Five things I learned from the #DebateAutism Twitter chat

What’s the point of a Twitter chat? For social media and marketing professionals, Twitter chats are a regular thing. They’re a good way for professionals to network, make new connections and learn from each other.

I’ve been kicking the idea of a regular Hallam Twitter chat around for a while, but it’s only recently that the pieces have started to fit together.

Here’s one piece: we’ve got a new university-wide strategy. It focuses on changing lives. We change lives, through educational development and self-improvement. Our academics are experts in their field, and their research addresses some of the toughest issues society faces.

Professor Nick Hodge and his dog Huck

Professor Nick Hodge and his dog Huck

For a university, a Twitter chat can be a way to engage large numbers of people in serious debate and inform our research and teaching. It can also be a way to raise our academics’ profiles, and connect them to people who are interested in, and invested in, their specialist subjects.

Our first academic Twitter chat took place on 21 March 2017. It was led by Professor Nick Hodge, an expert in autism who’s very good at using Twitter to develop his professional network and share ideas around autism. Nick’s research focuses on issues that affect the education, development and well-being of disabled people and their families.

The initial catalyst for the Twitter chat was Nick’s professorial lecture, which sold out very quickly. I was interested in working with Nick to raise the University’s profile among autism academics, practitioners and autistic people (and their families), by engaging them in a conversation about perceptions of autism, and the challenges faced by autistic people and their families.

Nick’s inaugural lecture presented us with an opportunity to explore public engagement with a very diverse and interesting community. Opinions and perceptions of autism vary hugely, and practitioners don’t always agree on how autism should be diagnosed and supported.

And Nick’s thought-provoking blurb for his lecture was the starting point for how we framed our Twitter chat:

People think differently about autism.

Some people think that children with autism need to change to be more like people without autism.

Other people think that we should learn to appreciate different types of people.

Sometimes arguments about this can feel like an Autism War.

Disabled people have the right to be who they want to be.

I say this means that we must support people with autism to lead lives that make them happy.

It is our duty to help people with autism to achieve their goals.

There are so many engaging and interesting statements here that I knew it would make for a great Twitter chat subject. The whole concept of a war of ideas around something so emotive and personal as autism seemed rich with potential.

But, of course, there are risks in tackling a subject like autism. We didn’t want to come off as authoritative and prescriptive. We wanted to be inclusive and open to ideas, and we wanted to learn from autistic people’s experiences.

Audiences

By using Nick’s own networks, we engaged academics and practitioners early on, by asking them to supply questions for the chat. We also raised awareness of the chat by promoting it to autism charities and societies.

It was important that we involved autistic people from the start, and one of the first people I contacted was Kashmire Hawker, the disabled students rep for the students union. Kashmire has a strong presence on Twitter, and was keen to be involved. He promoted it among his peers, and he turned out to be a really positive contributor to the chat.

Here are my five tips for running a successful Twitter chat.

Pick a good hashtag

We wanted to stimulate discussion. We also wanted to convey the notion that this was a genuine debate, and not everyone would agree with each other. We settled on #DebateAutism for those reasons. It was Nick’s idea, and it worked.

It also created a bit of a stir, because some people thought we would be debating autism’s existence. We thought that might happen, so there was a little bit of work to do behind the scenes to reassure people that weren’t going down that path.

Get the structure right early on

A Twitter chat is more than just a loose conversation around a broad subject. You need a defined amount of time, and some clear parameters for the chat. We used the idea of an autism war to frame ours.

Have a clear idea of how many questions you’re going to include in the chat. We started with six questions, but realised on the evening that we would have to cut one due to the amount of contributions we were getting. Ten or fifteen minutes per question is about right.

Work with your host

Having Nick on board meant we could reach the right people (people who don’t follow the main Hallam account). He’s very well-respected, and his involvement also gave the whole thing a genuinely academic flavour.

He works closely with autistic people and has a much clearer idea of what the risks are, what wording to use and what issues are likely to be important to people.

Crowdsource the questions

Nick did this early on, messaging his contacts in other universities and organisations, asking for their input. This gave us two things: questions that were relevant to the audience, and an already-invested group of people who wanted to see the outcome of their contribution.

