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Great, a viral video! Now: What does it mean for Ohio State?

Ohio State has a new most popular video on its YouTube channel: an eight-minute piece of the marching band’s Sept. 27 Wizard of Oz-themed halftime show.

In itself, it’s exciting to see a video on an Ohio State channel climb past the million mark.

But there’s also a more subtle story that’s interesting to communicators: how a fun, popular piece of content raises the visibility of all the content we produce. Below, some lessons learned — and in case you missed them, the videos themselves.

Viewed by a million: A great band video that gave us a chance to brag about the talent behind the scenes.

We anticipated high traffic with the band story, so we planned to “ride the wave” and use that attention to share a great story about current band students and leadership. On Saturday, the band show hit the web. On Tuesday morning, we shared 
an osu.edu feature that focused on the work the students and new band leadership put in behind the scenes. (Made possible by teamwork between University Communications and the College of Arts and Sciences.) We used the popularity of the halftime show to shine a spotlight on a larger story about the caliber of students in the band: band members’ average GPA (3.5), record of community service and a history of innovation that dates to 1930.

A viral hit means more views across the board. The band wasn’t the only beneficiary of increased viewership. Unrelated Ohio State videos also saw a bump — in particular, two recent videos focused on Ohio State’s fight to end cancer. Views of a video profile on James survivor and Pelotonia rider Wally Yocum increased about six times; a newsier companion piece announcing Doug Ulman’s new role with Pelonia multiplied about five.

The beneficiary of the boost: Stories about Ohio State efforts to fight cancer.

And lastly, a bigger subscriber base. Since the band video hit, Ohio State’s YouTube channel has gained more than 3,000 subscribers. That means thousands more people will be told about new Ohio State videos as they post. And that’s a win the entire Buckeye community can celebrate.

What makes a great web feature? (AKA content criteria)

What content hits Ohio State’s digital properties–and why?

A variety of considerations go into making digital content decisions for osu.edu, university sites, Ohio State social media channels and OSU Mobile. The best stories work through two lenses: A reader sees a fun and interesting piece, while Ohio State communicators see a chance to share strategic messages in line with the university’s brand.

The top three considerations:

  • How does this story advance Ohio State? (What messages does it hit?)
  • Why should users read it? (We live in a busy world with lots of competing content–so we need to tell stories in layman’s terms and explain the promise of research. Answer a user’s question of, “Why does this matter to me?”)
  • Is the timing right for maximum punch? (A health-related research story, for example, tends to get longer read times and more clicks in early January–and it wouldn’t be late summer on osu.edu without football-related content that highlights Ohio State’s strong traditions.)

On osu.edu, the main feature (“hero space”) is essentially the print version of a cover story–a centerpiece that showcases current students, faculty/staff or alumni and hits research, athletics or one of our major Ohio State initiatives. We think about Ohio State’s biggest priorities–the discovery themes, research/innovation, great students, outreach, etc.–and use plain language (no jargon!) to make them accessible.

The “news and events” section is populated by @OhioState on Twitter–and is the place to see the most up-to-the-minute info about Ohio State at any given point in time.

“Watch” showcases new videos, from University Communications and partners around campus; this is a way to show dynamic video content. And the “events bug” area is the place for promoting major university events–a Wexner Center exhibition, Pelotonia or Homecoming Week, for example.

Web writing: Things to consider

Before I joined Ohio State as a staffer in 2005, I was a print person through and through.

I’d written for daily newspapers (including the Dayton Daily News), an alt-weekly (the late, great The Other Paper) and a magazine (Columbus Monthly). I had the story-finding and writing skills I needed to write and edit Connect e-news and osu.edu features–but my tech skills basically ended with “turn computer off at night.” (A big behemoth desktop PC, of course.)

And now, I was Ohio State’s new web editor.

I looked around for conferences and tried to read some how-to’s. But I learned the most by becoming a voracious consumer of web content–reading everything I could get my mouse on, watching web video good and bad, downloading podcasts, clicking my way through slideshows. What did I like and get lost in? When I found something that resonated with me, I asked, “How can I make this work for Ohio State?”

