Finding harmony: How we promoted an inaugural event

Missouri State Chorale

Dr. Cameron LaBarr leads the Chorale at rehearsal on the inauguration platform.

What if you were told tomorrow to plan for one of the biggest events in your university’s history? Would you be ready? How would you pull together your team to tell the story?

What if the event celebrated one of the most controversial election outcomes in U.S. history?

That was our charge. Missouri State University’s division of marketing and communications waded through the murky waters of promoting the university Chorale’s performance at the 58th presidential inauguration.

Hundreds of work hours led to several digital communications, disgruntled alumni and friends, a message from James Corden and record-setting metrics. One 4-minute performance at Capitol Hill put Missouri State on the national map.

The beginning of an incredible journey

Everything started in fall 2016, well before the November election. Dr. Cameron LaBarr, the Chorale director, knew Missouri State had a chance to be on this stage when Sen. Roy Blunt was named the head of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC). JCCIC plans everything that happens on inauguration day.

Blunt is a Missouri State alumnus. He jumped at the chance to make the group the featured choir at the inauguration after he watched a video of the Chorale performing live.

At that point, the task of promoting the amazing opportunity shifted to our team. Many people knew this was happening, including us, JCCIC, Dr. LaBarr, MSU President Clif Smart, College of Arts and Letters Dean Gloria Galanes and several others.

The Chorale? They had no idea. That made the day of the public announcement that much more fun.

Shock and smiles on announcement day

The university scheduled the announcement for Oct. 7, 2016, at Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. The details were kept cryptic. All we said publicly was that we would make a major announcement regarding the College of Arts and Letters that day.

Dr. LaBarr gathered the Chorale and instructed them to be ready to perform a few songs at the event. This was nothing new for the 50-student group. They make frequent appearances at university functions, so we know at least most of them didn’t know their lives would change that afternoon.

As the university community gathered that afternoon, we put the announcement on Facebook Live. The broadcast picked up more than 40,000 views, 660 reactions and 300 shares. An early sound issue not withstanding, we pulled off a successful broadcast minus a full-time staff member (me), who had to be out of town.

But the best part was seeing the students’ stunned and joyous faces after Blunt surprised them with the invitation to perform in front of millions of people. There was laughter, tears, smiles and surprise. Their reactions gave us remarkable photos we used throughout the process to promote the Chorale’s upcoming trip.

From that day forward, we coordinated with the senator and JCCIC promote the Chorale to our target audiences. The methods were numerous, including plans for MissouriState.edu homepage coverage, news releases to students’ hometown newspapers, a social media kit, content for an #Inauguration2017 blog, strategic social media videos and more.

A little bit of crisis mode

The election of Donald Trump came as both a surprise and a firestorm for us on our social media networks. The Chorale accepted the invitation on Oct. 7. The election happened a month later. The university had no preferred winner. But that didn’t stop many people — most of whom had zero affiliation with Missouri State — from telling us how awful we were for attending the inauguration.

We had to develop ways to respond to these concerns, as we were worried about protecting the university’s relationships with alumni and friends. The messaging centered on the Chorale’s performance celebrating the American tradition of a peaceful transition of power, not the president-elect him or herself.

A key Facebook post also helped us explain the university’s position on keeping its commitment. On inauguration day, the Chorale performed a piece that poet Michael Dennis Browne and composer John Wykoff wrote. We produced a blog post about the lyrics and shared it on Facebook. The song was called “Now We Belong” which delivered the Chorale’s message to the world: Feed love.

Many Americans were happy with the election results. Many others were not. But the song lyrics made it clear that the Chorale and Missouri State participated to send its own message, independent of who became the 45th president of the United States:

Keep faith, keep watch
Take heart, take courage
Guard mind, guard spirit
Feed love, feed longing

Inauguration day brings staggering results

The Chorale and university representatives traveled to Washington, D.C. a few days before Jan. 20. Most of our team stayed here and prepared to share the day with our social media followers. As ready as we were, we learned some lessons along the way.

One of the biggest surprises was the general public’s interest in the Chorale’s wardrobe. They wore maroon beanies and official tartan scarves, both of which were available for purchase.

We even got a look from James Corden of “The Late Late Show” and “Carpool Karaoke,” who tweeted “Anyone know where I can get that hat and scarf combo?” during the Chorale’s performance on TV.

We produced another video with the Chorale singing Corden’s favorite song on “Bearline Karaoke,” shared the content on Facebook and Twitter, then mailed him a package that included the beanie and cashmere scarf.

We didn’t expect to get another response from him, but we did.

Key outcomes

218 net Twitter followers on the Missouri State account from Jan. 20-22 (42,358 to 42,576)

  • On Twitter, we typically have about 50,000 impressions per day. Inauguration day brought 177,000. The Twitter stream we follow changed faster than we could track.
  • One top tweet said “Proud” with a group photo (47,000 impressions and more than 8,000 engagements) and the tweet from the airport (12,000 impressions, but 3,300 engagements).

232 net Facebook fans on the Missouri State page from Jan. 20-22 (70,108 to 70,340)

  • Posts reached more than 200,000 people and generated more than 25,000 clicks. Engagement rates spiked.
  • Our top post was the video of the Chorale dancing, which we shared to celebrate their departure for D.C. That reached more than 80,000 people and generated 65 comments and more than 200 shares.
  • Website traffic was 8x more than normal.

  • We had 64,000 hits in the 10 a.m. hour to missouristate.edu. This traffic briefly took down parts of the website.