Category Archives: mansfield university

Using Social Media to Ease Bad News

Last week our university released some not-so-positive news.

We didn’t have to.  We took a pro-active stance and put it out there.  Thankfully, we have a president who believes in being out front with everything possible.

My news director, campus technologies/social media person and I work very closely together, as these offices should on every campus.  Before we posted the news, I called the social media person.  “Do we have an upbeat story we can post right after our initial news?”

“Sure.”

He pulled a five-minute video of our new suite-style residence halls that we had produced for a TV show. He posted the first story on Facebook, which, like it or not, is one of our primary news channels.  A few minutes later he posted the res hall story which sat above the “bad news” story.

The initial news story was seen by 3,838 people, had five likes, one share and no comments.

The res hall story was seen by 8,620 people, earned 142 likes, 30 shares and 22 comments, all wildly positive.  They ranged from a proud mother who was sending her son here and couldn’t wait for him to live in the new dorm, to many nostalgic posts from alumni remembering their days in the old dorms.

Lessons:

1.  When you have news that’s not sugar sweet, be quick, proactive and assure the public know you’re an honest news organization.

2.  Have something else ready to soften the blow and post it in concert with the other news.

PS:  I did get a question from a faculty member on why we posted the initial story, essentially sharing it with everyone on Facebook and Twitter.  I’ll share her concern and my answer in the next post.

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The Successful Message: Sincere & Relevant

Our president, Fran Hendricks, is a retired Air Force brigadier general and a 1979 graduate of our university .
A sincere Veterans Day message from him seemed like it would be appreciated by veterans and non-veterans alike. We wrote a script and he edited it. We shot it with a single camera in his office with the U.S. and Pennsylvania flags behind him. These were not props. They’re part of his office.
He speaks straight into the camera. We cut to B-roll of photos of MU graduates and area veterans from all branches.
It ends with him saying: “Veterans, thank you,” and a salute. We fade to an image of  raising the flag on Iwo Jima.
The music carrying it is “America the Beautiful.”
I had put a lot of thought behind this before we even started. We did not want him in uniform. He is a university president. But after serving the country for 33-years, Fran Hendricks is very much a soldier, and always will be. It’s a source of pride to him, faculty, students, staff, alumni and area residents.
Hendricks is a humble man and I knew that a “message from the president” would not pass muster. He’s a service-oriented person and the university is the greater body that he now serves. The message would be from Mansfield University.
Most importantly, there was no sales pitch. I repeat for all of you PR folks who need reinforcement for your superiors: no sales pitch. No website at the end telling veterans or potential students to check us out. It is a message, pure and simple, of appreciation to veterans and current service people.
The results were heartwarming, inspiring and revealing. We posted it on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Our ultra-savvy web person, John Maslar, targeted veterans and bases in a five-state circumference, as well as alumni and students
His stats show show that in a five day period, the video:
-was seen by 125,000 Facebook/Twitter users;
-was shared on Facebook 75 times;
-earned more than 700 likes;
-was retweeted 8 times
-Between likes/views/shares/retweets/clicks, we had about 2,500 interactions.
As John points out: “that’s 18 cents per person who took the time to read and interact with the message.”
The video worked for several reasons:
-It is succinct (1:12);
-Hendricks is straightforward and sincere;
-the message is simple and direct;
-There is no “extra message.”
It gained us appreciation from students, alumni, staff, faculty, constituents and introduced us to new audiences.
Yes, you can count on one hand the number of colleges who have a retired general as a president, but every college has a special person who can convey a relevant message on an appropriate occasion.
Just be clear, concise and don’t pollute it. A clean message has its own halo effect that lasts for years.

In other words, make the salute sincere.

Mansfield U Zombie Byte Goes International

Recap: I interviewed World War Z author Max Brooks when he visited Mansfield University  in November 2012.  Down-to-earth, direct and  honest, Brooks is an interviewer’s dream.

I had read the book in preparation and knew from hints in the pop culture press,  that the movie would generate international buzz.