Here is my best advice for print writers who want to transition to writing for the web:

  • Take advantage of the medium. Don’t force users to scroll through long chunks of text. Work to break them up (e.g., this photo-driven story on Ohio State arts outreach efforts in Weinland Park). Adapt trends–like Buzzfeed-styles “listicles”–to your advantage (e.g., this piece welcoming orientation students and families).
  • Be engaging. It’ s my belief that social media has changed user expectations significantly: It’s no longer enough to share our story. Our audiences want to participate. On osu.edu, we strive to give them something to do to, whether that’s clicking through an interactive timeline (see the history of the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry) or “traveling” via Google mapping technology. We ask questions on social media and use Storify to compile social media responses from our audiences; see the responses to Ohio State’s call for #BuckeyeLove stories.
  • Timing matters. Get familiar with your sites analytics and post appropriately during traffic peaks and valleys. Consider what’s “hot” at the moment, too: On osu.edu, we featured the evolution of Brutus the week before the first game, when fans were starved for anything Buckeye football. Around New Year’s, when everyone is making health-related resolutions, we share #healthyOSU tips and research news.
  • Know your audience. Who are you writing for? Answering this question will help you with content strategy. For example, Ohio State’s Facebook page is a great place to engage alumni, while Instagram skews younger–so we target alumni on Facebook and concentrated our orientation social media efforts on Instagram.
  • Do a tone check. Our writing strives to be warm, friendly, interesting and interested. It’s smart and it’s fun–just like Ohio State itself.
  • Teamwork rules! The best web content is created by teams that include writers, photographers, graphic designers and developers. Don’t be an island.
  • Test early and often–and be patient with yourself. Making mistakes is part of the process. But soon enough, you too will be a web geek like me:

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#new2OSU: a welcome via web, mobile and social

This summer, University Communications has teamed up with Enrollment Services to give orientation students and parents a big Buckeye welcome. Our coordinated plan encompasses osu.edu, university social media channels and the OSU Mobile app–the places where we want to interact with Buckeyes throughout their lives, from prospective students to alumni.

Our strategy: to use our top digital properties to share important orientation information, capitalize on the popularity of Buckeye traditions and build community at Ohio State. An important part of the plan: having fun! During orientation, we have a chance to grab students’ attention and show them why they should keep coming back to osu.edu features, OSU Mobile and university social media account. To that end, the communications need to feel like Ohio State itself: warm, friendly, interesting and engaging.

The tactics supporting our orientation strategy:

On osu.edu: A Buzzfeed-inspired orientation feature tells students and parents what they need to know before they come to campus–from the down-to-business basics (like class scheduling and finding your way) to inspiring Buckeye pride. Multimedia writer Monica DeMeglio worked with First Year Experience and orientation to get the content orientation families tell us they want–then tell it in a fun, Ohio State-branded way. Part of the feature:

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On OSU Mobile, we’re running five short features, each one edited from the web feature and tailored for the mobile medium. The features are extremely user-centric; we used geofencing and tailored the feature to hit at the right time. Users on the Oval will see a feature about Buckeye pride. At night, they’ll see a feature about navigating the city of Columbus. Near the Student Academic Services building, they’ll see information on Ohio State services for students. (The OSU Mobile team–especially Interactive Communications Director Jim Burgoon–worked with us to make this happen.) Below, the Buckeye pride feature–and its geographic boundaries.

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On social media, we’re engaging with our audiences using #new2OSU. We have three goals: to share useful news and info, to inspire Buckeye pride, and to build meaningful connections among students. On Facebook, a welcome-to-orientation post was shared widely. On Twitter, @OhioState is responding to excited new Buckeyes and RT’ing and MT’ing #new2OSU posts–including those from alumni offering wisdom to the Class of 2018. And we’re not the only ones: Various Ohio State accounts, from Athletics’ account to faculty/staff to current students, are joining in and using the tag to welcome new students.