Get a room

No really. Things can move very quickly, and the flow of the chat can easily overtake you if you haven’t got the right things in place.

Book a room with some decent facilities, and space enough for the three or four people that will be facilitating the chat. We had Tweetdeck up on the big screen, with two columns open, tracking chat around the #DebateAutism hashtag.

This meant we could see the general flow of conversation, and zoom in on specific tweets to reply to or retweet them. A colleague spent the whole chat looking after Tweetdeck, retweeting things that stood out as particularly insightful and interesting.

It freed me up to do replies from the University account and advise Nick on his responses. I also had my laptop with me so I could edit the question cards on Photoshop if we decided they needed some last-minute changes.

And being face-to-face with your chat host is a really good idea. You benefit from being able to talk things over before you respond online.

#DebateAutism

So far, there have been a total of 997 tweets which contain the #DebateAutism hashtag. We also saw a huge increase in the number of impressions, replies, retweets and likes our own tweets had on the day of the chat, and the day after.

Nick also saw some changes. In March, he gained 97 new followers, had 105,000 tweet impressions (a rise of 945.3% from February), an increase of  606.8% in profile visits, and an increase of 694.6% in mentions.

And people are still using the tag, and responding to our original questions, weeks after the Twitter chat. #DebateAutism as a conversation topic has plenty of potential to just be a thing in its own right now, long after our initial Twitter chat.

Would we run it again? Yes, we would. Although a lot of planning and preparation went into the chat, it’s had an effect on those who took part, and it’s still resonating with the audience.

I’ll leave the last word to Professor Nick Hodge.

He says: “I was out of my comfort zone going into the Twitter chat, as I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t anticipate the level and quality of support that you would provide for the event, and I imagined that I would need to sort it out myself.

“So the actual experience of hosting a Twitter chat was very different from how I imagined. I felt extremely well-supported and informed, and I was very impressed with the high standard of presentation and professionalism that you brought to the chat event.  It was an incredibly exciting, fast and furious hour that has been really positively responded to and evaluated by my Twitter community.

“This will make a valuable contribution to any autism impact case study for REF 2020.  Before the event I was feeling the onset of Twitter burnout, and I’d decreased my engagement with social media. This event re-energised my interest – it reminded me of the potential of Twitter to reach people and effect change.”

To discuss organising a Twitter chat at Hallam, drop me a line or Tweet me.

Joe Field, social media manager
@joemcafield

World Cancer Day 2017

Awareness days – there are a lot of them. Some of them are just silly (World Emoji Day?) but there are a few awareness days that do a great job of uniting organisations and people, raising awareness of serious issues.

Saturday 4 February 2017 was World Cancer Day – a global awareness-raising event created by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). Its aim is to encourage fundraising by raising awareness of cancer and the issues people face in fighting it.

Having a huge health and social care provision, we wanted to be part of the conversation, so we turned to our excellent radiotherapy and oncology teaching team. Students from our radiotherapy and oncology courses do their placements in treatment units, and they have lots of face-to-face contact with cancer patients throughout their placements, so we knew they’d have some good stories to tell.

I worked with senior PR officer Sarah Duce on planning our #WorldCancerDay campaign. Sarah manages the faculty’s PR account, and has excellent links in faculty. Jo McNamara, senior lecturer in radiotherapy put us in touch with some brilliant students, and Sarah and I filmed a series of talking heads with Jo and her students.

We didn’t ask them to talk about the course, the facilities, or life as a Hallam student. Instead, we asked them about the impact they’d had on patients’ lives, the challenges they faced, and the reason they’d chosen a career helping people with cancer.

In their responses, the students were incredibly generous with their honesty and warmth. The resulting videos were a great way for us to show our our support on World Cancer Day.

We had some great engagement with the videos (over 700 individual engagements – clicks, likes, shares and replies – on Twitter, and 2,500 engagements on Facebook). They had 32,000 organic impressions – deliveries to a Twitter timeline – on Twitter, and generated an organic reach of 38,000 on Facebook. There were also some really nice comments.

