Adventures in meme-jacking

Updated again on April 3 with links to Karine Joly’s and Brian Fanning’s roundups, and sample comments from the university’s news site.

Updated April 2 with Storify archive of random tweets, posts, etc. in reaction to our April Fools’ Day shenanigans.

Pulling pranks on April Fools’ Day can be a risky venture for higher ed organizations. I speak from experience. A couple of years ago, we tried to be clever by turning our university homepage into a giant QR code. The joke fell flat. We were a little too clever, I guess.

But sometimes, the stars align, the Internet gods smile upon you, and your joke works. That was the case for us yesterday.


Our decision to doge-ify our website for April Fools’ Day 2014 turned out to be a winner. In my opinion, it’s also a great example of successful meme-jacking.

Meme-jacking, as this post defines it, is “the practice of hijacking popular memes for the benefit of marketing your brand or product.” It’s related to the idea of “newsjacking,” a concept PR authority David Meerman Scott describes in his book by that name. The idea in both cases is to position your brand to ride the wave of popularity of a news story or meme before it crests and crashes. That’s what we tried to do with the Missouri S&T website yesterday.

Doge — the Shiba Inu dog you saw all over our home page on April 1 — is a pretty popular Internet meme. But going into our 24-hour web redesign, we had concerns about whether Doge had become passe. Or, as one Twitter commentator put it, had we boarded the dead joke train?

Judging from the responses, however, Doge is still — to put it in Doge-speak — many relevant and such popular. We saw a lot of discussion of our brand and sharing of our web URL on Twitter and Facebook. We garnered some decent media coverage, too. Ashley Jost from the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune contacted me first thing Tuesday morning and wrote a nice blog post about our site. We also got mentioned on WIRED (who declared us winners of April Fools’ Day), Buzzfeed, Gawker, the Guardian, and our hometown newspaper, the Rolla Daily News. Even MuckRack journos were applauding our efforts, and higher ed bloggers Brian Fanning and Karine Joly included our site in their respective roundups.

But Twitter and Reddit were where much of the conversation was taking place. Reddit’s Dogecoin subreddit (don’t ask me to explain) was hopping with chatter. And countless thousands were talking about us on Twitter. According to SumAll, the Twitter reach for our @MissouriSandT account approached 340,000 on April 1. It’s not Lady Gaga, but it’s pretty good for us.

And my personal favorite:

(More examples to come in a this Storify we’ll be posting soon.)

What about results?

So, the obvious question is: Did it work? And the obvious follow-up: Was it worth it?

I would have to answer yes to both questions.

We also saw a nearly 16-fold increase in traffic to our website over the typical weekday traffic. (The same trend held for our prospective students’ website but I don’t know if any of those visits turned into actual applications.) Nearly one-third of those visitors were coming from social networks (Facebook, Reddit, Twiter and Tumblr were the top four, in order), and a little more than 10 percent were coming from referrals, mainly from media sites. I haven’t dug into all the data yet, but it’s clear that social media helped fuel the interest in our website.

Our moment of Internet fame also elevated our visibility slightly, if even for a moment, as a few of the comments from our news story about the joke point out.

And some of us who never even heard of MST before have now because it’s making it’s way around the Internet.

i found your site through tumblr. gods bless the interwebs. much entertain.

This is beyond awesome! I knew about your university, but now I know that you “get it”…

Proceed with caution

I won’t say that meme-jacking will always work. Like anything, it could fall flat, especially if you try to force it. In our case, we let the Internet do the heavy lifting. We just put it out there, tweeted and posted a few times, and let the Doge run free.

I also wouldn’t consider investing a lot of time and energy into jacking with every meme that comes down the pike. Consider the broader environment. April Fools’ Day lends itself to this type of tomfoolery. Not every occasion does. It also pays to be sensitive to the broader conversations occurring in social media. Today, for instance, I am writing this in the wake of a major earthquake in Chile, and other unsettling world events. There’s a time to be a prankster, and a time to keep silent. Know when to move forward and when to refrain.

But the Ragan story referenced earlier has some good guidelines on creating your own meme-jacking project. If only we’d known about these tips before April 1.


What’s the frequency, Twitter?

Tweet-birds-muralI guess by now we’re all aware that with Twitter, the more frequently we post, the greater the opportunity that our posts will be seen and acted upon.

But how much is too much?

This is something I’ve thought about since Guy Kawasaki brought it to my attention back in 2009. (See my post, To drive traffic, tweet and repeat, about Kawasaki’s test of tweet frequency.)

