Sarah Hyde is the social media coordinator for Seattle University.
In a key scene in the classic holiday film Miracle on 34th Street, a customer is frustrated because she can’t find what she’s looking for at Macy’s, and Santa—the real Santa, as it turns out—directs her to another store for the item. Soon the gesture yields positive hype for Macy’s and business booms.
Last month, Seattle University experienced a similar “everybody benefits” situation when it did something unusual and honored a competitor. We published a full-page ad in the Seattle Times wishing the University of Washington, our neighbor a few miles to the north in Seattle, a very happy 150th birthday.
The University of Washington is recognized by many as one of the nation’s finest public universities and a global leader in healthcare research. Founded in 1891, Seattle University is an independent Jesuit Catholic university. Seattle is home to many people who hold degrees from both institutions.
We social media advocates are usually the first to say, “Do it online!” When we do print, we’re mindful to drive people back to the website. So why spend the money on a big ad praising our competition? Answer: because it’s a good idea to applaud the good work being done around you, and sometimes, as it turns out, a simple gesture in print can come back to benefit you online.
Years ago, there would have been little consideration given to Seattle University investing in a celebration of the University of Washington. But in recent years, Seattle U has undergone a transformation—in academic programs, student services, campus improvements, entry into Division I athletics—and enjoys a significantly enhanced profile. We are comfortable with our status and with recognizing the University of Washington for its contributions and for 120 years of friendship and partnership. In some instances, we compete for students and we compete in athletics. But in many more ways, we work together, and we share a passion for educating future leaders.
When the ad ran in the Seattle Times, the response was overwhelming. After receiving our digital file, staff from the Times called us to say how much they loved the ad. The UW answered back by posting a thank you to Seattle U on its Facebook page, along with an image of the ad itself. This post became a sensation as Twitter and Facebook lit up with discussion with hundreds of UW and SU users liking and resharing the item.
The UW’s digital response to our printed olive branch was a real testament to the power of tipping your hat to your neighbor. Additionally, the conversation that took place on social media platforms illustrated the full benefits of transparency in today’s crowded media market and the potential power combo of print and web. What began as a print ad that reached hundreds of thousands of Seattle subscribers became an item shared electronically across the nation. By posting the ad online, UW really maximized the impact of the ad, carrying a print success one step further via social media.
Anyone who operates a social media site is looking to engage an audience. We spend a good amount of time brainstorming and planning campaigns for social media outlets, hoping to start a fire, but time and again the evidence shows that online audiences respond the most to content that suprises and delights them. Our gesture of friendship with UW, when re-posted on social media sites, was acknowledged and magnified by both the UW and SU audiences.
The success of our print ad via social media serves as a reminder to be opportunistic and look for chances to re-post or share information from other platforms that engage your audience, much like the Macy’s Santa pointing that shopper to another department store. Whether you’re sharing an article about a faculty member, a photo of campus or an ad praising another school, never forget to delight your audience.