FB_comment

Comments like Judy’s are gold-dust for a university’s social media presence. We can talk about league tables, cutting-edge facilities and outstanding teaching and learning, but Judy’s comment is about the real-world impact that our students have. They work with real people, making a difference wherever they can. And they care.

Joe Field, social media manager
@joemcafield

Why you should stop posting your content and start posting theirs

Facebook, eh. People keep saying it’s had its time, but it’s still the largest social media platform, with almost 1.8 billion monthly active users, and a huge growth in advertising revenue.

It’s the living room of social media platforms. You use Facebook to chat to friends and family, organise your social life and hang out with people who share your interests.

For organisations, it’s a tricky one to get right. If all you do is play the success trumpet and shout at people about things you think they should do, you risk alienating your audience.

As a result, you fall foul of the algorithm. And that’s a Bad Thing®.

The annoyance factor is real

The annoyance factor is real

I’m working on our Facebook strategy right now. The first draft is almost finished, and I’m at a stage where we need to determine the content mix that’s right for our audiences.

It’s clear – based on things we’ve done that have worked*, and things that other organisations do that work well – that user-generated content needs to be a big part of that mix.

*how about a nice example? Here you go.

Back in the summer, I met with two colleagues: one an academic from the University’s events management course, the other a representative from our ace schools and colleges liaison team.

We talked about school proms: something I know absolutely nothing about, but that the students and staff from the events management team do. With the help of our schools and colleges team, they were helping pupils from seven local schools plan their proms.

It’s a lovely project, involving real people and communities. We knew that the pupils, parents and teachers from those schools had a lot of pride in their school communities, and that we could use our social media presence to mobilise those communities.

So we discussed ways of using social media to engage those audiences.

There was one objective: develop brand affinity with the University. Our goals on social media were around engagement and positive perception. We wanted to get lots of likes, comments and shares, and hopefully some positive mentions.

We asked the pupils from each school to make a video about why they should win a package of support worth £5,000 from our events management staff and students, helping to make their prom an unforgettable experience.

We posted the resulting videos on our Facebook page over the course of a week, with a call to action for our fans to like, comment and share to show their support for their school. We asked the schools to share the posts, mobilising their own community.

The resulting videos generated loads of engagement and reach, without a need to boost posts, by mobilising a highly-engaged audience with a very simple call-to-action.

This one, by the pupils at Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School, generated 2,650 reactions, comments and shares, and reached nearly 70,000 people. That’s organic reach.

Silverdale School’s video reached 41,757 people, generating 1,600 reactions, comments and shares.

In total, we reached 186,188 Facebook users who were not fans of the Sheffield Hallam page. That’s a lot for an organic campaign, and the stats show that the social media activity directly supports our business objective of developing brand affinity with the University among a key target audience.

We were looking for examples of positive perception as well, and a few people left nice comments about our work with the schools.

“So lucky to have this opportunity. Thank you Sheffield Hallam. Please like and share!!”

“A local school working with a local university a perfect combination.”

So user-generated content works well on Facebook. No great revelation, but it’s nice to have the evidence.

Plenty of universities are already onto this, of course. I took to Twitter to find some examples, and the excellent Matt Horne pointed me to Newcastle University’s Facebook page, where they regularly post photos and videos taken on campus by their students.

And, as you’d expect, US universities are very good at making entire campaigns around student content.

So, we’ll be doing more of it on Facebook. It has the potential to support our business objectives, and it’s in the strategy. We’ll also be measuring its performance, and when it generates engagement and reach, we’ll ask ourselves why.

But, as always, don’t let the cart lead the horse. User-generated content isn’t a silver bullet, and it shouldn’t be the only type of content university posts. But it’s a key part of the mix.

Got an example of user-generated content done well? Ping it my way – here, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter.

Joe Field, social media manager
@joemcafield

#SHUinsiders – the pilot year

Back in summer 2015 we created the first Insider’s Guide to Sheffield Hallam – an all-encompassing manual to the University and the city, predominately aimed at new undergraduates. The guide featured students who shared their views on the whole Sheffield Hallam experience, and they were christened the SHUinsiders.

