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 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 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 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 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, 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.