Tweeting statues? Everyone loves squirrels.

I am a regular contributor to the CASE Social Media blog. My fifth post there is cross-posted here.

The Twitter and Facebook lineup on my campus includes statues and a rodent. This is why I love higher ed.

About a year ago, we were brainstorming about ways to expand the use of Twitter at William & Mary. We expected to land on a student Twitterforce that would be comparable to the legion of students who write for W&M Blogs. When we audience tested this idea, it was clear that Twitter use among students was, at the time, pretty low. And, the students in the focus groups seemed skeptical about Twitter as a way to tune into campus life. Frankly, these students talked a lot about Facebook and seemed confused about Twitter. Lordbot

When we described a second idea, using personas to comment on the W&M experience, we knew we were onto something. The students in the focus group were enthusiastic about the idea of two personas commenting on the life and times of the William & Mary campus. Cue @lordbot and @wmsquirrel.

My creative team spent some time devising personalities and context for these two new personas and we established Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for both.

@wmsquirrel (Twitter | Facebook) is a campus resident, nut aficionado, territorialist, specie supremacist, quip enthusiast, and one helluva guy. He has the run of the campus and acts like he owns the place.

Wmsquirrel
@lordbot (Twitter | Facebook) is a statuesque, ‘greatly loved,’ former Governor’s Palace resident, and occasionally annoyed by squirrels. His stationary life includes the oldest part of William & Mary’s 318-year-old campus and a view out toward Colonial Williamsburg.

We launched @lordbot and @wmsquirrel using a grassroots approach. We didn’t reveal that W&M Creative Services was behind them and, for a while, the other top-level William & Mary channels didn’t follow the two personas. We had an enormous amount of fun watching the numbers inch up.

We waited six months to reveal that W&M Creative Services was behind the personas. I gave the scoop to a student reporter who came to talk to me about what our office does for a piece she was writing for The Flat Hat.

So, less than a year later, how’s it going with these two? @wmsquirrel is popular, with nearly 500 Twitter followers and well over 1,000 Facebook likes. @lordbot has a dedicated, but much smaller following: nearly 250 on Twitter and about 335 on Facebook.

Much of what I know about social media was reinforced by the experience of developing and using these personas. Here’s what I mean:

  • It’s easy to start.
    Keeping the momentum up on a social media channel takes good, old-fashioned hard work. To support a successful launch of @lordbot and @wmsquirrel, we sat in a room for a few hours and left with a list of posts for each persona. We knew we’d be using whatever was current on campus as fodder for the commentary from these two but we wanted to queue up some posts that would explain their personalities and be immediately available during a creative dry spell.
  • Watch what you start.
    It’s no suprise that there are a lot of history buffs in and around Williamsburg. We try our best to make @lordbot historically accurate. Also, a persona that represents a real person from the past is more likely to get this sort of question, “Did Lord Botetourt own slaves?”
  • Make engagement your goal and try to measure your success.
    Of course, there are followers and likes and insights. But you should also watch for indicators that your social media channels are influencing campus culture. We knew we were there when a reporter from a student newspaper told me that she had seen more than one student point to a squirrel on campus and say, “I bet that’s @wmsquirrel.” Another proof point came from an alum, who on his way to campus for homecoming, offered to bring a treat for @wmsquirrel.
  • Social media is a unique form of communication.
    A few more statues and personas are making an appearance in the social media lineup at William & Mary. Statues in our library and business school are speaking out and making the conversation richer and more fun. You can see a full list of personas on William & Mary’s Social Stream.
  • Social media channels should support the central messaging in the university communication plan.
    It’s not all fun and games. Engaging with your campus and your alumni stakeholders is serious business. For example, the William & Mary personas reflect a strategy to juxtapose our history with current culture. This post from @lordbot demonstrates the interesting tension between the past and future, “You know I haven’t been the same since they buried that magnet on campus @williamandmary. I’m drawn to the sciences.”

Embrace what’s different about social media. Realize it’s communication and that many of the same rules apply.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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