I’ve described in the first two posts how we did two half hour TV shows, then pulled a five minute clip in which Brooks talked about how much the movie has in common with his book (none).

We posted the two full interviews.  In May, the Vanity Fair cover story on Brad Pitt and the movie World War Z hit the stands.   That was the opening shot of the international publicity and promotion for the movie.

That’s when we released the five minute clip.  Numerous bloggers and sites, including Fandango, linked our video and posted blogs based on their interpretation of the interview.

I talked in the last post about the mistake I made which probably cost me several thousand views.

Now for the bit of luck I had which gained us several thousand views.  That  came in June, when Brooks declined to talk with mainstream media.

That left them no choice but to reference the Mansfield University video interview for information.

Two of the biggest media outlets –the Associated Press and Yahoo News —  did articles on the movie and the book, using the Mansfield University interview as a source of information.
Both of these articles appeared on the same day, boosting the views of our video  by over 1,000 in 12 hours.

Higher Ed communications guru Dick Jones explained the implications of this.

“The fact that the Max Brooks interview at Mansfield University was referenced by Yahoo and The Associated Press resulted in worldwide media attention for the school,” Dick said.  “That’s because Yahoo and AP are important third-party indicators of quality to media outlets and individual news consumers everywhere.  If AP and Yahoo run with a story, then editors and news directors at all media outlets will view it in a much more favorable light and are much more likely to run it.  And so it proved with this story.  Once given that seal of approval by AP and Yahoo, there was no stopping this one.”

He added that there are a handful of traditionally credible news sources.  “The AP is right at the top.  Yahoo, while much newer, has great clout also due to its platform as the default news provider for millions of individuals.”

Dick concluded by saying, “One take-away from this project has been the affirmation that for AP and Yahoo—and by inference for many other media outlets—YouTube interviews are a credible on-the-record source for journalists today—given equal value with original reporting.”

The other take away is that while the media has changed, the core values of good reporting, honest interviews and solid facts, remain of utmost importance.

Zombie March Leads Viewers to Mansfield University

I hadn’t planned a second post on this but it’s been an adventure and a learning process.
As of today, seven weeks after posting the Max Brooks five minute interview in which he talks about his novel World War Z and the Brad Pitt movie, it has earned  about 36,200 views, 18 comments, 216 likes and 8 dislikes.
We’re grabbing  about 600 views a day.
I had mentioned in the first post that numerous genre bloggers had posted links to the video and did their own commentary which helped enormously.
The international promotion machine designed to guarantee that the movie was a success, only helped our videos.
The  full length Conversations One and Two  interviews have also had steady growth in views, staying almost dead even with each other at around 3,200 views, telling me that viewers seek out the shows following the short version.

Here, I confess a big mistake, or at least a large oversight that no doubt cost us in the publicity game.
A viewer commented on the short video that she wished I had included the last two minutes of Conversations 2.  I had no idea what she was talking about so I reviewed the show’s last two minutes.  Brooks is talking again about how he wants people to know that the movie is nothing like the book.  He says the publishers insisted on doing a movie tie-in edition.  “I don’t want Brad Pitt on the cover of my book,” he says quite forcefully.  “I don’t want people thinking Brad Pitt is in my book.”

I had totally forgotten this segment.  So had my two cameramen and the editor.  It was the perfect sound byte and a line that dozens of bloggers and media outlets would have picked up on.

We decided that doing an “expanded” or “director’s cut” version including the two minutes would just confuse people and to leave well enough alone.  I don’t know if it was the right decision or not.

What I had done was to go to the show and fast forward until I hit the section I remembered and told the editor to pull that five minutes, give it a new intro and we’d post it.  Lesson: I should have reviewed the entire show.

We’re all trying to do several things at once, meet numerous deadlines and rushing to keep up.  In this case, it hurt us.

To survive  in this business, you acknowledge your mistakes or oversights, make a mental note, and move on.  But for a time, I will have visions of headlines in the Huffington Post, Slate, National Enquirer and blogs: “Author says, ‘I Don’t Want Brad Pitt on the Cover of my Book!'”