Multimedia specialist Lauren Boyd and photographer Jo McCulty are concentrating on Instagram, because it skews young, just like our incoming students, and it’s growing. A favorite example of social interaction on the site: this recent photo. The commentary is great: Buckeyes are not only liking the photo, but also tagging their new friends.Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 3.36.21 PM

When orientation is finished and students are back home, we’ll be looking at the analytics to determine the popularity of these efforts. Those metrics will help us plan for Welcome Week–and also learn what resonated with audiences as we think about orientation 2015.

Commencement, part II

Graduation is a rare combination of hope for the future and nostalgia for the past, a moment when thousands of robed Buckeyes feel a real connection to their fellow grads, a chance to reflect on what makes Ohio State so special and dream about our grads’ futures.

For higher ed communicators, this memorable time is one of the year’s best opportunities for engagement across the Advancement continuum: It’s a universal experience for celebrating grads, reminiscing alumni and forward-looking prospective and current students.

University Communications used the excitement and energy around Commencement to share a variety of stories across several media. Some highlights:

Before the big day: On osu.edu and social media, we shared the stories of three fantastic grads who received Ohio State scholarships: a field hockey star from Trinidad and Tobago; an Ohio native who started the first TEDx event in a prison; and a highly involved Atlanta native who was mentored through the Bell National Resource Center, which serves African-American male students. On Buckeye Voices, two-term USG president Taylor Stepp wrote an essay: “Ohio State: land of opportunity.” (These stories were too good not to repurpose; Editorial Communications is sharing theses stories on osu.edu and Alumni Association web properties; social media; e-newsletters and onCampus. We also teased out bits and pieces to promote on social media; see this Instagram video of our field hockey star singing Carmen Ohio.)

The big day: On May 4, the order of the day was to use social media to connect with graduates and share the excitement of the ceremony in the Shoe. Our @OhioStateLive Twitter account tweeted the commencement speeches, while @OhioState shared #OSUgrad stories from grads and their families. The result: #OSUgrad trended on Sunday and into Monday.

Congrats, grads: After commencement, we posted a Facebook album where new Ohio State alumni could tag themselves. Monday osu.edu content was focused on letting our new alumni tell their own stories: a web feature shared video of the grads sharing their stories and a Storify (social media compilation tool) that made use of our grads’ public Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. The power here was the participation: We were able to shine a spotlight on the diversity of Ohio State alumni, from student-athletes to international students to Ohio natives.

Commencement Week communications were successful because of two factors: great students and a talented, team-oriented staff in UComm. Photographers, a video producer, writers and designers worked together to effectively show the amazing opportunities Buckeyes have. It’s a fitting nod to the “family” atmosphere of commencement.

Finding inspiration

Walking around campus this week, the signs were clear: The academic year was coming to a close. In South Campus, I saw parents packing minivans outside residence halls. At the Ohio Union, students scrambling to use every last cent on their meal plans. In the South Campus Gateway, my fellow communicators putting the final touches on Commencement communications plans.

At a university, the end of the academic year is a natural place for us to stop and think–a chance to reflect on the past year and think about what’s next.

In many ways it’s hard to believe that my team (Multimedia Content within Editorial Communications) has only been “official” since July 1. I’m grateful to work with a talented group of people who work together to try new things; they’ve made this a fun and gratifying 2013-14 academic year.

I’m also thinking a lot about what lies ahead.

I see our success as directly tied to innovation: If we want our audiences to pay attention to content on osu.edu and social media, we need to frequently try new things.

All of this has me thinking a lot about inspiration. (Hokey, perhaps, but true: I’ve asked my team to use the subject line “inspiration” to share ideas, great content and multimedia projects we’d like to emulate.)

The questions on my mind: How do we come up with our best ideas? Where do we look for ideas? And–most importantly, I think–what’s the best way to cultivate an atmosphere conducive to trying new things?

Some thoughts on the inspiration behind some of my favorite projects:

Find something great, and tweak it to work for Ohio State. I love NPR’s social media. When they started a Friday Facebook push, asking fans to share the best part of their week, I took notice–and thought about how Ohio State could adapt it to fit our brand. The plan my team came up with: During November, we’d ask Buckeyes to tell us what made them proud to be a #BuckeyeForLife. See the results.

