Authentic Perspectives

Matthew Herek currently serves as the associate director of young alumni engagement in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University.

College football at U.S. institutions seems to dominate news headlines in the fall. Some of us work on campuses where whether the team is a success or not determines more than bowl position, but also how happy alumni will be when a brave student makes a phoneathon call.

Earlier this month, my alma matter Michigan State, pulled off a last second and somewhat miraculous win against the University of Wisconsin. I want to talk about how my numerous viewings of the big play on YouTube led me to connect with our alumni relations work.

With respect to Michigan State’s win, user-generated content helps tell a more complete story than any one camera angle could.

In 1984, Doug Flutie, playing for Boston College, threw a similar touchdown pass, winning the game against the University of Miami. If you search YouTube, you will find exactly one video of this pass. It has been uploaded multiple times by multiple people, but you’ll find only one angle.

I’m sure the two institutions have that image seared into their institutional memories, for better or worse. I’m also certain that if we could see a video of the reaction from the fans in the stadium, we’d have a more complete picture of what happened.

Fast forward 27 years. If you watch the Michigan State vs. University of Wisconsin game below for about 45 seconds, it will give you a good idea of how many different angles from which the play was viewed within the stadium. The many angles were filmed through handheld cameras, phones and other video-supporting media.

Following the play, there was a video review. Numerous videos of fans waiting for confirmation of the touchdown have cropped up, but this one is my favorite. It’s what I think it would be like to be in the middle of a sonic boom.

As an alum of the school, I can tell you that it’s the poorly shot video of the crowd waiting in anticipation that I could watch over and over (and 24,000 people agree with me). On that Saturday night, 72,000 people might have been in the stadium, but many more felt a strong connection to the event. The connection did not happen because the marketing team was ready to produce content about fan reactions. The fans reacted and produced their own content, providing numerous perspectives that when combined created a panorama of emotion.

There are a couple of lessons here about social media. Social media allows us to engage our alums in the moment in a more authentic way than the most well planned marketing piece could ever hope to. From my own point of view, the videos of fan reactions stoke memories of similar reactions I had in the same stadium and remind me that passion is an important driver for inspiring alumni to engage and participate in meaningful ways.

A second lesson is to rememember that our obligation to tell the story supercedes our desire to own the story. There are moments in the lives of our alumni that should not be edited or made more palatable for wider consumption. If you decide to view the world through the lens of your alumni, make sure the view is authentic.

Practically speaking, isn’t this an opportunity for your alumni magazine to provide a QR code linking back to some of these exciting videos? And, why not alert your campus archivist to alumni content?

The motto of the state of Michigan where the game took place is “If you seek a pleasant peninsula look around you.” Fellow social media curators, if you seek engaging content look around YouTube.

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