Exploring the scope for the Insiders
As a member of the Student Experience marketing team, I was keen to explore using SHUinsiders to facilitate digital student-student communications with the primary aims of

  • enhancing students’ experiences of the University and the city by demonstrating student life (with a secondary aim of supporting recruitment)
  • developing a sense of belonging, community and brand affinity amongst the student population

Going social and working with Joe
In light of the University website redevelopment being underway, we were limited in terms of the presence we could create for the Insiders on the Sheffield Hallam website. So we decided that using social media was a logical way forward, allowing the students to post regular updates as and when they had information to share. The team and I then met with social media manager Joe Field to discuss how we could make this happen, and the #SHUinsiders project was born.

From here, Joe and I took leadership of the project and progressed it through its next stages.

Finding our stars
Over the course of the academic year, eight students worked as #SHUinsiders after being identified through various channels including a workshop, advertising via the Careers Hub, SHU GoGlobal activities, and other social media activity undertaken for the University’s Clearing campaign. The following three are being taken through to 2016/17.

Clarissa Alford, second year history student in 2015/16
Clarissa Allford is our original insider who I met at the Insider’s Guide student workshop. Her infectious enthusiasm about Sheffield Hallam and her positive and likeable character made her an obvious choice. Her interests include vintage, vinyl and music and she truly believes in making the most of the student experience.

Lawrence Penn, first year geography student in 2015/16
Lawrence responded to a job advertisement, and was selected due to his range of hobbies and interests which include cycling, the Peak District and the great outdoors, performing and media. He’s also a huge advocate for the Students’ Union.

Yuvini Hettiarachchi, marketing communications and advertising placement year student in 2015/16
Sri Lankan student Yuvini was identified by colleagues in International Student Support due to her great work on SHU GoGlobal-related activities. She brought an international perspective to the team and was excellent at finding and sharing on-campus opportunities.

Our other enthusiastic Insiders were Katie Blaylock, Gabriel Chiew, Jamilya Ashyrbaeva, John Rowbotham and Abbie Gregory.

Find out more about this year’s Insiders on their new blog site.

How the project worked
During this first year, the Insider’s hints, tips and experiences of student life were predominantly shared via their Twitter feeds, and sometimes through Facebook and Instagram. The best Tweets were shared by Joe via the corporate channel to facilitate greater exposure.

Content was predominantly student-led, and we relied on the students to share information, opportunities and events via their social media accounts, focusing on anything which might improve the student experience for their peers.

I also suggested other ideas for content through a private Facebook group (a method of communication suggested by the Insiders themselves at a gathering we had at Tamper Coffee). This included events we wanted them to get more involved in such as Varsity and Outlines where we offered extra incentives such as free tickets. And various promotional opportunities such as the SHUcard £1 Wednesday offer. Plus anything else, either on or off-campus, which ultimately had a positive impact on the student experience.

In addition, we asked them to get involved in mini projects led by Joe – such as Periscope broadcasts at the opening of Coffee Union at the Students’ Union and the Christmas Fayre in Hallam Hall.

Highlights of the academic year
Instagram

The #SHUinsiders week-long takeover on the corporate Instagram account was a great success and certainly one of the highlights of the year, as encompassed in Joe Field’s blog post. In fact it was the most engaged with moment on the account, with 1,630 likes and 50 comments.

At the end of the academic year, #SHUinsiders was the second most engaged with hashtag on the account with 852 interactions. Only #sheffield beat it with 1,014, with #wearehallam in third place at 584.

Facebook
As of 31 May, the highest performing post on the Hallam Facebook account was Insider Katie Blaylock’s ‘day in the life’ story with 63 likes. Katie wrote a diary-entry style account of a typical day in her shoes accompanied by her own photos, and this clearly resonated with our audience.

Twitter
We saw a very high level of #SHUinsiders activity on Twitter over the academic year, with 432 mentions of the hashtag up till 31 May 2016. Twitter proved to be a quick and simple platform from which the Insiders could broadcast, and an effective way for Joe to share their content via the corporate account.

