Social Media Breakfast Madison

UW Madison During the FindUW contestAnnie Rubens was our guest blogger to recap the March Social Media Breakfast Madison event. #SMBMad was actually trending on Twitter and we got Spammed in our Twitter backchannel during this meeting. We now know we have hit it big. If you would like to blog for SMB Madison’s next event, just give us a shout out! Here is Annie’s excellent recap of the event:

Building & Engaging a Community

Wow, another packed house, and those in attendance at the Memorial Union were treated to some gems about community, brand, voice and policy. First up was Vince Sweeney, Vice Chancellor for University Relations.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison community is big, to say the least, with 42,000 students and over 400,000 alumni and 2,000 faculty, all utilizing current SM tools, and quickly adopting new ones. Mr. Sweeney touched on the importance of strong communication due to sheer size and laying the groundwork to protect and grow the UW-Madison brand.

John Lucas (@jplucas55)

John Lucas, from the office of Communications & Marketing spoke first. He has been with the UW 11 years, and has focused on coordinating UWSocial the last three. In the beginning they started small, as he recalled a group of 5-6 staff getting together and talking about Twitter. They were starting to notice it, and wondered how they could utilize it on behalf of the university.

Megan Costello (@higheredmeggo)

Megan Costello, Director of Communications at the College of Letter and Science followed John. She succinctly described their job as

“The passion for UW-Mad is everywhere. We simply channel it and export it.”

Their account philosophy is to manage a diverse community with focused, integrated campaigns and strategy. By channeling the inherent enthusiasm, UW reputation is now ranked 27th in world for research and teaching, While she noted this is not entirely socially fueled,

“it puts us with great universities of world, and noted UW just won’s ‘Influencer Insantity’ contest pitting 64 school active in social media against one another in a NCAA bracket style contest. We have been ranked as the most valuable internet brand of any university in US, to put it simply, we are winning the internet!”

It is all due to the “power of 1 million.” With over 500 social media accounts and 100 offices, the aggregate total fans and followers and friends could top that number. While that may not be an exact number, she showed a slide of Einstein saying: “Not everything than can be counted counts, not everything that counts can be counted.”

As for return on investment, they made conscious decision not to hire staff dedicated to social outreach, and instead reached out to existing staff and faculty who were interested in assuming social as part of their job base. Seen as a valuable asset to incorporate into their core communication, it became added to the marketing mission of the UW and minimal dollars were spent which resulted in great affect.

So what are the elements of their success?

Unique model
Megan said

“the secret sauce of this place is the amazing people. It is the perfect Petri dish. 60% of the students are using smart phones, and they download the UW mobile app. It is a tremendous environment for social.”

Amplify brand/pride

She noted it was important to embody that spirit in their accounts.

“Our content merely completes what is already happening here, with all the amazing discoveries and research. Pictures of life here are unlike any other and we help amplify it. We started utilizing Pintarest, for photos, so you could see and hear the voice of those who are experiencing it. Our brand voice is inspired goofiness; we are who we think we are. We talk like the people that are here, and we are not trying to be something we are not.”


“It’s not what you say, it’s how you make people feel. Brands don’t have to be faceless, they can be funny, empathetic, can talk and can engage.”

When that is the case she feels you are better at customer service, because you when you take in an issue or complaint you can deal directly one-on-one with whomever is having the issue.

UW Madison Pinterest BoardsUW Social: It’s everywhere
The use of SM is growing on campus not only exponentially, but broadly as well. There are over 500 accounts being used under their brand, with 42,000 students, 17,000 employees, and 5,000 faculty. The main tools are Facebook, Twitter, increasingly Flicker, Tumblr digital collections, YouTube, Pinterest and Google+. Coordinating everything is a big challenge and most have just taken it on as part of their job.

House of brands vs. brand of house

The UW is moving in the direction of becoming a branded house, and collaboration is the key, as that is their history and their roots.

