to fully appreciate where he’s coming from.) For me most recently, the two niches weren’t quite so exotic. I combined professional baseball with a graduate of our university.

After St. Louis’ comeback in Game 6 of this year’s World Series, in which hometown boy David Freese shone by tying the game in the ninth inning, then hitting the game-winning home run in extra innings, our department learned, via our alumni office, that Freese’s father was a graduate of our university. So we decided to test the theory of combined relevance on our Facebook site with the following post connecting our institution with a baseball hero.

Here’s a fun fact for all you St. Louis Cardinals fans out there. David Freese, the St. Louis hometown boy who hit the game-winning home run in last night’s Game 6 of the World Series, is the son of Rolla grad Guy Freese, CE’75. How cool is that?

This single post resulted in a significant spike in activity on our site. As of yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, the post has garnered:

  • 3,610 impressions
  • 10 comments (including one from us)

Here’s what the post looked like:

Using combined relevance -- in this case, the World Series and a Missouri S&T graduate's family connection -- on our Facebook site
Using combined relevance -- in this case, the World Series and a Missouri S&T graduate's family connection -- on our Facebook site

That may not sound like much to some of you, but those numbers represent one of the most viewed postings on our Facebook site. And, according to Facebook’s algorithms, also one of the most viral. It’s virality score of above 11 percent was more than four times higher than the runner-up for the month of October.

Of course, we can’t always make combined-relevance connections to occasions as prominent as the World Series. But we can still find ways to connect our institutions to relevant topics being discussed in the social media sphere. The key is to be attuned to what our audiences are talking about. On one warm October day, quite a few of our Facebook fans were interested in baseball, and they apparently liked that we were interested in it, too.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

4 thoughts on “Facebook, the World Series and combined relevance”

  1. Glad to see you writing again–I love Zarrella. Got his “Hierarchy of Contagiousness” on Seth Godin’s Domino Project when it was free for 10 days! Every social media manager should read it. Good stuff–I love your creative use of combined relevance. The trick is choosing two cross pieces that fit well w/audience– and you did!

  2. Thanks, Chris – I too picked up “Hierarchy of Contagiousness” but haven’t dug into it yet. It’s on my down time reading list. (Now, whenever that down time comes along, I have a LOT of reading to do.)

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, but I think you should stay away from the social commentary as you really don’t get it. Stick to the tech stuff.

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