What we learned
In a nutshell…

  • this type of student-generated content increases interaction and engagement with all our channels
  • the Insiders are helping to create the sense of community we were aiming for
  • they’re also successfully promoting the Hallam experience and student life in Sheffield
  • Twitter has been an effective platform from which to generate ‘live’ posts and share quick updates

However

  • the Insiders need greater exposure to increase awareness and engagement with their accounts
  • they need dedicated a platform to which we can direct traffic and from where they can blog
  • we need to explore additional platforms more such as Snapchat

The future for the Insiders
For 2016/17, these students have become known as #HallamInsiders with a reduced team of four members. This year, they have been asked to write blog posts on a dedicated area of the Sheffield Hallam blog site, sometimes under pre-determined themes which correlate with the student experience CRM plan (eg reassurance for new students in September/October).

They will also continue to share their experiences, hints and tips by posting regular Tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts etc (sometimes guided by our team). And get involved in more projects with Joe Field and the team using platforms such as Facebook Live and Snapchat.

The Insiders and the #HallamInsiders blog have been promoted in the Insider’s Guide, in kitchen packs sent out to halls of residence, and through the corporate Twitter channel. Joe and I will also look into how we can increase exposure even further, working with other social media account holders such as Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union and faculties to encourage them to share content.

Helen Horton, student experience marketing
@HelenHorton08

 

Clearing 2016 – three ways we used social media to make a difference

A-level results day. It can be an incredibly stressful time for students and, depending on what happens, it might involve them changing their study plans very quickly.

At Hallam, hundreds of members of staff (and student ambassadors) from across the University worked tirelessly to help those people, recruiting new students to the University through the clearing and confirmation process. Like previous years, Clearing 2016 was a huge team effort, bringing staff from every department together.

Our social media presence has grown significantly over the last few years, and the way we use it during clearing and confirmation has changed. This year, we wanted to do a few things differently.

Firstly, we wanted to tell our clearing story: the range of people involved, the excitement on the day, and our enthusiasm for changing people’s lives.

We also wanted to reply to everyone who took the time to message us about how excited they were to come and study here. No, really. Everyone. Engagement with our new fans and followers was really important, and we wanted to get it right.

Lastly, we wanted to use the technology to add real value to the clearing process at Hallam.

This is how we did it.

Telling our story

Our promotional content focused – as it often does – on our students. We found four students who came to us through clearing, and we created visual content based on their experiences.

Because we wanted to reach new audiences, we did a lot of advertising on Facebook and Instagram with our student stories. We also did some organic posts with them.

This organic post reached over 13,000 people, had over 4,500 video views and got a bit of engagement, with over 150 likes, comments and shares. Our paid-for posts obviously reached many more people – people who fit our target demographics and who didn’t already like our Facebook page.

Engagement

We knew activity on Twitter would peak between 7am and 2pm, based on previous years. We’d get questions, in the form of @s and DMs, and we’d get notifications from people happy they’d secured a place at Hallam.

So we assigned a team member to each stream on Twitter: we had someone looking after notifications, one person looking after DMs, and someone else ready to post relevant, interesting and useful content to our timeline. The system worked well, and it meant we replied to every message.

In total, we sent 190 tweets during Clearing, and 35 DMs. We received 353 mentions, and our tweeting behaviour over the key two days of Clearing was 92 per cent conversations and 8 per cent updates. 72 per cent of our tweets were with new contacts, and 28 per cent were with existing contacts.

To increase engagement further, we set up a Facebook Live broadcast from the clearing suite, featuring one of our ‘faces of clearing’, Ben. This live video reached over 14,000 of our fans, and got shared nearly 30 times.

We used the live stream to answer questions, show the buzz in the clearing suite, and humanise our operation. We did something similar with our Instagram and Snapchat stories, which even featured a surprise appearance from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Husbands.

Adding value

Our biggest change this year was to open up the application process through Facebook’s Messenger service. On results day, people could begin the application process by sending a direct message to our Facebook page.

