Telling Stories with Twitter

Last Saturday night—while the younger set was out clubbing and bar hopping—my wife and I put the kids to bed and then got a little crazy ourselves.

That’s right. We spent the evening organizing Legos.

Picking through mounds of tiles and throwing them (my idea) into the appropriate colored bin (my wife’s idea) got me thinking. I wondered why so many pieces were tiny (probably to piss off parents like me) and why so many of the figures were missing pieces—there’s something sad about seeing Lego Wolverine both declawed and decapitated.

These observations aside, I also thought about the organization process and its relationship to social media event coverage. In each case, the goal is to take a number of disparate pieces (e.g., Legos or Tweets) and organize them into a coherent whole, like my wife and I did (see above).

But the process of transforming social media activity into a coherent story isn’t child’s play (sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun) and in this post I’ll share the approach I’ve followed in my role as social media manager for the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) alumni office.

Read more by clicking here. 




What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Social Media

When the Founder and CEO of Icebreaker Consulting asked me to pen a guest post on Star Trek and social media, I couldn’t have been more pleased. I am, after all, the same guy who dropped a few (okay, I admit it was many more than a few) Star Trek references into blog posts I wrote for the Tufts University of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Social Media Mattersmy personal blog, and like Raj from “The Big Bang Theory,” I believe Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is one of the finest films ever made.

But I had never really thought about the films, based on Gene Roddenberry’s short-lived television series, and how they related to social media.

Until now, that is.

Read the full post by clicking here.


Making the Case: Explaining the Return on Investment (ROI) of Your Social Media Efforts: Part 2

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!” -Michael Corleone, “The Godfather: Part III” (1990)


I know how Michael Corleone feels…sort of.

Like the Godfather star, I, too, understand what it’s like to try (and fail) to distance myself from something. But, unlike the Corleone family scion, what “pulls me back in” is social media ROI. Once I find a way to quantitatively measure my Twitter activity, I stumble upon yet another form of analysis. This poses a problem because the more measurement layers I add, the more time it takes me to “run my numbers.” At this point, my analysis takes anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour each day; time I could be using to tweet, post, or engage in other social media activity. But, in my experience, embracing multiple ways of gauging social media ROI is essential when it comes to sharing why your work matters. The more data you have in your arsenal, the better, and in this post I’ll share a new form of analysis I stumbled upon recently.

(Read Making the Case: Explaining the Return on Investment (ROI) of Your Social Media Efforts: Part 1)

Making Connections

While I work in higher ed and do not, technically, sell anything, I’ve always taking a customer service approach to my social media work. A key part of this customer-centric philosophy is connecting alumni with each other based on professional and/or personal interests. An example of this philosophy in action is below.


When I first started working at the Harvard Business School (HBS), I looked at interactions like these on a granular level. I would count each tweet as a “touch” (see “What Do You Want to Measure”) and add them to my tracking sheet for future tabulation (see “Collecting and Interpreting the Data”). While it was (and still is) important to measure individual engagement, I was missing something important; namely, the connections that were taking place. These connections are not only an essential part of what I do, especially on Twitter, but are a valuable tool when it comes to sharing the importance of social media. So, a few months ago, I started tracking these connection using the format below.


Before I started tracking this information, though, my supervisor and I had to determine what constituted a “connection.” We discussed this topic at length and decided that a “connection” needs to fit the following criteria.

1) It must be a tweet in response to an action we took. The example below illustrates this “rule” most clearly.

Earlier this month, we tweeted an article link to several HBS alumni, including Andrew Rosenthal (aka, @rosenthal)


Andrew not only read the article, but shared it broadly with fellow alumni. This, under our tracking matrix, constituted a connection.


2) The tweet from the alumnus/a must include the handles of fellow alumni. It cannot be a tweet directed solely at @HBSAlumni.

3) It cannot be a retweet

With these “rules” in mind, we now have another valuable data point in our presentations. Defining what constitutes a connection has also helped me be more deliberate in seeking out these opportunities on a more regular basis.

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at



Social Media Lessons from “The Great One”

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” -Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky–the man who netted the most goals in NHL history, sired one of the most popular women on social media, and starred in one of the worst acted, yet oddly addictive SNL skits of all time (just try to get the “Waikiki Hockey” theme song out of your head once you’ve heard it)–is the last person I thought would inspire one of my blog posts. gretzky6But the quote above nicely summarizes my approach to social media, especially when it comes to engagement. Every day, I recognize at least 100 different opportunities to engage with alumni, particularly on Twitter. But recognizing this doesn’t matter unless I do something about it, and in this blog post I’ll share some examples of how I followed the advice of “The Great One” and took “my shot.”