I’ve also worried about this idea of frequent and repeat tweeting. Like every other blogger with a PR or marketing background, I want to drive traffic to this blog. One way I do this is by sharing links to my blog posts on Twitter. I usually repeat the post a couple or three times, and generally I tweak the wording a bit in an effort to appear somewhat less lazy than a guy who automates tweets to churn them out at regular intervals. I don’t think I tweet too much. But I can’t help but wonder whether others see my approach to repeat tweets as obnoxious or spammy. I wonder whether followers ever notice those repeat tweets, and whether they think I’m posting too much about my own content.

When Kawasaki ran his experiment in 2009, he put eight hours of time between each repeat tweet. (He scheduled four identical tweets over 24 hours, then reported his results.) But a new experiment by Jade Furubayashi of SimplyMeasured makes Kawasaki’s test appear to be a model of restraint.

Furubayashi tweeted for one week in 15-minute increments, and another week in 30-minute increments. Her results showed that the more frequent the tweets, the greater the traffic from Twitter to her website.

So, frequent tweeting seems to drive web traffic.

But one item not addressed in Furubayashi’s experiment (and an issue raised in the comments to her post) has to do with the content of the tweet. Which also has to do with the headline or description used. (More about that in a previous post.)

What do you think? What’s the sweet spot for tweet frequency?

Image: Twittering Tweets Mural by cobalt123 on Flickr.

Heading to #CASEVI? Follow these live-tweeting tips

TEDx-tweetsI’m looking forward to getting together with many of my higher ed colleagues at the upcoming 2014 CASE District VI Conference. And I hope many of the conference-goers will use social media to document and share what they learn during the conference. (By the way, the official hashtag for the conference is #CASEVI.)

But as anyone who’s followed a conference from afar knows, the noise-to-signal ratio from conference attendees’s social accounts can be overwhelming. Sometimes, there’s a lot of non-valuable information floating along in the tweetstream from those events. The deluge of exhibition-hall selfies, name tag photos or humblebrags about schmoozing with a big-name speaker can become a turnoff to those watching back home. (I’ve been guilty of contributing to this tweetstream flotsam. Sometimes you just get caught up in the moment, as I did here.)

So for those tempted to regurgitate onto social media a conference’s every moment, higher ed writer Menachem Wecker (@mwecker) offers some advice on tweeting the right way. (Hat tip to John Lawlor for directing me to Wecker’s post.) Wecker talked to several in-the-know higher ed social media types to put together a good list of tips to cover a conference via social media. Here are a few of the main takeaways for me.

  • Follow influentials, not just hashtags. Whether you’re tweeting from the conference or following along back at the office, find out who the main presenters are and follow the conversations that arise around their names and presentations. There are several ways to do this. Harvard’s Mike Petroff (@mikepetroff) suggests that conference-goers use HootSuite, TweetDeck or some similar app to set up a list around those names and Twitter handles. (To help navigate this year’s conference, I’ve created a list of presenters’ Twitter accounts to follow during #CASEVI. This doesn’t include every presenter; only those whose accounts I could readily find on Twitter.) While I like this approach, I think it’s still worth following a conference hashtag, because you could miss out on some great conversation or information otherwise.
  • Share what you learn, not just where you are. Too often, conference-goers merely report or photograph where they are or what they’re doing, rather than what they are learning. Spend more time sharing what you’re getting out of the conference. And do your part to keep the conference hashtag as relevant as possible. Resist the temptation to append that hashtag to every photo or status update.
  • Add value — and conversation. If a presenter references a study, a book or another resource that you think would be of value to your audience, take a minute to dig up the link and share it with your followers. Passing along advice from Michael Stoner (@mStonerblog), Wecker suggests “tweeting links to resources that the speaker mentions” or even “expressing disagreement with something the speaker says by offering links or other evidence.” In other words, get a conversation going, or contribute to one.
  • Don’t just live-tweet — live-blog. If you’re a blogger, why not go beyond the live-tweeting and prepare some blog posts about your favorite sessions? Stoner recommends this, and I agree. The great thing about blog posts is that they persist long after the ephemeral cloud of conference tweets dissipates. One challenge with conference blogging, however, has to do with managing your time. If you’re involved in the planning and arrangements of a conference, as I am with this upcoming CASE event, your obligations often leave little time for consistent blogging. A better approach is to enlist a group of volunteers to divide and conquer by blogging specific topics or sessions on a site dedicated to the conference. This is the approach the HighEdWeb Association takes with its online journal Link. Check out the collection of session posts from the HighEdWeb 2013 conference for an example of how it works.
Get the #CASEVI mobile app

What other advice would you give to conference-goers who want to live-tweet a conference?