Once they’d done so, one of our dedicated Facebook triage team would ask for their qualifications and other details needed to create an application. Or, if they didn’t meet our requirements, they’d sensitively let them know.

It was exactly the same process and conversation that new applicants would experience if they called our clearing hotline and spoke to an adviser. But on a social media platform.

We used Facebook’s functions to enhance and manage the process. We used saved replies for parts of the conversation, and we tracked conversations with the labelling function. We also added a note to each conversation, identifying the status of the application – either ‘application created’, ‘didn’t meet requirements’ or ‘other’.

In total, we put around 20 applicants forward through this process, knowing that if just one of them converted, it would be worth our time and effort.

Overall, this was our biggest social media operation yet, involving two separate teams: one dedicated to engagement and publishing, and one dedicated to facilitating the application process. A whole range of Hallam people took part in our social story-telling: from students to the VC.

As a result our content across social platforms was genuine, engaging – and it was about people.

Joe Field, social media manager
@joemcafield

Engagement. How do you do yours?

The 2016 degree show, in the Sheffield Institute of Arts at the former Head Post Office

Raising awareness and creating conversations is a key central pillar of being able to increase engagement levels with your desired target audience on social media.

The ability to provide an opportunity for people to interact with you, offer their feedback on your ‘product’ (both good and bad), become an engaged advocate and to share this is now readily available through a number of social media products.

The key is choosing the right platform for the audience you want to talk to in order to create the right level of impact.

For final year students who are part of the Sheffield Institute of Arts (SIA), their degree shows are a culmination of three or four years of hard work in order to prepare and display the fruits of their work to friends, family, and industry.

We wanted to give those students the opportunity to share their success – so as to not just confine to the within the walls of our newly renovated Head Post Office, or the Cantor Building.

Taking into account the visual nature of the work produced by our students including fashion, photography, design, we felt Twitter was a great way of communicating this message.

To enhance the Twitter user experience, we were able to call upon the services of two PR and Journalism students – Bonnie Hines and Stefan Meinhardt – who ‘took over’ the @SIAgallery Twitter account during the preview evening.

https://twitter.com/SIAgallery/status/741311387171966976

By going through this route, it also allowed us the opportunity to demonstrate to industry influencers, internal and external stakeholders, as well as current and prospective students the breadth and quality of work on display.

It also gave us the chance to have conversations with our audience – so that it wasn’t just us broadcasting outwards. We involved them.

So, how did it go?

In short, very well. Four hours and exactly 50 tweets later, the tweets had accrued: 14391 impressions, 419 engagements, 29 RT’s and 37 favourites.

By using the SIA Twitter account, it gave us the perfect opportunity to display this. RT’s from other University Twitter accounts proved the perfect advocacy tool too ensuring the tweets were able to reach a significant amount of people – and by going through the SIA account, it meant that it would reach key influencers, leaders and other vital stakeholders.

Utilising two students who were able to upload and send tweets via their own phones meant that they could visit more of the degree show as our students work was on display across a number of university buildings.

By doing this, rather than there being downtime in proceedings during travel between sites, it allowed the number of tweets to continue to be communicated at a regular pace – which is important for keeping your audience interested for longer. As it’s a ‘live’ takeover, the amount of tweets needs to reflect this, which we were able to achieve.

The takeover gives Sheffield Hallam a unique opportunity to harness and utilise the skills of our own students as a peer-to-peer engagement tool, which was a great outcome for those who have an interest in both Sheffield Hallam and SIA.

Lessons learnt?

Being able to draw upon a pool of willing and confident students to host the takeover does prove to be a tricky obstacle at times. This was something which needed staff resource to resolve, which during the summer holidays, bought with a series of challenges – but everything was alright on the night. Agreeing on the need for a takeover soon would help to alleviate this.

Those who host the takeovers are always enthused by the simplicity of how they work. Guidance is always issued, which covers tone, the type of content to tweets, simple dos and don’ts and the fact that a nominated staff member was on hand to monitor the tweets and answer any questions they have, gives those hosting take takeover the ability to use Twitter to its full effect.

A measurement of its effectiveness is the answer to the question; ‘would you do it again?’ and when the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ you know it has been worthwhile.