The Case of the Panda

There are some things I hold as inviolable truths. They are…

1) There is no better Star Trek film (and never will be) than the “Wrath of Khan.”

2) No musical collaboration can eclipse “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” by George Michael and Elton John.

3) This guy is hands down the coolest dad EVER.

4) You can connect with Twitter followers around anything…and I mean ANYTHING.

For many social media managers, this last truism can be a tough one to embrace wholeheartedly. This is understandable since it’s one thing to be cheeky (yes, I just used the word “cheeky” in this post) when posting from your personal social media account, but it’s an entirely different matter when you’re tweeting, publishing on Facebook, or sharing photos on Instagram on behalf of a company or other brand. But, in my experience, it’s critical to seek out and embrace “pockets of opportunity” whenever they arise, even if they involve something like pandas.

But first, let me set the scene.

It was a dark and stormy night…

Just kidding.

Actually, I was sitting at my desk, polishing off my morning cup of coffee, when I saw this tweet from one of our followers.


At the time, I didn’t think too much about Mia’s post. It seemed interesting, but I didn’t feel like I could do anything with it engagement wise.

But then, an hour or so later, I noticed the following tweet from a different follower.


Now, here was the type of opportunity I always look for (i.e., a way to bring alumni together based on a common personal or professional interest). Did it matter that the connective element was pandas? Honestly, Mia and Robyn could have tweeted about spelunking and I would have been just as intrigued. So, realizing there was a shot I could take, I tweeted Mia’s link to Robyn (see below) and waited to see what, if anything, would happen next.


 And, to my surprise, here’s how Robyn responded.


Naturally, Robyn’s response–and the realization that pandas have a connection to HBS–came as a surprise. When I originally engaged with Robyn I was, to use a sports analogy, tossing up a half court shot at the buzzer; I doubted anything would come of my desperate heave, but I really didn’t have anything to lose. On my busiest days, I post anywhere from 50 to 75 tweets so if one doesn’t engender a response, I just move onto the next engagement opportunity. But, the beauty of my approach is that when you do “hit” with an alumnus/a, it can lead to sustained social media engagement, both in the short- AND long-term (since you’ve laid the foundation for a stronger digital relationship in the future with a given alumnus/a).

But back to my exchange with Robyn. Since I had only been at HBS for a year and a half, I had no idea that sections had mascots. My curiosity piqued, I decided to probe further and the following interactions ensued.


This exchange was useful for a number of reasons. It not only led to multiple tweets with an alumna, but I was also able to learn more about the student experience at HBS, something I’m rarely exposed to since I focus primarily on alumni.

But this was by no means a one-on-one interaction. Other alumni joined the conversation, most notably alumnus Girish Gupta, who tweeted the following.



My final social media move was to post Robyn’s panda photo on Facebook as one of our “Awesome HBS Traditions,” a series I had started in late 2013. I had actually been looking for a new photo for the series for a week or two, so Robyn’s tweet came at the perfect time.



While I wasn’t thrilled with the amount of “likes” for this photo (17 is typically low for one of my posts) or comments, I was happy, overall, with how this interaction played out over the course of the day. What started with a single tweet, eventually led to substantive alumni engagement and photo content for our Facebook page

The Case of the Unicorn

Sometimes, my outreach focuses on mythical creatures. This was the case when I read this tweet from alumnus Alex Taussig.


Like my “panda experience,” I threw caution to the wind and sent the following tweet to HBS alumna Rena Xu (aka, @xrayunicorn).


Granted, this exchange wasn’t as successful as the previous example, but it does illustrate the benefits of my outreach approach and that it’s critical to take your shot when it’s there.

Now, it would be disingenuous to claim that my process always works. The truth is that I never know what tweet, or tweets, will get a response and which ones will not. But it would be foolhardy to let this stop you. While failure is a possibility, so is success. And I’d rather take my chances–as Gretzky advocates–than sit by as engagement opportunities come and go.

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at



Money Talks? How to REALLY Discuss Fundraising on Social Media

Some things are just inevitable. Each year, Michael Bay will release a movie in which A LOT of stuff blows up, a handful of celebrities will do something stupid (c’mon Shia, you’re better than that!), and Kanye will say something, um, interesting?

For the social media manager, one who works in alumni relations specifically, it’s only a matter of time until you’re asked to bring fundraising to the front and center. This request can be a difficult to fulfill since, naturally, discussions about giving can be sensitive ones. But it is possible to have these delicate conversations and in this post I’ll share how I did it in my role as social media manager for the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) alumni office.

Begin and End with Volunteers

In early April, HBS hosted a dinner to celebrate its fellowship recipients. Shortly after the event, I was approached by my colleague who asked me to curate a conversation via @HBSalumni–and post a Storify shortly after–which would help promote alumni giving and its impact. As a conversation starter, I asked alumni the following question on Twitter.

