How Seven Seconds on Social Media Can Bring More Attention Than Any Advertising Campaign
This year is an important one in the history of St. Louis College of Pharmacy as we celebrate our sesquicentennial, marking 150 years since the founding of the College. The year also marks the 250th birthday of St. Louis. One of the big events to celebrate the city’s birthday is the distribution of 250 four-foot-tall fiberglass cakes across the entire region. The location of 200 cakes was determined by the nonprofit group stl250. The remaining 50 cake locations were chosen by popular vote. The only way the College would receive a cake would be to place highly in that vote.
As a pioneer in the profession of pharmacy, and regional asset with a long history of having a positive impact on St. Louis, it seemed appropriate to have a cake on campus. However, we were up some serious headwinds. The voting began in early December, right as finals were starting, and continued while our students were on winter break. The Marketing & Communications department started looking for a memorable way to spread the word about voting often while avoiding flooding e-mail inboxes, which rarely works on our campus. We anticipated the competition for votes would be stiff, and assumed we would need to have our more than 1,300 students and 200 faculty and staff vote for the College multiple times.
For students to vote, and vote often, we had to engage with authentic content that did not take a lot of time to either create or consume. Here’s the result:
Six months prior, the students behind the memorable cake dropping video created a funny, memorable Vine video, which has unfortunately since been deleted.
So how did we do it?
1. Know the students on your campus
We have the advantage of being a small, closely-knit group of faculty, staff, and students. Most of the students know each other. Because most students are here for six or seven years, the faculty and staff get to know them too.
Students at the college take their studies very seriously, as they’re in the midst of a rigorous curriculum. Those challenging classes, and long hours spent in pharmacies across the region, can sometimes lead to a perception on campus that students aren’t having fun and not having a typical college experience like their friends at other institutions. Even though pharmacy is a very much left-brained task, there are still plenty of right-brained creative expressions happening.
Takeaway: Don’t buy into the prevailing wisdom of the typical student on your campus.
2. Involve everyone on campus
Knowing we’d need to have most of our votes logged in the early parts of the voting period (while students were on campus), the Marketing & Communications office undertook a video blitz. We weren’t going for high production values. Many of the videos were done in one or two takes. The cake falling off the parking garage video was done on the first attempt. The goal of the video blitz was to involve as many faculty and staff as possible to build enthusiasm on the administration side. By including a high number of faculty, we reasoned there would be a good chance of a student’s ‘favorite’ being featured and then shared.
Takeaway: Look for tools to help bridge the gap between the students and the administration and faculty. In some cases point-and-shoot videos are better suited for your needs than the slickly edited pieces from your video production department.
3. Be an early adopter
The timing was perfect: 250 years for St. Louis, 150 years for St. Louis College of Pharmacy. We learned about the cakes less than a month before the voting was to begin, leaving us little time to work. As we researched more about the cakes, and the stl250 organization, we learned it was a very small operation. Knowing they were starting from nothing on social media, we tagged them in many social media posts. Thanks in part to that interaction, plus the high number of early votes, the local NBC news station included the College in its story about the cake voting. That story was seen by more than 100,000 viewers that night and countless more online.
Takeaway: Go all in. You’ll reap the benefits of your sincere enthusiasm.
Cake hunting has become a serious activity in St. Louis over the past year, especially during the summer. There are dozens of blogs chronicling attempts to visit all 250 cakes. The College has been tagged numerous times on Twitter with pictures of cake hunters at our cake. Our campus sits tucked next to one of the world’s preeminent medical and healthcare complexes. The cake brought countless people to campus, improving our visibility in a critical year in our history.
— Brian Wittling (@StL_Stadtroller) August 14, 2014
— Nicole Gattas (@NGattas) April 24, 2014
What could we improve on next time? (a.k.a. don’t make the mistakes we made)
Better call to action
In our zeal to post the videos on our social media sites, we did not take the time to learn how to optimize them for voting. We put a link to the vote in the video description, but likely underestimated how many would play the video on a mobile device which make it difficult to see the descriptions. In hindsight, including a custom, easy to remember, URL in the video could have increased the vote numbers.
Where’s the value add for finding the cake
We did not anticipate the enthusiasm the public had for finding and documenting their cake journeys. Our cake has significant marketing messaging, but there always is a chance to do more. We may have missed an opportunity to post additional signage pointing visitors to our front door to ask for a tour or to talk about the opportunities for graduates.
Despite some obstacles, and thanks to one seven-second video, we did become known as the college with the cake.
By the Numbers:
St. Louis College of Pharmacy
- 1,366 Students
- 8-acre campus inside medical complex
- 6,800 Alumni
Cake-related social media posts:
- 16 Facebook Posts
- 409 Likes, Comments and Shares
- 1,983 Post Clicks
- 25 Twitter Posts
- 150,000+ Impressions
- 7 YouTube Videos
- 2,500 Views