U-M’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) has put a sword-wielding squirrel atop a unicorn as it floats through space—that’s not something you see every day.
University students around the nation fawn over the often too-brazen community of Rodentia sciuridae. But unique to the University of Michigan campus, perhaps, is the close relationship U-M students have to the resident squirrels.
Our hope was that Scatterhoard: A U-M Squirrel Quest would stand out, something both familiar and curiosity-raising. We planned to have fun creating a culture of engagement by improving the lives of students who then improve the world, all while increasing our Twitter following.
From a business perspective, it’s well established that constituents are more likely to recommend and purchase from companies that use social media to engage them positively—sometimes twice as likely.
For this reason, we wanted to focus on the student experience. Students frequently become alumni, and if we can get them in the habit of getting good “stuff” and good “vibes” from LSA’s social media channels, our students will be more inclined to make philanthropic commitments to the college in the future.
We were tentative about investing too much in promotion leading up to the event. While everyone we spoke to had lots of enthusiasm for the project, there was no guarantee that Scatterhoard would be any type of success. So we attempted to match effort with the amount of success that we could guarantee.
Our main concern during the planning phase is universal to every institution in higher education: How do we get students to care enough about what the institution is saying that they take action?
Could we use unicorn-riding squirrels to surprise students into paying attention to institutional messaging? And what venue–physical or digital–would LSA have to enter to make students take notice?
For promotion, we knew we couldn’t reach new followers by poaching our existing social media channels (“You like us on Facebook; now come follow us on Twitter”) to achieve the growth we desired. If students have found and followed us on one social media channel, that’s most likely the space where they want to connect. Instead, we figured that we had to physically enter the student space and leverage new media, where individuals did not already have a relationship with LSA.
To that end, we printed 100 posters for distribution around campus. We also distributed 500 mini-moo cards in a “spectacular Spectacular” during which a six-foot, Ulysses M. Squirrel anti-mascot hung out on the Diag for a few hours.
We also consulted the central university social media accounts, with the aim of leveraging their pre-established networks. We collaborated with Nikki Sunstrum to integrate Scatterhoard messaging into the existing Twitter accounts and new Snapchat channel, a strategy that broadened our reach to an already-engaged student body.
Social media drove the scavenger hunt and companion photo contest, making it critical for students to interact with LSA via social media during the campaign.
For the students following along, we hid five treasure-laden squirrel sculptures at various locations on campus and invited the students to watch for five #squest clues every day by following @UMichLSA on Twitter. We interacted with students on Twitter, observing them as they hunted down each hidden squirrel.
For all audiences following our social media, we offered a photo contest: Participants could take a selfie with a squirrel and tag it #squelfie. We included all #squelfie entries in a daily drawing for a prize from “the bottom of our goodie closet.”
We had great participation, which resulted in all five of the hidden squirrels being found. Significant participation in the #squelfie contest made it easy to give away prize packages.
Because we incorporated Twitter as an integral part of Scatterhoard and asked participants to follow our Twitter account, we saw a significant increase in our Twitter following.
In an average month, our growth rate is about 3.4%. In the Scatterhoard month of October 2014, or growth rate rose to nearly 7.6%! As of the writing of this post, attrition of the new followers has been nonexistent.
With the aid of other university social media entities, our messaging reached nearly 1.3 million potential impressions.
Furthermore, the rate of audience engagement showed an increase of 78% (excluding the promotion period leading up to the event).
Of the engagement metrics, we saw the largest increase in “User Profile Clicks” (364%), while the “Follows” metric represents the same level of increase as our 7.6% growth rate for October.
Scatterhoard proved itself as a viable method to increase LSA’s Twitter followership and delivered surprisingly high engagement rates. Beyond the strategic implications for follower growth, the Scatterhoard campaign underscores an often-overlooked premise: Students enjoy and respond to social media fun that may be off-message but on-mission.
Contributed by Matthew J. Adams (@mtthwjdms), Social Media Manager for the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (@UMichLSA). Matthew is a fan of all things Batman, Star Wars, and Tolkien, father of four future Victors, and the husband of Aimee.