“Why do you give back to HBS?”

But before I posed this query, I reached out to a colleague in the alumni volunteer office. While I couldn’t, obviously, ask alumni donation-related questions–since this information is not for public consumption–I could ask volunteers why they gave back more generally. So, I asked my colleague to send me a spreadsheet of volunteers and, after receiving it, I checked to see which people were on Twitter. Once I had a handful of names, I began sending these alumni direct tweets with the question above.

Here are just a few of the responses I received.



Once a critical mass of comments had come in, I looked at each one individually to see if there were any opportunities to steer the conversation in a giving direction. In the case of this specific Twitter conversation, my goal was to have the alumni themselves introduce donation-related content. This would take the “pressure” off me to introduce the topic and then I could probe further without any reservations.

Of course, this approach is “hit or miss.” A tepid response to your question, means fewer alumni (possibly) tweeting about giving. On the other hand, the more responses you’re able to generate the better your odds are that alumni will tweet about this subject. Therefore, it’s critically important to find as many alumni volunteers as possible on Twitter to better your chances of getting the type of responses you’re looking for.

Below is an example of the monitor and react approach I followed for this chat.




Granted, the tweets above do not specifically reference giving, but they do illustrate the importance of it (alumni donations= fellowship support) which fulfilled, to a degree, the objective of this chat.

Fortunately, some alumni did discuss giving specificaly, though it didn’t have anything to do with the question I posed. Rather, I relied on content they previously posted (see below).




While this exchange came together differently, I did follow the same protocol as I did with my other Twitter “conversations.” That is, I let the alumnus, in this case Zameer Kassam, introduce the subject of giving organically. I could then take the chat to a place where alumni giving was the focus.

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at



Rules of (Twitter) Engagement: Part 2

After managing social media for both the Tufts University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) alumni office, I’ve learned a few things…

1. Nothing beats a well-timed Say Anything-inspired tweet.


When it comes to social media, you can never go wrong with a little Lloyd Dobler.

2. There are some things you should DEFINITELY NOT tweet about.

3. Engaging with your audience is (and really should be) a full-time job.

When it comes to point #3, I don’t think you should be on your smartphone tweeting 24/7–though, I have been known to tweet at 3am–rather, it’s important to always be thinking of new ways to connect with your target audience. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, specifically my inaugural “Rules of (Twitter) Engagement,” piece you’re familiar with many of my strategies. While these approaches have resulted in 11,177 unique interactions with HBS alumni since January 2013, I recently added a new strategy to my outreach arsenal. The reason I did can be summed up in one word: scale.

Scale, in business terms, is defined as “a system that will be able to maintain or even increase its level of performance or efficiency when tested by larger operational demands.” My social media work at HBS is predicated on, to a large degree, my ability to increase (or scale up) the number of alumni we have substantive engagements with.

At HBS, we’ve experienced some success with social media engagement, evident in the 935 individual alumni we have communicated with (these are alumni who have retweeted, favorited, or replied to one of our tweets on one or more occasions) since February 2013. While this number is nice, it isn’t that impressive given that there are more than 60,000 HBS alumni. Therefore, it’s important to bring many more alumni into our social media orbit. To expand our reach, I’ve pursued a number of different strategies. Using my alumni social media tracking sheet, I…

1) Share career or personal highlights with specific alumni groups.

2) Pose questions based on the interests of alumni (see the discussion on Blackberry I curated at and aggregate responses into Storifys.

3) Connect alumni with each other.

A fourth, new strategy I’ve implemented is to reach out to “shared” followers; these “shared” followers are individuals that we (@HBSalumni) and alumni we have never engaged with before both follow. We assumed that an alumnus/a–in this case Avni Patel Thomspon (@APatelThompson)–would serve as a bridge between us and these “new” alumni.

After coming across Avni’s blog post, which announced the imminent launch of her start-up, we tweeted the news to her section mates (i.e., people, we assume, that she has close relationships with dating back to her time as a student) and then reviewed the followers we (@HBSAlumni) and Avni had in common. This list consisted of 36 alumni, many of whom we had never connected with or attempted to before. One of the names on this list was alumnus Joseph Thompson.



For our next round of tweets, we targeted alumni like Joseph. We hoped that he and his fellow alumni would retweet, favorite, or reply to our tweet and then we’d have an excuse to extend the conversation.




Fortunately, Joseph did retweet us, but we were unable to move the conversation forward after thanking him for the RT and posing a follow-up question. But we were able to add Joseph to our tracking sheet (for more on Twitter tracking lists see my post at which may provide future engagement opportunities.

