Every college and university puts on hundreds of events in a given year. Whether focused on external audiences (prospective students, alumni) or internal (the university community itself), mounting successful, well-attended events is time-consuming and often expensive.
Enter social networking and mobile devices. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FourSquare and SCVNGR, there are new ways to engage your audience that are inexpensive and interactive, without sacrificing impact.
Here at the University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries, we experimented the last two years with running week-long social media-driven celebrations in honor of National Library Week (NLW). By blending virtual activities with physical ones to create hybrid events, we raised awareness of library services, increased our Facebook “likes,” and showcased our friendly, knowledgeable staff. Basing our campaigns in social media and mobile devices allowed us to engage our audience—current students—from their virtual comfort zones.
Hybrid Event Ideas
Here are some of the activities we created to engage students during our 2011 and 2012 NLW campaigns. With some minor tweaks, most of these could be easily converted for prospective student visits, alumni reunions, or community engagement events.
Facebook Check-in Deal: Using the deal feature in Facebook Places, students were invited to check into the library via their smartphone app. Once checked-in, they received an on-screen coupon instructing them to see a staff member at the information desk for a free button.
YouTube Video Quiz: Using YouTube Video Annotations, we created a multiple choice video quiz with questions designed to introduce viewers to library services, mixed with fun library trivia. Each segment featured a staff member describing a library service or trivia topic followed by a multiple choice question. A click on the correct answer took viewers to the next video; an incorrect click replayed the segment and gave the opportunity to pick a different answer. At the end of the eight-segment quiz, students were presented with a URL leading to a prize drawing entry form. The quiz proved very popular, with 303 views and 143 people persisting through the entire quiz to enter the prize drawing.
Free Music Playlists: Since our library provides access to over 400 databases, we wanted to shine a spotlight on one that has a lot of potential for our students. We decided to highlight Music Online by having librarians create seven different music playlists. A Facebook fan exclusive, students streamed the songs to their mobile device (accessed via a QR code promotion) or computer.
The activity illustrated there are great databases students have access to beyond those in their specific field of study, and that there are alternatives to torrent to get free music. Usage statistics for Music Online were 41 percent above average for the month of the campaign.
Meetups: The morning of our Meetup, we posted a secret password on our Facebook wall. Students were invited to show up at a designated time/place, say the password and get a free t-shirt while supplies lasted. The shirts were snapped up quickly, with students lined-up for the Meetup half an hour prior to the posted start time.
SCVNGR Challenge: Using SCVNGR (available for both iPhone and Android), we ran a scavenger hunt for our students to promote our fun side. We created five tasks with each successful completion earning a button. Tasks varied from identifying a favorite work of art in the library to uploading a self portrait of their best school mascot impression to creating a tin foil origami sculpture.
Students enjoyed the scavenger hunt, with over 100 students participating. We showed off student artwork by displaying the tinfoil sculptures at the information desks. A paper version of the hunt was also available, so no one was left out of the fun.
Photo Booth Contest: A photo booth was rented and placed in the library for 4 hours. We provided lots of fun props, inviting students to jump in with friends to have their photo taken. They walked away with a souvenir photo strip (branded at the bottom with our logo, of course) and printed instructions to visit our Facebook page the next day where we had all the strips uploaded to a special album (digital files were provided by the photo booth vendor). Anyone who tagged themselves in their photo was automatically entered into a prize drawing for a t-shirt or flash drive.
Promotion, Outcomes and Lessons Learned
The bulk of the promotion for the NLW activities took place on the Libraries’ Facebook page. Other avenues of promotion included a dedicated website that consolidated information on all the events, as well as large-scale posters placed in the elevators and lobby areas of our various libraries.
Most of the social media tools we used were free, but we did spend some money on prizes we knew would really appeal to our students, including custom buttons and t-shirts featuring our main campus library’s nickname, “Club JPL” (JPL = John Peace Library).
The hybrid events had a substantial impact on our Facebook numbers. During our 2011 NLW celebration, we saw 158 new Facebook “likes,” a 23 percent increase. We had 672 views of our custom campaign page tab, and 18,283 post views for the week — a 502 percent increase from the week prior! Our 2012 campaign statistics were similar, with the number of fans “talking about us” increasing from a typical range of about 100 people to more than 300 people at the height of the campaign. In both years, our “like” numbers continued to rise steadily in the weeks following the event as friends of our fans became aware of our page.
Our team approached the NLW events with a sense of adventure. By their very nature, social media campaigns are unpredictable. As much as we worked to plan the technical and logistical aspects of each event, we knew there would be a certain amount of learning—and reacting—on the fly as components were launched and student comments rolled in. The team acknowledged from the beginning that not all of our activities would necessarily be successful, but that the potential benefits much outweighed the risks of any failures.
Though most of the events went smoothly, we did learn first-hand the hazards of location-based mobile activities. Spotty wireless signals in our main library building caused some students to struggle with accessing activities on their phones, and students who did not own smartphones were unable to participate in some of the events. With our Facebook check-in deal, we found students checking into alternate (non-official) library locations, causing us to quickly relax the rules regarding presenting the on-screen coupon.
These challenges were minor compared to the level of participation and the abundance of positive feedback we received. Facebook comments such as “so awesome!” and “this rocks!” were common throughout our NLW celebrations.
Our experience running hybrid events shows that social media does have the capacity to create a buzz and engage your audience, especially if a strong dose of fun and a willingness to take a few risks are mixed into the equation.