How often does that chance come along?

Oh yeah, about once in a lifetime.

***

Next: A bit of luck that gave a major boost to our views and a small, important revelation from communications guru Dick Jones.

Repurposing Zombie Interview for Lively Results

When our Student Activities Director said he’d booked Max Brooks, author of the  post-apocalyptic zombie novel World War Z: An Oral History, for a visit to Mansfield University campus in November 2012, I asked him if I could have the author for a couple hours  to interview him on my half hour talk show “Conversations.”
I also volunteered to take the author to lunch. I knew the novel was a best seller but research showed that Max Brooks is a very respected name in the zombie world.

And the zombie world is huge.
I wanted to do the interview for two reasons.
1. Brooks knows his stuff: geography, politics, climate, plagues, infrastructure,  communities and nations working together to rebuild after international calamity. That’s why the Naval War College takes him seriously.
2. Problems plagued the film production. It began with a bidding war between Brad Pitt and Leonardo DeCaprio before the book was even published. Pitt won and the problems began with the script and continued through production and post production. This was going to build to really major publicity.  MU could be in the mix.
My show airs weekly on regional cable outlets, but I also have my own Mansfield University YouTube channel where we post all the shows. It was a no-brainer that World War Z the film was going to create a lot of chatter world-wide and I was being handed a gift.
I read the novel , an interesting, intelligent treatise in the manner of Studs Terkel’s oral histories.
Brooks and I had lunch in a quiet restaurant and began talking. Almost immediately he exclaimed: “You’ve read the book! I can tell in the first 30 seconds if the interviewer has it – and 90 percent of them haven’t.”
We had a lively discussion ranging from zombies to his parents  to his childhood fears that led to his study of zombies. Later we did two half hour interviews. The first was about zombies, what they represent and how to survive zombie attacks. The second was about the writing life and growing up in Hollywood with parents Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, and, of course, the movie.

Once they were posted, the interviews did respectably for a specialized subject – a few hundred views each. Then, in April 2013, when the Vanity Fair cover story on Brad Pitt and World War z hit the stands, I pulled a five-minute clip from “Conversations” and produced a stand-alone video, and an audio podcast.
I took the information from the interview and wrote a blog for Huffington Post entitled, “World War Z Author Says Movie and Book Share Title Only.” It included links to the two shows and the shorter interview. It went live May 9.

By the end of the day, the video had picked up 48 views.  Folks on my FB page began sharing it.  Genre bloggers grabbed the clip and posted blogs about the interview.

Ten days later  the interview had scored 6,150 views, about 600 views a day.  The “Conversations” interviews picked up several hundred more.

Of course,  Mansfield University is mentioned at the beginning of the shows and in the Huffington Post blog.  I expect all will continue to attract viewers and readers as the World War Z promotion machine kicks into full throttle.

None of the above cost the university a cent other than my time.

Footnote: Producing your own talk show is not complex. I use our TV Services director. We shoot it in the studio and occasionally on location. I give him general directions, sometimes provide photos for B-roll , and he does the editing. It’s great for college-community relations and YouTube, of course, gives you a potential international audience.
I’ll do a future post on  hosting and distributing your own show in the future if you’re interested.

Why My Book Was Banned

I’m posting this because it was a PR/Library project that was wildly successful.  Some people told me that promotions like this sometimes backfire.  No one said life is safe.