P.S. – If you plan to attend the conference, let us know! Mention the district’s official Twitter account, @CASEVI, in a tweet to let them know you’re on your way. (And don’t forget to include the #CASEVI hashtag.) You can also connect with others in the district through the CASE District VI LinkedIn group, and keep track of everything during the conference through a mobile app provided courtesy of Guidebook.

Top photo: TEDxWaterloo Tower of Tweets, by Patrick Dinnen (Flickr).

Friday Five: Best posts of 2013

calendar8It’s the final Friday of 2013, which means it’s time to do a backwards glance at the contents of this blog over the past 12 months. And time for a bit of introspection.

At a time when the experts are saying (again) that blogging is dead (again) — or at least dead for anyone except “40-somethings with kids” (I’m 50-something and have no kids) — I do have to stop and wonder whether there’s any value in a traditional blog like this versus, say, a tumblr. (Except, as I reported earlier this year, I haven’t exactly gotten the hang of the whole tumblr thing.) But then I look at the handful of fine higher ed-focused blogs that are out there, and the value they bring to their target audiences, I have to think that blogging still has a purpose.

And therefore, I plan to continue to publish this blog in 2014. And just as it was in 2013, the frequency of posts will likely be sporadic and sometimes off-topic, but I hope that some of you find some value in the topics I write about, just as you did this past year.

Here are the five (or so) blog posts that I thought brought some value, if not a little bit of insight, to the higher ed community in 2013:

  1. The elements of a great #highered Twitter account. First on the list is a two-part post, and its success belongs to all of you much more than it does to me. For this reason, the topic is probably the best example of how these old-fashioned blogs can still foster conversation among members of a community of practice, and tap into the hive mind to generate great ideas. The discussion began with a post last April in which I took Education Dive to task for their approach to ranking the top Twitter accounts in higher ed. (Education Dive relied on two criteria — number of followers and Klout score — plus an undefined “subjective appraisal” to determine the best of the best.) In that April post, I called on the higher ed community to share their thoughts on what makes a great Twitter account, and you responded in droves. I sifted through those comments to create the second part of this discussion in May: The elements of a great #highered Twitter account.
  2. ‘College (Un)bound’ and the frog in the kettleMy thoughts on Jeff Selingo’s 2013 book College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for StudentsOne of my highlights in 2013 was getting to meet Jeff Selingo at the CASE Annual Assembly last July in San Francisco.
  3. Content strategy is fine, but… A suggestion that, instead of focusing so heavily on content strategy, we take a look at the needs and wants of our customers and come up with an audience strategy.
  4. Media relations in a disintermediated world. As a former journalist turned PR/media relations practitioner turned brand manager, the role of media relations and the news media is a recurring topic for me. I wrote this back in October, and will also be presenting on this subject in June 2014 at a regional PRSA conference in Springfield, Mo.
  5. Boring old brand-building. A post that builds off of a quote from the greatest branding book ever written, Al and Laura Ries’s The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.

Thanks so much for reading in 2013, and for sharing your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, and elsewhere. I wish you all a successful 2014 in all measures.

Social Media Day: It’s official in Missouri #SMDay

socialmediaday.logo.bToday is Social Media Day all over the world. But here in Missouri, it’s officially Social Media Day. Our governor has proclaimed it so.

Missouri’s governor, Jeremiah (Jay) Nixon (@GovJayNixon), signed a proclamation declaring today Social Media Day across the Show-Me State. According to Mashable, Missouri is “one of the first states to issue such a proclamation.”

As it should be. Missouri is the home of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, a St. Louis native who also attended Missouri University of Science and Technology before striking out to create arguably the most influential social media platform ever. Nixon gives a nod to Dorsey’s influence in his official proclamation.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's proclamation declaring June 30 Social Media Day in Missouri.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s proclamation declaring June 30 Social Media Day in Missouri.

Thanks to the efforts of Gus Wagner (@RocketGroup), who made the request to the governor’s office that Social Media Day be officially recognized.

This is the fourth annual Social Media Day, an event cooked up by Mashable “as a way to recognize the digital revolution happening right before our eyes.” You can follow all the day’s social media happenings on Twitter via the #SMDay hashtag

On the other hand, numbers do matter

numbersReaders of my previous post (The elements of a great #highered Twitter account) could come away thinking I don’t care about numbers. That would be wrong. I do care about numbers.