Aidan Begley, Communications Assistant, Faculty of ACES.

@ACESupdates 

When the World Cup came to Sheffield

For a week in April this year, we used Sheffield Hallam’s main Twitter account – @sheffhallamuni – to run a daily give-away, utilising Twitter’s excellent polls functionality. Every day for a week, users could vote in a poll on our timeline for the chance to win a branded hoodie.

Of course, we did it for a reason. We didn’t just have piles of burgundy hoodies lying around we wanted to get rid of. We had an objective: fun.

Okay, that’s over-simplifying it, but it’s essentially right. Organisations do a lot of promoting on social media – ‘shouting’ about this, ‘making some noise’ about that – and they forget that social media is about conversations.

In order to have a conversation with someone, you need to listen to them.

The impetus for doing a give-away came from that simple premise: we wanted to ask our followers a question, and engage them in a dialogue. Specifically, we were interested in our current students, who are our most engaged audience on Twitter. And it coincided perfectly with Varsity – the city’s annual celebration of student sport.

Varsity is a real celebration of student sport in Sheffield, and an opportunity to highlight the sense of belonging among students.

Varsity is a real celebration of student sport in Sheffield, and an opportunity to highlight the sense of belonging among students.

In order for it to succeed, we knew it had to be something fun and conversational, that our followers would want to take part in. We wanted to run it over a few days, to build up a bit of momentum – and for it to feel like an event.

Lastly, we wanted to celebrate the great city that we’re proud to be a part of.

So we came up with the World Cup of Sheffield. For five days, our followers would tell us what they thought was the best thing about Sheffield. And on the last day the final would decide what the best thing in Sheffield was.

So, once again, here are the component pieces of our give-away:

  • fun
  • conversational
  • about students
  • celebrates Sheffield
  • sport theme
  • sustained

What was the goal? Brand affinity. We wanted to have some fun with a very engaged audience – current students – and let them know that we listen to them, and care what they think (and say).

How do you measure something like that? Engagement. You want people to take part . . . and hopefully even have some fun with it.

And here’s what we did. (Disclaimer: I had a bit of help from a small group of students, who came up with some suggestions of what we should include in the polls.)

We cued the competition up, explaining the format before we launched into the first poll. Day one resulted in 132 votes, 69 likes and a couple of RTs. There were no replies, but we learned that our followers really like Tamper Coffee.

On day two we asked our followers to vote for their favourite cinema.

Although there were less votes, there was a slight increase in the number of likes. We started to have some fun with Twitter’s selection of gifs.

Engagement stayed at a similar level on day three, but the conversation started to take shape, and some of the local businesses we were talking about joined in.

Day four was marred by controversy – the topic of gig venues in Sheffield is emotive. Questions were asked.

And things got tense.

The number of votes and likes was a lot higher than previous days. Why? There are a number of possibilities, including:

  • the sustained approach was generating more interest
  • our followers are more engaged later in the week
  • the poll subject was more relevant to our audience
  • all of the above

Friday was the final round of #WorldCupSheff, in which all of the week’s winners went up against each other to determine the Best Thing in SheffieldTM.

And there you have it. A clear winner.

Let’s go back to our original plan:

Fun

Was it fun? Well, we certainly enjoyed watching the poll results come in, and the conversations that developed each day. But let’s look at our total levels of engagement.

During #WorldCupSheff week (17-23 April 2016) we had a total of 56 replies to our tweets, 103 RTs, 10 RTs with comments, and 582 likes. Our total level of engagement (9,108 individual engagements) was a 107.9% increase on the previous week (4,381 individual engagements).

And engagement is a decent indicator of people having fun – it means they’re enjoying your content, and finding it relevant and interesting.

So we’ll conclude that it was fun. What was the next objective?

Conversational

This is straightforward: the World Cup of Sheffield was a conversation. We asked people a question, they told us an answer, and they asked questions of us. And the stats support that statement, with 78% of our posts being conversational during that week, and 22% of them being classed by our social media monitoring software as ‘updates’.

