How to Live-Update a Commencement/Reunion Weekend

Ma’ayan Plaut is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College.

Mission: In four days or 84 hours, try to connect as many people as possible.

Campus: Oberlin is usually a campus of 2,800 students during the school year; during commencement/reunion weekend there are over 600 graduating seniors, around 2,000 visitors (in the form of family, friends, and alumni) returning, and several hundred students working for the entire week/weekend.

Commencement week is a wonderful time at Oberlin. A confluence of generations, happiness and sadness, families, friends and a conglomeration of amazing events culminates in the degree ceremony on Monday morning. The weekend is full of Oberlin’s finest: onstage in the form of recitals, plays and musicals; panels of alumni experts; historical walking tours; and graduation parties, dinners and senior sendoff events.

A team of photographers, writers and communications staff covered events in shifts throughout commencement weekend on May 27-30. The booklet of weekend events numbered 50 front-and-back pages and that was only the publicized events. As a former commencement photographer and now social media coordinator, my role was to be present in as many places as possible over the four-day period.

Photography is my dominant passion and my go-to approach to connecting people around the world and generations of Oberlin alumni to each other. For our weekend, which is a mashup of a handful of reunions and the festivities revolving around the commencement exercises, I decided to do photo updates through Facebook and Twitter.

We kicked off our weekend with the debut of our Friday parody video at the senior supper on Thursday evening and then on YouTube a few hours later. Our seniors and alumni (returning or otherwise) were completely pumped for the whole weekend, with their eyes on us. The video worked well and got the buzz surrounding Oberlin commencement going so that our audience was on the lookout for updates throughout the weekend.

To pull all this off, I focused on the following:

  • Have a detailed and organized schedule. The nice thing about trying to update everything over a weekend is that you’re attempting to quickly capture the essence of any given event. You don’t have to stick around if you don’t want to. I hit 2-3 events each hour and then, at the last event of the hour, updated all the photos to Facebook and Twitter at once. Lesson learned: The schedule saved me. I will definitely be creating a schedule again in the future.
  • Have your essentials on you at all times. I had business cards, a press pass, extra batteries, chargers and a water bottle with me non-stop the whole weekend. I also brought sunscreen and a bike helmet for personal safety. Bring some snacks, too, in case your detailed schedule doesn’t plan for meals. Lesson learned: I forgot to eat one day and realized it at 1 a.m. I’ll be planning meals into my schedule in the future.
  • Carry around your mini-office. I achieved this with a backpack. To be exact, a blue, children’s backpack with dragon wings and a hood. It was the perfect size to hold an iPad, a camera and extra lenses, a business card case, a water bottle and a small case with chargers, batteries, and card readers. Lesson learned: Maximize your time by minimizing your belongings. A small bag is ideal for quick traveling.

Backpack wings
I decided to scrap the wings and hood for fast traveling between events. I also didn’t want to be a conversation starter at every location I visited (not conducive to the shoot-and-dash nature of my weekend). Photos by Brandi Ferrebee.

  • Know your technology and always have them handy. I planned to use an Eye-Fi card (the most advanced piece of technology I’ve ever seen; it turns a camera into a wireless port and can send things directly to a mobile device or an internet site of your choice), but it didn’t cooperate with our campus network. I ended up with an iPad and a memory card attachment that attached to the dock connecter, combined with my Nikon D90 and an iPod touch for fast retweeting. Lesson learned: Test everything before you go out in the field, and be nice to the folks who know how to fix things.
  • Know your own limitations. Can you get from one side of campus to the other for three different events in an hour? I accomplished this with a bicycle with lots of baskets. Can you work a 15-hour day, three days in a row? Lesson learned: sleep well, save your voice and have some mode of transportation at your disposal.

These baskets came in handy over the weekend.

Overall, the weekend was a wild success. Our Twitter account, @oberlincollege, only recently reclaimed from a defunct account, gained many new followers and valuable endorsements from influential alumni over commencement weekend. I realized that there are far more alumni on Twitter than we had previously thought. Next year, we’ll create a dedicated hashtag for the weekend rather than just the #oberlin tag we used this year.

In the future, it would be valuable to recruit volunteers to help get information out via social media. A member of the alumni association was updating to Twitter and Tumblr a few times a day, with a bit more content than just captions, which I was able easily retweet and reblog to give a grander perspective. If even more people were doing this, it would have been stunning. There’s always next year.

What did you do for commencement at your institution? What lessons did you learn about what worked and what didn’t?

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