#uwrightnow: Integrating your social, web, editorial and marketing networks

#uwrightnow: Integrating your social, web, editorial and marketing networks
John Lucas, Social Media Manager, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Nick Weaver, Director of Web Services, University of Wisconsin-Madison

What do you get when your boss tells you to pull together a “new huge enterprise multimedia project,” in just about two months?
The communications staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found themselves on the business end of that question, and discovered they had no idea.
But at the end of two months, as John Lucas and Nick Weaver told an audience at #heweb12, they had an incredible success story that energized the UW community worldwide in a way that nothing before it had.
UWrightnow.wisc.edu  is a 24-hour snap shot of UW with crowdsourced content mixed with content produced by university staff.
The team settled on the approach after realizing a lot of brainstorming and realizing that the overnight hours would be tough to generate content for, Lucas said. People such as nurses on the overnight shift or janitors  “weren’t going participate in the project if we didn’t go out and find their stories and share them.”
Weaver and his team built a Tetris-like sign using the jquery-masonry plugin for WordPress, that leaned heavily on the design sensibilities of Pinterest. Content interlocked over a grid that flowed through the 24-hours of April 18.
“With a project like this that was so loosely defined, design played an important role in focusing the collective staff on what we wanted to do,” Weaver said.
As the project became more focused, they reached out ahead of time to  their 400,000 living alumni, 42,000 undergrads and the community, marketing the project with the tagline “1.4 million hours since UW-Madison was founded. 24 hours to tell our story.”
There was “total uncertainty (on launch day) about what we were going to get back,” Lucas said.
What flowed in was remarkable:

  • 1,018 stories photos and videos, tweets posted
  • 14,000 unique visitors in 24 hours
  • Visitors from 50 states and 95 countries
  • Visitors spent 5 minutes on the site on average
  • 20% of visits happened on mobile devices
  • 8,000 shares on Facebook and Twitter.

And content rolled in from all over the world. UW researchers weighed in from the South Pole. Lucas had a “holy shit moment” when he came into the office at 4 am to find a picture posted by an alumna of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India.
By the end of the day, students were competing with each other to see who could get their content posted on the website.

The overriding idea behind the project was telling the stories of people and breaking away from the standard press release cycle, Lucas said.
“When we are at our best, we’re talking about our people and we’re showing their energy and their ideas and their enthusiasm,” he said. “”Our university is more than trees, awards, and donations from alumni.”

Weaver and Lucas said they ended up learning two big lessons.
“Don’t be afraid to take a risk,” Weaver said. “Try something that you’re not completely sure is the right thing to do. So many projects we do become patterns…every once in awhile it’s great to try to break out of those patterns.”

The other big lesson was that somethings go beyond measuring an ROI.
“This was the best brand and marketing activity I think our office has ever conducted,” Lucas said. “The social web is about people,” he said. When you use it well “you make them feel a sense of affinity that cements their bond with you. You get friends for life and advocates and people who are willing to act on your behalf not just online but hopefully in the real world.”

Weaver and Lucas also readily admitted that as part of a massive land-grant state university they had a big staff and community for help. But they said even smaller institutions can pull off similar projects that build community or build the same sort of respose by being highly interactive on their current social media channels.

“I hope everybody is looking to do awesome and cool things whenever you can,” Lucas said.