Librarians keep track of books, answer questions and help people in their quest for knowledge.
I never thought of them as courageous.
But something happened this week that gave me a profound respect for several librarians in particular and the profession in general. In a discussion about Banned Book Week recently, one librarian said that in her high school Lord of the Flies was banned because it depicted a group of boys taking power too far.
“Then you should ban mine, “ I said, referring to One Woman’s Vengeance. “It’s about a female protagonist who takes the law into her own hands and kills people. It’s violent. It has graphic sex and a lot of adult language.”
A few days later Amanda Sanko texted  and asked if they could talk with me. So we met. “People in general are complacent,” Nichole Book said. “They don’t understand how dangerous censorship is. We want to find a way to wake people up.” Jamie Harris agreed. Scott DiMarco, library director, agreed.
They asked if they could ban my book.
These are four librarians passionate about their beliefs that everyone should have open access to all knowledge.
“You’ll take criticism,” I said. They nodded. They understood.
Scott stopped in my office later. “We’re doing this for a good reason – to remind people of the importance of having access to information,” he told me, knowing what they were getting into. “I hope we’re redeemed in the end. We have never banned a book in this library, and we never will again.”
They made a simple announcement on Facebook that One Woman’s Vengeance was removed from the shelves due to a parent complaint.” I shared it on my wall. The reaction was immediate. Within 15 minutes a reporter called. Alumni wrote in. My Facebook friends posted their outrage.
The criticism was intense and widespread.
Someone created a Facebook page protesting the band. Messages came in from around the country.

Librarians are the guardians of open access to knowledge and everyday a librarian somewhere is tested. All it takes is one person with a passionate belief to pressure a principal or a school board or a board of a community library to remove a book from the shelf, taking it away from the community.
It’s a symbolic form of book burning. For centuries, kings, churches and despots have understood the power of the printed word. They have known, and still do, if they control what knowledge you receive, they control your thoughts and actions.
This control is widespread in many parts of the world. It is shameful that in this “land of the free” that even one book can be banned.
Why? Because once one book is banned, all books are targets.
This extends to TV, radio and the Internet.
I thank everyone involved in the banning of One Woman’s Vengeance, from the librarians who courageously created the project and saw it through, to students, alumni and fans who expressed their thoughts and feelings.
I hope that people were inspired to think about– and be aware of– censorship not just one week a year but every day. One of our most important rights is the freedom to read, watch and listen to anything we want without fear of reprisal or censorship.
Understand that I don’t see any financial gains from this. All proceeds from my two books go to a scholarship fund for future MU English majors. My goal is $10,000 to endow it and benefit students for generations.
The aim of the Vengeance Project was to emphasize the importance of freedom of information to everyone, everywhere, forever.
Thank you for making this a lively, thoughtful and passionate conversation.

Here’s the video finale.

Pinterest: Evolution Means You’re Not In Control

We in the marketing business are shameless users, snatching  the latest social media hit which always starts out as a fun, sharing platform among students, hobbyists, musicians, grandparents.

As soon as we see it grab traction, we jump on the machine  to see if we can steer it toward our purposes.

But in the beginning, we never have control of the steering wheel or the direction.

Pinterest is the latest platform exploding onto the scene.  Its mission is  to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”

Wikipedia also reports that for “January 2012 comScore reported the site had 11.7 million unique U.S. visitors, making it the fastest site ever to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark.”
Recently there was an interesting CUPRAP thread (CUPRAP is the world’s best organization for PR and marketing folks.)
There were many questions.  Who uses Pinterest?  What is the ROI?  Who is the  target audience?
It’s too early to ask these questions.   We’re in new territory.  Study it, play with it and experiment.
Seven years and a universe ago,  MU gained international attention for its use of podcasting. Now it’s not in the news but tens of millions of people listen to podcasts. Facebook was a college game and evolved into a $100 billion business.
Is Pinterest headed in the same direction?  My guess is yes.
Remember, we, the marketers are the intruders. Pinterest started as a site where people (mainly women) shared recipes, patterns, quilts.
It grew quickly  into much more and now we’re trying to make it work for us.
Don’t try to control it. You can’t. Social media evolves itself. Don’t ask right now what your target audience is. The target audience finds you if you do it right. Don’t ask what the ROI is. The target audience delivers it if you do it right.
How do you do it right?  You experiment.

As Mike Moran says Do It Wrong, Quickly.

We’re exploring Pinterest  at Mansfield and I’m experimenting with it personally.  UW Tacoma has a good site with variety and a sense of play, and other schools are fast joining the party.

Forget the “suit” questions right now.

Have fun and make sure your boards — interesting and substantive —  are there when your audience comes searching for  for you.