Getting the Most Out of Graduations with Social Media

Cameron Pegg (@ghostwhowrites) is executive officer for the deputy vice chancellor and provost at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

Griffith University ran a hashtag campaign to crowdsource images from their December 2012 graduations

Griffith University ran a hashtag campaign to crowdsource images from their December 2012 graduations

Here are some tried and tested techniques along with some new ideas for extending the reach of your graduation season in 2013.

Pick a hashtag early and thoroughly cross-promote

This is the most powerful decision you will make—the right hashtag will help collate tweets, images and video that you can use in the lead up and beyond. And with some luck, it may even become a trending topic. Keep it simple (and short)—#UWgrads, #HokieGrad and #VU2012 are good examples. Promote the hashtag well in advance on banners via your student portal, graduations website and ideally, your university homepage. Keep banner designs clear, consistent and uncluttered, allowing people to remember the hashtag more easily.

If you use SMS alerts, why not send a reminder to students on the day of their ceremony? Promote the hashtag shortly before the proceedings via projection screens and also in the printed program. Of course, you should also keep an eye on what students are tweeting and add popular hashtags as required. Creating hashtags at a school or date-specific level is probably not a great idea, however, as it  splinters the conversation and may detract from your key messages (such hashtags can also be rather long!)

Leverage what you already have

Central, university-wide social media accounts generally have superior follower numbers whereas graduation-specific ones will tend to be activated for limited periods each year (a social media no-no). Work with your colleagues to schedule posts for the largest accounts used for distributing university news releases and other campus information.

UCF graduations cake

Graduations allow people to interact with your university’s brand in fun and engaging ways. Image sourced from

Think visually

Graduations are perfect social media fodder because of the stories that accompany them. Many institutions encourage their grads to bring signs and wear accessories that tell their individual graduation story. (In Australia, this includes special graduation accessories for indigenous students.)

Feature inspiring and humorous images in your posts and photo albums to generate maximum buzz. Have your photographers take names wherever possible (more tags = greater exposure), but if groups are too large, let your students know where to find the images afterwards and allow them to tag themselves.

If you’re not already using platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr and Tumblr, graduations can provide a great opportunity to start. Search for graduation-related images that people are posting on their personal accounts and share this content where appropriate.

Livestream it

In 2013, this should be a no brainer. Use a free service like Ustream or Livestream and work with your information technology and media teams to test and promote the feed in advance. Most live-streaming sites include their own comments window and you can also add plugins for Facebook and Twitter. Once the ceremonies are complete, create a new folder on your YouTube page, and promote the page widely. This is particularly important if you have celebrity speakers.

Not everyone can persuade Neil Gaiman or Barack Obama to do the honors, but the words of particularly prominent guests will resonate around the world. Try and be the first to get the full recording of big speeches online and then push it  to your social networks so that followers can share with their contacts. Wherever possible, encourage interactions with your content—ask people what their favorite
part of the guest address was or whether they know someone who walked across the stage.

UCF business dean tweetsInvolve faculty and alumni

While staff members from your alumni and advancement teams will be leading the way on graduation day, it’s also important to reach out to others. Many faculty members have powerful virtual networks that you should leverage. Does your university have a weekly, staff e-newsletter? Ensure faculty members know the official hashtag in advance and encourage them to get involved during the ceremonies. It’s also an opportunity to recruit your existing alumni as school ambassadors—let them know the schedule of ceremonies and guest speakers beforehand to encourage timely displays of school pride.

Devise a LinkedIn graduations campaign

This could be the most important call-to-action you make during graduations. LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network and a good way to stay in touch with those who won’t follow your other social media accounts or open their university emails following graduation. Remind graduates to create (or update) their LinkedIn profiles with their new qualifications and invite them to join your official LinkedIn groups. (If active groups exist at discipline level, provide a simple list so graduates can self-select which ones to join.)

Wrap it up

Work quickly to capture and curate content across platforms and then share it with your graduates in one convenient package.

Send an email to all recent grads within a week of their ceremony with links to photo albums, LinkedIn groups, and video content. Remind them of the benefits of staying in touch and joining alumni organizations and include links to your alumni magazine website and social media accounts. And for good measure, plug the official graduations hashtag one more time to see what extra activity you can generate.

You could also use Storify (as Harvard did for its 2012 graduations), but you’d need to promote this to your newest alumni if they’re not following you already.

Some other ideas

  • Foursquare grads badge

    Foursquare created a badge for graduates in 2012

    What about Foursquare? You could devise a treasure hunt or tour of graduation-related check-ins. If you have video screens at your ceremonies, remind people to check in at the same time you’re promoting the hashtag. Encourage them to check in to unlock swarm badges and allow grads to earn the “Hats Off” badge, which was launched in 2012.

  • Other contributors to this blog have suggested using Spotify to plug homecoming and to engage with new students. Why not poll your students via Facebook to find out their favorite graduation songs and then create a playlist or mashup unique to the graduating class? (This is another thing you can share via that all-important wrap-up email.)
  • Do you have a campus app? If so, try and incorporate a graduations update  a few months in advance with all of the key information (e.g.,maps, dates and times). Promote the update as part of your hashtag campaign.

Which social media strategies have worked for your graduations and which new ones would you like to try in the coming year?

9 responses to “Getting the Most Out of Graduations with Social Media

  1. Just revisiting this great tip Cameron. We ran an instagram competition but did not generate a lot of leads…people too busy on graduation day and tweeting in ceremony discouraged by admin. However our iPad signups, on the day, pre-grad email campaign and free library membership have been hugely successful- we’re building in LinkedIn as well.

    • Nice work Jane. It’s important to experiment to see what works, and what doesn’t. Having iPads at the venue to encourage sign ups is smart, as are pre-graduation campaigns to remind students of the value of keeping in touch. As for free Library memberships, I think they should be standard for all new alumni, and would be a powerful incentive when trying to reconnect with older alumni as well.

      This would make a great presentation at a future Blackbaud or CASE conference!

  2. Pingback: Useful Tidbits April 17, 2013 — Shelley Keith·

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. Dave – I would be very interested to hear about what you decide to do at your spring graduation ceremonies and which approaches work best.
    I think LinkedIn holds incredible potential when it comes to “transitioning” graduates into alumni. Yes, it’s not an online community run by your institution, but that’s the point – it’s much bigger than that. Use your LinkedIn groups as a starting point for conversation and to show why being an alumnus is valuable (promoting the services you offer, exclusive alumni events, important networking opportunities that exist etc etc).

  4. Great post! We will definitely discuss these ideas for this spring’s graduation ceremonies at my school. I would love to hear feedback from other universities that have implemented plans along these lines. Tell us your success stories!

  5. Love interactive commencement! We also added text to screen so that the audience could text their well wishes to each other and they were shown on the jumbotron. Will be presenting how we did this at HighEdWeb New England in March!

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