About students

The World Cup of Sheffield was all about students. The branded hoodies, the venues, cafés and restaurants, which were suggested by a small group of students . . . it was a conversation about student life in Sheffield. And a quick scan of the users who liked the posts shows that the most engaged audience was Sheffield Hallam students.

Celebrates Sheffield

From burritos to gig venues, cinemas to café culture, this was all about the Steel City.

Sport theme

It was the World Cup . . . of Sheffield. That’s quite a sporty theme.

Sustained

It ran for a week, and gained momentum towards the end. The length of time it ran for felt right, and it needed a few days to pick up pace.


What did we get out of #WorldCupSheff? Our goal was brand affinity, and a sense of good will among our followers. We eased off on promotion, shouting and making noise, and for a week we had fun, rewarding engagement with daily prizes.

Would we do it again? Definitely. I can see #WorldCupSheff making a return on a regular basis. The investment is minimal, and we ran a week-long brand affinity campaign for the cost of a few hoodies and a bit of staff time.

Would I change anything? Yes, if only to make sure we weren’t repeating ourselves. Getting input from students was really important in making the content relevant, and that’s something we could develop further.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve it next time, leave me a comment, or tweet me.

Joe Field, social media manager
@joemcafield

Graduation 2015: a strategic approach to social

People sometimes ask me about our ‘social media strategy’. The truth is that we don’t have one – nor do we need one.

We do have a communications strategy which covers the strategic use of social media to raise profile and manage reputation.

And that’s the right approach. We don’t have a ‘telephone strategy’, or an ’email strategy’. When it comes to social media, we have content strategies, guidelines and a range of different functions that we provide with social media tools.

What we do with social media directly supports our communications strategy. I’ll use the example of our Graduation 2015 campaign to illustrate how.

For two weeks in November, our students took to the stage in Sheffield’s City Hall, shaking hands with Professor Robert Winston and picking up their certificates.

It’s a key milestone in the student experience, and a real opportunity to demonstrate the sense of belonging – or brand affinity – among our student and alumni communities. And, by involving those communities in our social media campaign, we had the opportunity to show how vibrant the sense of belonging among students and alumni is to a range of external audiences.

We also wanted to use social media to enhance the experience of graduates during the fortnight of celebrations. So, working with graduate Tom Stayte and his innovative SquareShare social printing service, we gave them a reason to engage with it. By posting their photos to Twitter or Instagram, and tagging them ‘#SHUgrad’, they could get free printed copies, with details of our Alumni Connect service on each print.

On our own channels, we focused on the graduates themselves, ‘doorstepping’ them at the City Hall, and asking them what they loved most about their time at Sheffield Hallam.

As well as promoting engagement with #SHUgrad at the City Hall, we interacted with social media users in real time, offering personalised responses with a view to deepening engagement as conversations developed.

One of the key themes in our communications strategy is our role in the city region. We hold our graduation ceremonies in Sheffield’s City Hall, right in the heart of the city centre. By focusing on visual, student-led content, in and around the City Hall, we demonstrated our civic pride, and our role in providing education, skills and employability in the region.

Lastly, we communicated the University’s values around equality, diversity, and inclusion, by including a diverse range of students – from a range of backgrounds and academic areas – in the campaign.

The #SHUgrad campaign is a great example of a university using social media for community management. Teams from the university’s marketing, communications and alumni functions worked with students from the start, involving them in the campaign (by getting them to create the graduation video) and interacting with them throughout graduation fortnight.

That approach is fundamental to social media at Hallam: we want to show our audiences that we use social media to talk to, listen to, and get feedback from, student and alumni communities. And, by encouraging social media users to post about graduation from their own accounts (and share our posts) we reached new audiences.

Here are the stats: conversations about#SHUgrad led to 6,871,453 brand impressions, and 11,339 engagements with the @sheffhallamuni Twitter account alone. And the #SHUgrad hashtag trended in Sheffield every day for the whole two weeks.

On a personal level, it was also a really good example of teams from across the University working together, with students, on a key bit of University business. And it’s opened the door to even more collaborative, engaging approaches to social media at Hallam.

Joe Field, social media manager