As part of a series of blog posts around Google +, I talked with Cara Rousseau, manager, digital and social media strategy at Duke University, about the school’s use of the platform.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the Google + presence your department manages and related goals. Does your institution have other accounts not managed by your department?
A: Duke University has a very active Google + presence with more than 280,000 followers and more than 2.5 million views. The main Google+ page is managed by our social media team in Duke’s Office of News & Communications. Duke Athletics and Duke Men’s Basketball also manage a very strong presence on Google+, with combined followers exceeding 500,000 and almost 2 million views, respectively. Our goals for Google+ are to reach niche communities (research, science, medical, health, etc.), to optimize search results and to leverage the Hangouts On Air video streaming platform to connect our audiences.
Q: Why is your institution on Google + and how do you find it valuable? Who is your audience?
A: Duke uses Google+ primarily as a place to optimize search results and for the Hangouts On Air feature. We first started using Google + in August of 2011 when pages launched, but we were really not sure what to do with it. Then, in April 2012, Hangouts on Air launched in beta, and we decided to explore the application, holding eight video chats for prospective and admitted students in the month of April. We used venues across campus, selected based on the theme of the chat. For example, we held our chat on “Duke spirit and pride” in the Cameron Indoor Stadium, which also houses our Hall of Fame. We held our “Duke research in the world” chat at the Duke Lemur Center to show how hands-on research happens for students. By connecting admitted students to current students in spots across campus, we were able to open a window to campus culture and student life.
Because Google+ is a social layer, it spreads across other Google applications like Google search, YouTube and Google Maps. Because these platforms all talk to each other, things that are posted on Google+ (and have good engagement and reach!) also perform better across other Google products like search. This is important if you are trying to boost the visibility of a small department or if you are promoting a faculty member who doesn’t otherwise have a public presence.
We also use Google+ to reach certain communities that are more active there than in spaces like Facebook or Twitter.
We’ve found that Google + is strong in niche areas of research and science health; it’s a cerebral place so we focus less on pride and sports and more on geekier content. Because Duke is a leading research university, we have a lot of stuff to share that is interesting to those users.
Q: What are some of your Google + successes? What have you learned? Any tips for other institutions?
A: Hangouts On Air have been my favorite thing that we’ve done on Google+. In addition to our student web chats, we’ve also done office hours with alumni and faculty for events such as the Oscars. Christoph Guttentag, our dean of admissions, moderated a debate between two high schools in California via Hangouts On Air. Duke’s Class of 1984 held a series of Hangouts On Air with its class for months leading up to the 30th reunion. We have even held Hangouts via mobile devices live from Blue Devil Days, our main student recruitment events. We are really excited to keep pushing the envelope by trying new things on this platform.
Tips for using Google+:
- Browse the “discover” tab and find interesting things Google+ is featuring.
- Search communities to see if there is a community already existing for your school (hint: it probably already exists, so it’s a good idea to find out who is active there).
- Figure out what’s trending on Google+ and use the hashtags to share your content (as it makes sense).
- Try a Hangout instead of a phone call the next time you have a virtual meeting. Using the tool will help you get much more comfortable with it.
- Keep it visual! Google+ has more visual space in posts and cover art than Facebook does. Make sure you are posting beautiful things with captions that sizzle.
Q: How does Google + compare with Facebook at your institution?
A: Google + isn’t a replacement for Facebook; it is a very different space. We find that our audience on Facebook (and Twitter) is more interested in school pride and sports. Our engagement on Google+ tends to be lower than on Facebook, even though we have more followers on Google+ than on Facebook. However, engagement is growing, and we get an especially good response to posts when we use keywords that are “trending” and apply that trend to our content. Google+ also has a “communities” feature that is more searchable than Facebook groups.
Q: What Google + projects would you like to focus on in the future?
A: I’d like to leverage it for more departments and uses on campus. For example, we’ve started thinking about how our career center and global education departments can use Hangouts On Air for advising and information sessions. We’re also excited about continuing to explore how we can use mobile devices to host video and connect with audiences across the world.