Don’t get stuck in higher ed. Seeing what our peers and aspirational universities are doing is great. But sometimes, the best digital projects come from outside higher ed. Looking at news sites like the nytimes.com, blogs, newer online magazines, trendier sites like Buzzfeed, sports sites. When we turn ourselves into “the audience,” we remember what resonates with us as humans. (When I find something I love, I’ve got two questions: What drew me in as a user? And how can we make it work for Ohio State?)

Be strategic–but don’t overthink things. In other words, get out of your comfort zone, early and often. Obviously, you’ve got to have an overarching vision and a reason why you’re trying something new. But to me, inflexibility is the enemy of innovation; at some point, you have to dive in and be prepared to learn on the job.

Be ruthless, like Google. Remember Google Wave, the great new thing that was going to take over email, photo sharing and life as we knew it? Probably not. It didn’t take off and Google killed it, just as they more recently discontinued their iGoogle home page. Trying new things should mean being willing to walk away from what’s not working.

Make innovation a regular part of the job.  Got ideas? I’d love to hear them.

Let the storytelling Commence

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The strains of Pomp and Circumstance, on a seemingly endless loop. A sea of mortarboards and long black robes. The high-pitched squeals, long whistles and low cheers of friends and family, excited to hear their graduates’ names called from the stage.

I’m not normally a very formal or sentimental person, but I love Commencement. It’s impossible for me to hear a few bars of Pomp and Circumstance without reflecting on my own graduation day. (Fun fact: I’m part of the relatively small group of grads who had Commencement on the Oval, in 2001, with Bill Cosby as speaker. My entire family managed to sit along the path from my seat to the podium, so I got to high-five my proud parents on the walk to pick up my diploma.)

As a higher ed communicator, I think Commencement is one of the best opportunities universities have for engagement: It’s a chance to inspire prospective and current students; tell grads’ stories; and give alumni a chance to reminisce about their own graduation days.

University Communications is using the week leading up to Commencement to share the stories of three fantastic soon-to-be alums: a field hockey star from Trinidad and Tobago; an Ohio native who started the first TEDx event in a prison; and a highly involved Atlanta native who was mentored through the Bell National Resource Center, which serves African-American male students. (We’ve got a long list of destinations for the story and its parts: the web, including osu.edu and Alumni Association properties; social media, where we’ll share and engage via #OSUgrad; OSU Today and Connect e-news to alumni; and our sister print pubs, onCampus and the Alumni Mag.)

The stories are fantastic–and the final product is reflective of the variety of talents we have in the Multimedia unit of Editorial Communications. With two photographers, a video producer, a social media manager and a senior writer all working on digital storytelling, we are able to produce compelling packages like this. (We also rely on teamwork from others, like the designer whose layout made this work sing on the web page.) When all these skills complement one another, we can effectively show the amazing opportunities Buckeyes have when they embrace Ohio State.

Watch one of three grad videos below–and then check out the full story.

The story behind the success

I’m in the final stretch of Ohio State’s Gateway to Management program. It’s got me thinking about workplace culture–a topic I find really interesting–even more than usual.

This year, one of the projects I’m proud to be working on is the launch of the University Communications blog. We update weekly, with a revolving group of writers showcasing “behind the scenes” stories about communications successes and sharing best practices. (Two favorites: The story of the #BuckeyeLove, a fund-raising campaign that used tools from phone to print to social media and an insider’s peek into our strategy and tactics for welcoming a new Ohio State president.)

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The UComm blog is a reminder of what I love about working at Ohio State. It’s inspired, it’s inclusive, it celebrates teamwork and it showcases innovation–to me, the best parts of the staff culture at Ohio State.

Since I started my career here in 2005, I’ve been grateful for a talented, interesting, energetic group of colleagues who will help me think through ideas, trouble-shoot problems and tweak products till they really work. The upshot has been teamwork I’m proud of–from the O-H-I-O campaign to interactive osu.edu features to a social media presence that’s grown into a higher ed benchmark.

Read the blog to be inspired. And let me know if you’d like to share your own communications success story.