"Relate Forest, relate"

There was a rather interesting guy that I worked with a few years back that I just simply couldn’t connect with. He was nice, always happy and people seemed to like him. He didn’t report to me and we didn't overlap in work function much. However, we did see each other often as our offices were close.

He surrounded his desk with papers which consisted mostly of printed out emails. The desk was literally circled by these piles of paper that were strewn on his desk, credenza, and on the floor. His filing system allowed him to rotate his chair 360 degrees and just spin to the specific paper he needed. Occasionally, he’d print out an email, write notes on it and walk it to me in my office, instead of just say… forwarding the email with a comment.

I tried, I just couldn’t connect with him. But, he did help me quite a bit. I use him as a reminder and as a yardstick when I had to create a marketing campaign. My lack of ability to connect with this guy was an important lesson to apply to targeting marketing and copy. I’m messaging hundreds of thousands or millions of people and there are many who I just simply would never connect with. How do I make sure I address this in marketing campaigns?

My lesson of finding a connection brings me to this particular campaign challenge of improving conversations on social media which takes place at Arizona State University Alumni Association and chronicles the identification of one of our many challenges - hardly anyone on social was commenting on anything. This topic is focused on Facebook.

Aside from when ASU experienced something that was organically newsworthy and we got free press, like when President Obama spoke on campus, our hundreds of thousands of alums rarely interacted with us on Facebook. We were lucky if there were a handful of comments.

This lack of engagement is important for many reasons. One important factor is that social engagement is a step in moving alumni up the engagement ladder to becoming paid association members and, more importantly, to ignite affinity and instill philanthropic giving to the university. Another is wasted efforts - why even put time into social media if we let it languish in boredomtown? Might as well abandon the efforts and spend time elsewhere.

Now that I specified our goal and was going to develop a campaign singularly focused on increasing Facebook engagement, I had to reflect a bit and be honest about past failures. Namely, most posts were incredibly sanitized and not relevant to anyone - boring.

The execution went like this:

I needed emotionally moving content. So I researched and discovered what might interest our audiences. ASU has been graduating students for well over 100 years which meant that we had distinctly different audiences - someone 21 didn’t have much overlapping interest with someone 71. Eventually, we named the campaign Decades Campaign as I decided to divide the content into decades by year of graduation. Our past efforts were boring. How did I solve this? By learning directly from the audience. I interviewed graduates from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s and asked each group to share the highlights of their time at ASU.

While a few stories were peppered with memories of cool professors or impactful classes, most feedback was emotionally charged and focused on memories of their social interactions. All of a sudden I had amazing content that burst with relevancy, was wildly engaging, and begged for user feedback.

Next, we created a list of alumni from each decade, send out an email with the subject: 8 signs that you’re an 80s alum. The email content then listed seven of the eight signs that indicated you’re an 80s alum. We withheld the number one most interesting sign and made the recipient click on a link that took them to a Facebook post to find out. (Of course, the title and content matched each decade).

I realized the visuals were critical to this as they needed to immediately invoke the era they graduate. The design had to reflect and emote each audience. I Googled the most popular movies of each decade and had the ASU logo or mascot (Sparky) embedded into a facsimile of each movie poster. Our graphic designer produced incredible designs and was a key part of this success. The emails, postcards, and social posts all had the ASU version of the movie poster. Can you name the movie from the ASU poster used in this post?