Aaron W. Jaco (@aaron_jaco) is the digital media specialist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
This is the second post of a two-part series on Tumblr. Read Tumblr: Why You Might Fall In Love (Part 1).
No discussion of Tumblr in higher education would be complete without hearing from Grace Chapin, admissions counselor at the University of Chicago and overseer of its Tumblr blog.
If you missed it, UChicago’s admissions office posted in December about a mysterious package that landed in its mailbox. It was addressed to Henry Walton Jones (a.k.a. Indiana Jones) and contained no return address. The Huffington Post and The New York Times ran articles. The post drew more than 10,000 interactions from Tumblr users. The college received so many email inquiries that the admissions
staff created a new email address just to field them all.
I caught up with Grace via email, following the media frenzy, and asked her several questions about the success of UChicago’s Tumblr.
When did UChicago admissions launch its Tumblr? What were your goals?
We launched it in the summer of 2011. Generally, we were just looking to try it out—we hadn’t seen that any other schools were on Tumblr at the time. A number of student tour guides who worked in our office used the service, so we thought it might be interesting to try. Starting up was originally the idea of one of our interns, who was spot on: If the students who already go to the University of Chicago like Tumblr, prospective students are probably on it too!
Has your approach to Tumblr changed since you launched the blog?
We’ve started incorporating a lot more “re-blogs” (with credit, of course) now that more university students and offices have their own Tumblr pages—but overall, we still try to focus on highlighting campus photos, cool news stories, quotes and facts. We have added the option of answering student questions as well; originally, we didn’t enable a question inbox, but found that students felt comfortable asking admissions-related questions through Tumblr.
Your Tumblr takes a light and playful tone, for example, with Grumpy Cat in Space. Humor can be very engaging, but how do you know you’re hitting the right note with prospective students?
We try to balance useful information alongside amusing content. Most of the information we highlight is factual or academic since most students are looking at UChicago for its academic rigor. But we wouldn’t want to make it seem like UChicago is all work and no play—because it isn’t!
We have two student interns who help us keep a students’ perspective when we’re sharing information or photographs. We give them license to find stories, photos or information that they think others would enjoy seeing.
You draw content from a wealth of sources. How did you build that massive content network?
We have tag alerts set up for several college, university and city-related keywords. Whenever someone tags a post as “UChicago,” we’re able to easily see it. We don’t follow blogs of current students or applicants or keep track of who is posting for privacy reasons, but we do follow blogs that are of campus or local interest. For example, our sustainability office has a Tumblr and often posts cool facts about green efforts on campus. We follow some Chicago-area news agencies to keep up with city events and happenings.
Your post about the Indiana Jones mystery box was a major hit. What were the results of that?
We set up an email@example.com email address. It was really amazing to see the ideas for its source and enthusiasm surrounding the document pouring in from around the country and the world. We did see an increase in our readership and followers as a result.
Have you had other successes with the Tumblr blog?
Our favorite kind of success is when students let us know that the Tumblr helped them feel more excited about or more comfortable with their decision to choose UChicago. We also had another post that gained popularity—a lovely picture of a girl reading a book on our Quads on a fall day that was accompanied by a quote about reading. You never know what will resonate with a wider crowd!
Where do you think we are in Tumblr’s lifespan? Is there room for the audience to grow?
Right now, we’re still seeing a lot of positive response to our Tumblr. As with most social media sites, we know there will eventually come a time when we should end things—we’re not on Myspace now for a reason, for example. But we plan to keep it around as long as we think the blog remains a good place to provide information to prospective students.
Do you have questions or thoughts? Please share them below.