“A rising tide will lift all boats,” she said, “so give them something of value and value nurtures success.”

How do they manage it all?
In the beginning, was a List serve, which quickly proved to be an archaic tool. From there they moved to discussions on a FB group and use the list serve more for announcements. They meet monthly, face to face, in a big group meeting, that becomes part education and part strategy planning session. Brown bag meetings are also utilized for problem solving and account management, tactical/strategy and account management.

Bascom Hall on the campus of the University of...

Bascom Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tools for success
Best practices: Drive them to resources, guidelines and standards. Essential they have a “be nice, do onto others” policy. They plan to research and develop more case studies, about what other colleges are doing. In terms of guiding the community, they know they can have as many free tools as they want, but without great content, it doesn’t mean anything. The key is to integrate all the tools they use into existing marketing and print strategies. The goal is to position social to do meaningful work for the University. They constantly question how they can  use tools, play a role, and they make a plan to tie it all together so the value increases exponentially.

Wendy Hathaway (@wiswendy)

Wendy Hathaway, Web Editor at the Wisconsin Alumni Association, spoke about challenges. The challenge of SM was how to allow the entire campus to work together, while using SM to leverage the power of whole University brand for the benefit for all. The first foray into combining UWSocial with an event was the UW Madison Day at the WI State Fair, August 8, 2011. It was a huge success and there was participation campus wide. UW Communications posted fun and engaging posts every week leading up to the event to build buzz. While it is not all about numbers, 5000 + were in attendance, and they collected 55-50 gallon bags to donate and rumor says it was a trending topic on Twitter.

SM allows the UW campus to reach a key constituency: the public. They are not selling anything tangible, and the tools showcase prospective students and their parents as well as alumni and existing students how awesome and fun the university is.


This picture shows Lakeshore Path as it runs b...

This picture shows Lakeshore Path as it runs behind the residence halls on the UW-Madison campus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The advent of #FindUW introduced new students to available resources and provided a list of handy things new badgers need. It was timed before students arrived and was distributed via Tumblr, a blog and Twitter. One event they tried was a scavenger hunt to help familiarize students with the campus. They distributed clues for 3 days, the task was to find location and check in at foursquare. The messages featured trivia and prizes were donated. 140 students participated, from freshman trying to get to know campus, as well as older students how were really into it. Lessons learned? Three days was too long, and required 100% focus of their entire team, so it did take up a lot of time and resources. You can still see archived posts at

Bucky Challenge

The Bucky challenge was the opportunity to combine social with scholarships. An alumnus was ready to pledge a gift, and he wanted it to support future scholarships. The challenge was $1 was donated to the fund for every fan and follower for UW or Bucky badger for two weeks during school spirit time. The goal was to make it easy, and it was designed that in four simple clicks you could help support scholarships at UW Madison.
Lessons learned? Two weeks was too long, they found they ended up in competition with themselves, UW football and message fatigue. However, the results were fantastic, as they gained 20,000 new fans/followers on 4 accounts, allowing them to give $20K for scholarships. Follow-up included brief video testimonials from the scholarship recipients thanking all who participated, which gave a warm fuzzy to the campaign.

Mini Campaigns

Mini campaigns have been effective, they send out a post in the early a.m. with the challenge, can you get five friends to like us before lunch? It was short and focused. One thing they have learned is that e-mail still works. They have tracked blasts sent to alumni, including internationally, with the message that you can support the UW from anywhere in world.
In the end, the question is what is a fan or follower worth? It is more than numbers. It is about engagement, and every level, from alumni, friend or student were taking action and telling world they are proud to be a badger.

What’s next?

  • Grow, but organize
  • Build a home for the community
  • Metrics and follow-up
  • New platforms

“Where we are going we don’t need roads”

Annie Rubens is currently the Director of Communications for the Wisconsin Builders Association, unfortunately, though, not for long due to budget cuts. Check out her profile at if you have needs that could match her professional skills.

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