We could see that social media was here to stay, and Mississippi State University had to be a part of it.
That was our thinking in 2007 when Facebook pages launched. The feeling of sitting down at a Facebook-branded web form, setting out to create a page that will represent the entire university for years (decades?) to come in the digital space was as exciting as it was daunting.
What will we post? Will people follow and share our content? What will commenters say? How should we moderate them? What are the rules and norms? Are there any?
We were figuring it out as we went, just as the rest of the world was. What we knew, though, was that Mississippi State University needed a presence as robust and wide-ranging as the university, itself; one that would well represent its 20,000 students and 5,000 employees (at the time). We also needed it to attract prospective students, engage alumni, showcase research, promote events, and serve as a channel for emergency postings to ride alongside photographs of one of the Southeast’s most beautiful campuses.
Kind of a lot, right?
We felt a bit overwhelmed. The wide range and reach of this new digital channel came with its challenges and learning curves. But the the thought we kept returning to was.. imagine the possibilities.
From the first follower to the 100,000th
Of course, my amazing coworkers and I were the first to “like” the newly created MSU Facebook page. We shared it to our own profiles, sent it out to the media, and encouraged other employees, students, parents, prospective students, and alums to follow.
The university often sent out multiple press releases a day. We knew we did not want to post every single one to Facebook. We felt the content had to be more curated, geared toward a social media audience. What types of stories really land? They are the ones ripe for Facebook. How could we get the audience engaged, too? Instead of comments being seen as a scary negative, we knew there were hundreds of thousands of people who have a love for the university. Let’s hear from them!
Some of our ideas that worked very well were user submitted photos in a contest that we ran, regular professional photography from the amazingly talented university photographers, photos from popular events like concerts, football games (that the Bulldogs won), basketball, baseball… Well known speakers on campus were also a hit.
What did not work? Early on, I once posted a clip of an MSU alum on a national television show discussing a political issue. My point in posting was not the politics of the segment — but to simply show how visible our alumni are. That was not how it was received. The comments immediately devolved into heated discussions about the issue, itself. The university was even called out for “taking a political position.” We learned one of the earliest brand-related social media lessons — avoid politics. By even appearing to open the door, commenters with strong political views kicked it open and hijacked the discussion. Needless to say, we never did that again.
Other than the clear wins and clear losses (thankfully, there were few), we analyzed analytics. The types and number of comments that we attracted were important barometers, too. We were always reading, always learning what would engage and grow the audience in a healthy way and promote the university’s already strong brand.
Some things we learned along the way… Be consistent. Be authentic. Visuals are key. We are serving a large audience; the content has to be wide-ranging. Each social platform has different strengths and audience expectations — play to those pros and norms.
This piece just scratches the surface of what we learned and best practices that we developed. Genin Media has a whole post on tips for building a social media account, some of which were learned back in the early days developing Mississippi State’s social presence.
Consistently following internally developed protocols and truly learning what works and what does not is what helped us grow to over 100,000 followers relatively quickly.
What about now?
Mississippi State University currently has almost 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The institution has done an incredible job growing its social following and maximizing its social presence. We are proud to have developed the foundations and strategies that played a key role in their growth.
We can help you, too
There are countless lessons that we have learned in our decade-plus of working with large institutions like Mississippi State as well as small businesses, organizations, and nonprofits. The right social media strategy will strengthen your brand and supercharge sales over time. Contact us today and let us put both the right mix of time-tested and innovative strategies to work for you.