West Virginia University
New Student Orientation Events
June 1-30, 2015
West Virginia University embarked upon a “unique internal marketing campaign” for the annual New Student Orientation (WVUNSO) using Monster/Locamoda’s social media platform called Wiffiti. We had used it effectively a number of years ago to reduce the perceived waiting time prior to a student event such as the freshmen mandatory-attendance WVU New Student Welcome event the night before the Fall Semester commences. It allows the audience to use social media to interact with our digital signage, scoreboards and other large screen projections. Students can email, text to the screens and also use Twitter and Instagram to have their content displayed in basically “real time”. All texts, tweets or Instagram’s were humanly moderated through the easy to use web page approval process for appropriateness and to protect the brand.
How Wiffiti Works
Wiffiti, in a word, is… DYNAMIC. It truly grabs your attention with on-screen energy and activity. As a person tweets or sends an Instagram, that piece of social media needs to be moderated either automatically by the Wiffiti “machine” or by a human approval of each message. (More later on how the important task of moderation is accomplished.) Once the message is moderated it goes “live” on the screen. As messages accumulate, each message “dances around the screen” as sort of a bubble. A message bubble will be prominently featured extra-large sized every few seconds as the other messages bounce around subtly in the background. You can time how long each large message is to be displayed before it pops back into the background as the next message explodes to large-size. We play each main message for 8 seconds. You can include your own branded background image so that every once in a while ALL of the message bubbles pull back to the sides to do a reveal of your brand. We do the full WVU branded reveal every 50 seconds and it is left to reveal for 4 seconds, then all the bubbles pop back in and resume their dance.
You decide what message streams you want to pull the social media items from, such as email, Instagram, Twitter or the web. You can select how you will handle image services and text services by an easy click on a box. You then determine how you will moderate each message for text and images. You can use Machine Moderation or Human Moderation. On a college campus I would always set it for Human Moderation to avoid the potential for embarrassment. Kids will be kids… and they always want to press against their boundaries. (If you allow Machine Moderation you are hoping the Wiffiti algorithms are robust and up to date with all the latest inappropriate buzzwords and hashtags. Also, I am not in favor of a machine making a judgement on an attached picture to a tweet or Instagram. Yeah… been there, done that. Could have been REAL bad.) You also type in what “live” hashtags you want to have Wiffiti search for and pull to your moderation page on the web form for your approval. You can also exclude certain hashtags.
As for branding, it is very easy to turn Wiffiti into your own branded social media campaign! You are provided with an intuitive customization area where you can set your exact brand colors, insert your own branded logo image as a background, set the timings of how often you want the “dancers” to perform their gyrations, type in a call-to-action using your own selected hashtags and other lesser settings.
Another cool feature is that you can copy a movie URL of your on-screen content to send to someone and/or copy the embed code to insert your “live Wiffiti feed” into a web page. You can also make multiple campaigns for different venues and simply save them and them launch them when you move to a different site or different type of event.
In less than a half hour you can be an expert in setting up your Wiffiti social media campaigns. The only real effort will be to track down your own background image and set your branding colors to be exact. But you can also just leave the background as white and go with Wiffiti’s usual color pallet.
How and Why WVU Uses Wiffiti
It’s simple really… we use it to reduce the perceived waiting times prior to special events on our campuses. As event attendees trickle into an event before it starts they are most likely bored to death and dread having to entertain themselves for the next hour sitting in their seats. Wiffiti has proved to be a reliable and engaging experience as people arrive to wait for the main event. The audience can’t NOT see it… it grabs attention and is quite engaging to watch.
Beginning on June 1, 2015 and running through June 30th West Virginia University conducted daily New Student Orientation sessions for incoming Fall Semester freshmen and their parents. Every day saw 500 new faces in the WVU Mountainlair Blue & Gold Ballrooms where families were oriented to our academic advising, campus life and expectations, healthcare services, dining services, student housing, career services, financial aid, student employment opportunities, banking and financial counselling, and Information Fair and ultimately campus and student housing tours spanning all three Morgantown campuses. The entire day was laser-focused to see that every incoming student understood how to succeed in their four years at WVU, how to track their academic progress each semester, to begin exploring a future career immediately and to graduate on time. While students were being led to the various student residence halls for a tour, their parents listened about specific programs designed to assist the parents in understanding student life on our campuses, an audience Question & Answer period with various administrators on the program and how they can assist their child to enjoy a successful college experience which leads to a successful career upon graduation.
