Ai Weiwei And Curating Conversations and Content

Becca Ramspott (@beccaramspott)is a writer and social media specialist at Frostburg State University.

Looking at “Cube Light” is like watching fractured sunlight on the ocean’s horizon, but contained within the geometric perfection of metal lines and angles. This is part of the “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” exhibition on view through Feb. 24, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.

Looking at “Cube Light” is like watching fractured sunlight on the ocean’s horizon, but contained within the geometric perfection of metal lines and angles. This is part of the “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” exhibition on view through Feb. 24, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.

When I describe what the best social media people do, my favorite term, hands down, is curating. Curating speaks not only to the importance of visual storytelling but also to the idea that communicators are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that inspire people to stop, look and interact with them.

The best art exhibitions do this too. Museum curators are successful when people respond intellectually and emotionally to the art, spend time with it and come back and see it again.

Those of us who handle social media at colleges, universities and schools seek to curate content that will convince people to invest in our institutions and form relationships with us in some way. Lately, I’ve been mulling over the dynamic between user-generated content (independently created content that we happen to discover, like students’ YouTube videos) and the content that colleges and universities create themselves, and the best ways to make that user-generated content an asset. I was considering this when I wandered into the Hirshhorn Museum recently and saw Ai Weiwei’s “Cube Light” (2008).  Ai, who is from China, is not only is a contemporary art rock star but also someone who is highly fluent in social media. During his ascent as an idea leader in the art
world, he has often turned to Twitter and blogs to express his opinions, which have both enthralled and enraged a country where the government carefully controls media and messaging.

Ai’s cube series is inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 film October which features a shaking crystal chandelier that suggests a society undergoing major change. Higher education is without a doubt experiencing an earthquake of change, every day. We’re dealing with MOOCs, the need for academic programs that are more relevant to workforce needs and new developments at every angle.

Marketing and branding are also pretty tumultuous territory. Suddenly we have new social media platforms to consider colonizing, mobile apps to develop and people who are frustrated by the job market questioning the value of a college degree. And the carefully prepared, one-way messaging we’ve treasured for decades is no longer as effective. We’re realizing that our students, alumni, parents, donors and friends can be terrific storytellers who can help us get our message out.

Screenshot of Frostburg Facebook page discussion

Screenshot of Frostburg Facebook page discussion

So how we do harness the power of these storytellers while also ensuring our
marketing and branding messages are still getting through to the masses? You can follow some basic steps to make this happen, including asking interesting questions on Twitter and retweeting people’s answers with commentary, and creating Spotify playlists of alumni’s favorite songs from their college days to promote homecoming.

Here are two examples from colleagues I know through the Mid-Atlantic Higher Ed Social Network.

  • The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, invites different campus community members to guest blog on BreakingGround, where they
    highlight a variety of campus and civic engagement projects.
  • George Mason University gets new guest tweeters to take over their university Twitter account each week, as part of their Mason Nation Project.

At Frostburg State, we’ve organized YouTube contests to net cool videos. We also take screenshots of people’s tweets and pop them up on our Facebook Page and crowdsource Instagram imagery each week.

We launched our Pinterest account with the goal of empowering our recent graduates to create their own stories, through resources like articles on job-hunting advice and volunteering.

None of this amounts to an exact science, and you’re not always going to get the best content. But those moments when you do get something amazing, and your constituents notice you shared their stories on social media and recognized them … those moments build relationships. Like sunlight on broken water, these stories can never be perfectly controlled or directed, but they can inspire you with their brilliance, if you organize them in an interesting way and invite others to look.

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