Numbers matter in social media.

Dan Zarrella makes this clear in his popular Science of Social Media presentation. In the simplest of terms, if you want to get your message out to as many people as possible, then the bigger your potential audience, the greater the chance you’ll reach a bigger group of people. (This assumes your audience is paying attention to you, and that assumes they find your content worth paying attention to, sharing and acting upon. And that ties back to your credibility among the audience and their level of trust in you and your message.)

But that’s just potential reach, and as C.K. Syme points out in a recent post, reach is only a starting point. But it can be “the beginning of great things.”

“Raw numbers don’t give us a good mirror of effectiveness,” she writes, “but they are one of the indicators.” She suggests social media managers consider other measures, such as potential reach and share of conversation, and she points readers to some tools and resources that can help them do that.

Flickr photo by Mervyn Chua.

The elements of a great #highered Twitter account

successkidLast month, in response to Education Dive’s unsatisfactory ranking of the 10 best university Twitter accounts — and what they do right, I posed a question: What makes a great #highered Twitter account?

Your responses, both in your comments to that post and on Twitter, provided some great perspective on this topic. (Some of you even took up the question on your own blogs, providing more than 140 characters’ worth of insight.)

In my post, I said I would try to draw from your insights to outline an alternative to Education Dive’s method of measuring Twitter greatness for colleges and universities.

It is no easy task. In many ways, Twitter greatness is in the eye of the beholder and difficult to gauge. No wonder Education Dive stuck with two easy metrics — an account’s number of followers and Klout score — to develop their top 10 list. (True, the author of that post also claimed to conduct a “subjective appraisal,” but much of the evidence is based solely on numbers.) The number of followers and Klout score are certainly metrics to consider, but they inherently favor bigger schools over small ones. Perhaps a more nuanced approach to analyzing followers is in order.

But more about that later. For now, let’s look at a few of the themes that emerged from our online discussion on this topic.

Start with strategy

It should come as no surprise that someone with a title like “digital strategist” would suggest we start with strategy. That’s how Mike Petroff (@mikepetroff), the guy behind the @Harvard Twitter account, suggests any social media person in higher ed begin. And not all strategies are the same.

“It’s important to note that there can be differences in meaningful metrics for institutional accounts on Twitter,” Mike wrote in his comment to my post. “Some may focus on student engagement and customer service, while others may be driven by specific campaign efforts or general news awareness and amplification. These strategies are really an extension of the ‘voice’ of the Twitter account and how they focus their efforts.

“I respect both strategies, when executed well and attached to specific goals.”

The key here is to start with a strategy. Your institution’s social media strategy may not be the same as Harvard’s (which, by the way, topped Education Dive’s list). But if you don’t have a strategy, and don’t connect it with specific goals, then you have nothing to measure.

Taking a step back from Twitter, it’s also important to consider this platform in the broader perspective of social media strategy. Jeff Puklin (@JeffPuklin), who manages the @ConnCollege and @ConnCollegeLive Twitter account, shared this comment on the blog:

A great Twitter account in Higher ed should live in the center of a larger social media strategy [emphasis added]. Through the creation of our internally focused @ConnCollegeLive Twitter account – we engage our current students by facilitating conversations and promoting the vibrancy of our digital campus community. This allows us to provide admitted, prospective students and parents with an authentic user-generated view of campus life. The result: vibrancy and transparency.

Stepping back even further, that social media strategy should be connected to an institution’s communications and marketing strategy (or strategies), which in turn should be connected to the institution’s strategy. (A separate post about strategy some other time.)

Be human

Mike Petroff also mentions the “voice” of a Twitter account. The idea of voice — especially a human voice — seemed to be important to many of us.

Ma`ayan Plaut (@plautmaayan), the human behind @OberlinCollege, put it this way:

Ma`ayan was not alone in that sentiment:

I believe that a human voice is critical for success in Twitter. It may be easy to simply push out press releases or marketing-speak. That just gets information out there. Making it human is what matters and leads to meaningful interaction with your audiences.

Which leads us to…

Interact. Like a human.

“IMHO,” commented Jessica Krywosa (@jesskry) of @HamiltonCollege, “what makes a Twitter account great is that it is an active participant in the community. It RT’s, provides valued, timely information and it creates opportunities to bring people into a conversation. It creates targeted hash tags so that people can follow conversations. It cross promotes other accounts of value to its audience. It follows back relevant accounts/people. It has a personality (brand). Its not afraid to be cheeky/human/real.”