Each day began at 7:30 am in the Mountainlair Ballrooms where 500 students and parents were treated to coffee, juice, Danishes and other refreshments as they entered to find their seats for the day’s event sessions. At 8:30 am the formal programs commenced with a rousing experience with the WVU Mountaineer mascot getting them excited to be the newest Mountaineers on campus and to encourage school spirit daily. This was followed by a heartfelt welcome to the new students and their parents from our own WVU President, E. Gordon Gee.
Our social media campaign using Wiffiti was used during that one hour period between 7:30 am – 8:30 am. and during breaks between sessions to reduce the perceived waiting time as people arrived in the Ballrooms. (Every 10 minutes we would leave Wiffiti and play a short 1 or 2 minute WVU video targeting the audience with the great things WVU is going to offer every student during their years on campus. When the video concluded we would switch back to Wiffiti for more interaction.)
Our social media campaign was using the social media hashtags #GoFirst, #WVU19 and #WVUNSO. Displayed on a 20 foot square rear projection screen, Wiffiti was already dynamically playing all the social media interactions from the previous day’s WVUNSO events. On the screen we had a call-to-action encouraging everyone to use the previously mention hashtags to get their messages on the screen. Within a couple minutes the students and parents in the room were tweeting their own messages to the screen! There was high engagement and everyone was watching to see if their message was next to be displayed. People were taking “selfies” of them and their parent or student, pictures with The Mountaineer and iconic campus images.
Now For The Nitty Gritty
Wiffiti can be a powerful social media and internal marketing tool on a Higher Education campus but there are a number of caveats to consider to get the most out of your campaign. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and the Monster folks were very gracious to answer any question I had, however I would consider the following items to be filed under the term… Best Practices.
- Human Moderation ONLY! Often a new freshmen, or any college kid is experiencing possibly the first time away from “authority” of their parents and consider themselves set free to do as they please. They will test your moderation of Wiffiti, quickly. If you simply allow Machine Moderation pulling on your university hashtag you can bet the ranch that within minutes an inappropriate message OR PICTURE is going to get past the machine. Prepare for heartburn. (Think “Girls Gone Wild” imagery, etc.) Don’t allow someone else, with mercenary motive, to co-opt your brand. We only use Wiffiti for special events and can afford to have someone we trust on our staff to humanly moderate the event to protect our brand. What college kids think is “cute” can be damaging to your brand, especially if parents, donors and dignitaries are also in your audience. Play it safe and smart… HUMAN MODERATION.
- Don’t fall asleep at the switch! When you have opted for Human Moderation, your moderator needs to pay attention to every message coming in. It’s not hard. It’s not time consuming. It doesn’t require the Wisdom of Solomon. There will be times when a group of message hits for your moderation decision. Don’t be hasty and just fly through the list clicking the green checkmark signifying approval… you can inadvertently miss something bad. VERY bad. Read the text part of every message and look at the picture, if one is associated with the text. Make sure the message and pictures are appropriate and represents your brand in the best light. I promise you, you WILL be tested often.
- Hashtags and foolishness Pick a good hashtag to use for your campaigns. But also note that anyone can use your selected hashtag! That is why you need to read every message. WVU was apparently not the first to use the hashtag #GoFirst, nor does WVU own a hashtag. Hashtags are public and I saw several messages come through that used #GoFirst associated with other things not related to our WVU campaign… some of them nasty. Pay attention when using Human moderation. Also, there is a setting that disallows or removes URL’s to be included in the message. The message still plays on the screen but the URL is stripped off. You don’t know where the URL might take someone… maybe somewhere inappropriate… just don’t do it.
- Look at Twitter and Instagram Names The message and/or the picture can be inappropriate to display but so can the person’s Twitter or Instagram name be HIGLY inappropriate, as well. The names, messages and pictures are easy to see when they come in for moderation. LOOK at them. Some social media handles can be not only inappropriate but also quite politically incorrect and downright gross. Don’t risk your brand on another person’s stupidity. You’re going to get plenty of interaction, so don’t hesitate to unapprove any incoming message that might not shine a good light on your institution.
- Positive Messages ONLY! You will get a few messages coming in that try to diminish your brand. The student or person might have an axe to grind… or maybe it is another rival university student that is wanting bust your chops as they observe your hashtag trending on the internet. It might only be a slightly negative comment or observation from someone… if it is in any way negative… pitch it out… don’t approve it. Only let the excitement and loyalty to your brand be displayed! Remember, there are people in your audiences that want to know they made a good decision to send their kid to your university or that the student made a decision that they are excited about. Haters gonna hate… but not on MY watch! Remember that the parents in the room may have other children they want to send to a great college someday… I want them HERE!
