Turn Your Holiday Communications into Relationship-Building Social Conversations

Tony Dobies (@DOBIEST) is a senior writer and social media manager at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W. Va.

It’s the holiday season, which for professionals at educational institutions means an opportunity to send holiday greetings to our students, faculty, staff and alumni. Whether it’s in the form of a video or a traditional card or email, most of us take the time to produce something special.

For some, including West Virginia University, it can be a big production. That’s why we start brainstorming ideas in the fall, decide on a direction and get to work shortly afterward. It’s not just a video for us—we create a significant marketing plan.

Since 2010, WVU has been producing a holiday video and website. In 2013, we added a social media component to our video. It did two things: expanded the longevity of our message and allowed us to take better advantage of our highly engaged audience at this time of the year.

For example, in 2012, almost half of the views (46 percent) to our holiday website in December came the day we launched our video. Last year, however, the percentage of views on launch day was much smaller. Traffic continued throughout the life of the campaign. It didn’t just last a day. Our work before and after on social media helped continue the lifespan of the video and the website.

Based on that success, we expanded and collaborated with our trademark licensing unit this year to produce our largest social media giveaway project yet. We call it the “25 days of WVU giveaways.”

There are a few components:

1) Our trademark licensing department put together 12 prize packs with officially licensed vendors from around the country to give out through our Facebook page in December. We attempt to improve our engagement by asking questions like “Where would you wear this scarf?” or “Where would you hang this picture?” The best part of this, of course, is that all of these products are sold in stores or online, so if participants don’t win our contest, they can purchase the product(s) for a family member or friend.

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2) In addition, we are giving away smaller products like hats, shirts, mugs and calendars on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter throughout December. Contests include: a tree-decorating contest on Snapchat, where we give our followers a blank tree and ask them to decorate as creatively as possible; a best wintery scene photo contest on Instagram; and a cookie decorating contest on Twitter.

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3) Finally, we’ve developed a handful of giveaways for everyone—desktop and smartphone backgrounds, a holiday recipe, a kids’ coloring sheet and instructions to “make your own” construction paper cutouts of our most iconic buildings on campus. These are the types of gifts that live on for years around the holidays. We enjoy getting kids and families involved in celebrating with WVU.

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This year, all of our communication across social media has a similar look. In fact, everything looks just like our holiday video. The desktop and smartphone backgrounds are scenes from our video. The coloring sheets are as well. Even the construction paper cutouts allow kids to make the buildings featured in our video. We’ve had students on campus ask on Twitter, “Is this scene set up anywhere on campus? It’s so cool,” so it’s doing a great job of sparking interest among our audience for the video unveil.

All of this, of course, leads up to the release of our holiday video and website in mid-December. We’ll continue to hold giveaways once our video is released. We found in 2013 that slowing the giveaways once the video was released decreased our reach toward the end of December.

Why spend the time on all this? Well, this is about building relationships and growing the ones we’ve already established. It allows us to engage with our current students and alumni in a unique way.

Our activity and engagement numbers on Facebook and Twitter in the first week of this year’s giveaways have been off the charts. Each of our giveaway posts on Facebook has had 1,000-plus comments, a significant improvement from our normal posts. On Twitter, our contests are averaging 100-plus responses apiece, also a solid improvement.

Take advantage of holiday seasons, and not just in December. The opportunities are there to be creative and surprising all year long. It doesn’t have to be 25 days of giveaways or a giveaway at all, but find a way to have those conversations and build those relationships. That’s what social media is all about.

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