I could not agree more. Justin J. Ware of Bentz Whaley Flessner also concurs. As he said in his comment on my earlier post: “It doesn’t matter what industry, real interaction always makes for a better Twitter account.”

Measure what matters

I received a lot of ideas about measurement, and few of them had to do with raw numbers. A lot of us tend to agree with a quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein (but probably more accurately attributed to William Bruce Cameron):

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

One possibly useful measurement of Twitter greatness could be engagement-to-follower ratio.

This is something Liz Gross (@lizgross144) was getting at in her comment about the value of retweets as a metric.

“Retweets, while some might consider it a vanity metric, might be useful here,” she wrote. “If someone find the information in the account so valuable that they want to pass it on to to other people, that might mean something.”

Determining this ratio can be tricky and time-consuming. But here’s one approach (as discussed in this blog post):

  1. Select a tweet (or series of tweets during a given period)
  2. Calculate the number of mentions and retweets of that tweet during a given period
  3. Divide by number of followers during that period
  4. Multiply by 100

I’ve never tried this before. I may give it a shot.

There’s another approach that could provide context to the “raw number of followers” issue. Chris Syme (@cksyme) talks about this in her comment on my original post.

I’d leave follower numbers completely off the table, but maybe look at the number as a percentage of the total number you could reach (alumni, students, staff, faculty, etc.) Reach is a shallow metric — has nothing to do with effectiveness — only shows how many people could have access to your information.

I like that apples-to-apples approach, even though it’s crude and, as Chris points out, has nothing to do with effectiveness. Let’s say one university has 50,000 Twitter followers, and let’s suppose it has 20,000 students and 480,000 living alumni, giving it a potential audience of 500,000. Using only students and living alumni as the universe to measure, we could conclude that this school has a 10 percent reach.

Now, let’s suppose another university has 5,000 followers on Twitter but enrollment of 2,000 and living alumni of 48,000. It too would have a 10 percent reach.

Don’t forget to listen

Listening is not the same as monitoring. But both are important.

I view monitoring as more of an intel-gathering function, to find out what people are saying about your organization in social media. It’s an important function of brand and reputation management.

But monitoring your brand in the social media sphere doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be great at Twitter. It could just mean you’re good at gathering intel, and maybe you should consider working for the CIA.

Listening means more than monitoring.

Sometimes it means knowing when to respond, and when to respond publicly versus privately.

“For our institutional feed, I place a lot of emphasis on listening and responding to individual tweets, and I don’t always respond publicly,” writes Davina Gould (@davinagould).

Listening is also an issue Ma’ayan Plaut wrestled with in her blog post on this topic. With refreshing honesty, she struggles to find the appropriate balance of listening to interacting:

I’m still in limbo about how Oberlin College on Twitter needs to act. I tried a few weeks of retweeting things from our community, then added in some personal conversation/outreach to people talking about Oberlin, but then there was a lot of institutional silence but a heck of a lot more listening. Sometimes I broadcast original stuff. Is that okay? Is that a cop-out? On the whole, I don’t know what makes people visit, follow, converse with, retweet, favorite, or any of the other actions one desires from a/our Twitter account, or what we could do to make them do (something?) more.

A continuous feedback loop

What I’ve presented in this lengthy post merely scratches the surface of the web of issues related to achieving Twitter greatness. In the end, though, I think it all begins and ends with strategy and goal-setting for your specific institution or organization. And part of that goal-setting should involve listening to your constituents and determining what they need or expect from you at any given time. As Ma’ayan said in her post: “If we’re operating in an always-changing space, the replicability and scalability of what we’re doing is more tied to what the humans out there want rather than what we want and what the tools seem to encourage. …”

So maybe this entire blog post should be flipped. Maybe we should start with listening, build our goals and strategy from there, while taking into consideration the business goals of our organizations (i.e., how social media fits into those goals, including overall marketing).

Or maybe it’s a continuous loop that begins and ends with listening, revising and reworking our processes and approaches in the fluidity of the social media space.

Whatever it is, I think what I’ve taken away from the past month of listening, discussing and thinking about this topic is that no third-party assessment of “what makes a great Twitter account” can necessarily fit all institutions. It’s up to us to make our Twitter accounts great in the context that meets the needs and helps fulfill the dreams of our human audiences.

I’m ready to make @MissouriSandT more awesome on Twitter. How about you and your account? Starting today, Star Wars Day, let’s join forces and achieve #highered Twitter greatness.