- Lag Times Regarding Messages There can be a delay from the time someone tweets, to the time it hits your web page for the approval process and then until it is actually displayed “live” on your screens. This back and forth has to travel the internet. This time frame can range from seconds to minutes depending on things like general internet traffic congestion, bandwidth available at your site, the cellphone carrier and even if you are connected to the internet via Wi-Fi or a hardline connection. Be patient. It is not unusual for it to take several minutes for the round trip.
- Promote your Campus and Programs Look, it’s all about marketing. Plain and simple. Universities need students and students need universities. There are a myriad to pick from on both ends of that equation. There is a difference between overt advertising and building brand loyalty. Most colleges and departments within your university have their own official Twitter accounts and use them regularly. Have them use your event hashtag and you can also display their good message, too! Especially for orientation session and new student welcome events! It spreads the word about all the good things your university has to offer to your target market! You are marketing your own unique university programs. I would NOT allow outside, non-university advertising tweets… it is ALL about YOUR brand… not theirs!
- Who can we promote? In addition to all of the student and parents’ tweets we also displayed tweets from various official WVU colleges, departments and organizations. Here is a list to give you some ideas. Colleges within the university promoting their degree work and recruiting efforts. Career Services to encourage students to begin building a resume` immediately. Dining Services to let the students know what their dining options are. Student Housing letting students know about their residential options. WVU has more than 400 student organizations that want new members. The Mountainlair (student union) has programs every day and night of the week! ROTC recruits. Libraries promote their hours and programs. Campus initiatives such as sustainability, internet safety, club sports, fraternities and sororities, Financial Aid Office, Admissions Department services, WVU Arts & Entertainment shows and concerts all want to get their targeted message out.
- No Re-Tweets I did not approve any retweets. You will get tons of retweets in any social media campaign. Retweets are GREAT in marketing campaigns but when using Wiffiti I feel it can become a distraction. My reasoning is that retweets would only clutter the many original tweets dancing on the screen with a redundant message. You want to display all the original messages content. You’ll get plenty of original content, so don’t worry about nuking retweets.
- Prime The Pump! Every morning of our WVU New Student Orientation I would go out into the hallway where the refreshment tables were set up and I would take a few pictures of the new students and their parents getting coffee and Danishes, interacting with other students and getting pictures with The Mountaineer mascot. I would then send them to the screen with my own Instagram and Twitter accounts. I had other WVU folks in attendance do the same. I had the upper classmen/women who were the tour guides each day do it, too! Soon the people in the room started seeing their pictures up on the screen and they began tweeting their own “selfies”… shots of their new student ID’s… pictures of them with their parents… them with their new roommate… in front of campus iconic buildings and statues… them with The Mountaineer! It went viral every day within minutes. I would add some funny text to my Instagram photos as parents were getting coffee at 7:30 am saying, “Ok… stand back… give me coffee and no one gets hurt!” “The early bird gets the… coffee and Danishes!” “COFFEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE !!!!” “Here’s the newest Mountaineer on campus!” I found Instagram to be the best layout for us since it does not restrict you to 140 characters and allows you to do some way cool formatting things to the pictures from your cellphone. I also tried to be inclusive of diversity in the pictures I shot.
- Wiffiti Reporting Features This is another cool feature you can take advantage of to judge student engagement. It can be arranged by date range. You can click a button and get a full report in .cvs spreadsheet form that tells you the date and time of every tweet, the type of message either Twitter or Instagram, the user’s name, the body of the text, how the machine would have rated it, how you actually rated it, whether you approved it or disapproved the message, media / picture URL, and a unique message ID. We have had 3,036 interactions so far… and we have two more dates in July to use Wiffiti. This report feature gives you a real sense of engagement and message penetration. I had an issue with the reporting not liking to play with Office 365, so I used my Gmail account and the report came to me in seconds!
Wiffiti performed flawlessly on a daily basis in a mission critical event and the folks at Monster offered sound advice and encouragement as I moderated from a laptop. I was physically present every day in the Ballrooms but could have just as easily moderated it from my office. However, I wanted my own eyes to confirm what was going on the screen. I will be using Wiffiti at several more annual events on our campuses, hopefully for a long time!