We had better luck with HBS alumnus Glenn Thrope. Following the approach illustrated above. I tweeted the photo below to Glenn and other alumni.



Glenn not only responded to our original tweet, but we had the following exchange with him and feel confident that the stage has been set for future two-way contact.


This engagement approach, coupled with our other strategies, has led to a significant increase in the amount of alumni we’ve interacted with each month. As the chart below illustrates, we interacted with 1,332 individual alumni from January to April 2014 (January-335; February-250; March-353; and April-394) and with the exception February, we increased our engagement number by an average of 24% each month.





Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at




Why You Need to “Cross the Streams” on Social Media

Egon Spengler: “Don’t cross the streams.”

Peter Venkman: “Why?”

Spengler: “It would be bad.”

Venkman: “I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, ‘bad?'”

Spengler: “Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

Ray Stantz: “Total protonic reversal.”

Venkman: Right. “That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.”

-Ghostbusters (1984)


Even though Ghostbusters came out 30 years ago, many of the film’s lessons still resonate. Thanks to the movie, we know how to respond when a demon inquires if you’re a “God,” what the “magic” word really is, and why you should never, under any circumstances, participate in one of Bill Murray’s “experiments.” Another lesson from the film, and one included in the passage above, is to never “cross the streams.”

Why? Because, as Egon explains, it would be “bad.”

But anyone who’s seen the movie knows that the foursome–when faced with a VERY large and angry marshmallow man–breaks this cardinal rule in order to save New York City from ruin.


Sometimes–whether you’re facing a seriously pissed off Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or a tepid Facebook audience–you have no choice but to “cross the streams.”

I used to feel the same way as Dr. Venkam and company about “crossing the streams” on social media. Because of this, I would silo my work on Twitter and Facebook; keeping the two completely separate.  I would NEVER try to bring an audience from Twitter to Facebook (or vice versa), and I rarely used Twitter to promote what was happening on Facebook.

But, like the protagonists in Ghostbusters, I had a change of heart and in this post I’ll share why I did and, more importantly, why it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while.

My Facebook Conundrum

Facebook, as a marketing tool, has always mystified me–even before they messed with their algorithm. While I’d had some success with the platform (see my post, “Cracking the Facebook Engagement Code”) as social media manager for the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) alumni office, capturing consistent engagement had proven elusive. One thing I found especially difficult was getting alumni to comment on my posts. When I FINALLY realized that my strategy–posting content or questions and waiting for responses–wasn’t working I decided to do something different.

This new approach began with people who liked the content I posted (see below).


Using the HBS alumni directory, I determined which people who “liked” or shared my content were alumni AND on Twitter. After collecting this information on an excel spreadsheet, I then actively encouraged these individuals to “cross” their social media streams. For example, I would “ping” these graduates on Twitter and encourage them to share their perspective on something I had posted on Facebook. Before pursuing this approach in earnest, though, I spent a few weeks researching all the items I posted on the platform in 2013 (this process took a number of hours and, for the always strapped for time social media manager, this may pose a problem. But, as I will share shortly, this approach is definitely worth the effort) and by the time I was done, I had 50+ Twitter handles at my disposal.

Then, I went to work.

The first question I posed using this new strategy focused on entrepreneurship.

Crossing the Streams Post1

And the first tweets I sent looked something like this.


At first, the response rate was slow. But as the hours passed, things picked up. By the time I’d finished this outreach, 36 alumni had posted comments.

Crossing the Streams Post2

Crossing the Streams Post3

Crossing the Streams Post4

Crossing the Streams Post5

Crossing the Streams Post6

Crossing the Streams Post8

Crossing the Streams Post9

But this “crossing the streams” approach is about much more than generating comments.

By knowing who responds to a post, I can then engage with the RIGHT people on Facebook. This engagement can also be more substantive than on Twitter since respondents are not constrained by a 140 character limit. Evidence of this “substance” is in the long, thoughtful comments alumni shared in response to my follow-up questions.

Furthermore, this user-generated content can be leveraged in a novel way on Twitter. Since my work on this platform is all about engagement (see my post, “Rules of Twitter Engagement” at, I can use this Facebook activity as another means to bolster engagement with alumni on Twitter, especially those who are interested in a specific topic area, in this case entrepreneurship.

Below is an example of this strategy in action.


This approach led to, among other things, 163 clickthroughs to my Facebook link and helped, albeit in a modest way, address the change in Facebook’s algorithm. Proof of this is in the vast difference in the “people who saw” my post on entrepreneurism (898) compared to those who saw the two posts that preceded it, which clocked in at 425 and 356 people, respectively. And since my Facebook “crossing the streams” strategy is in its infancy, I predict even more success as I identify additional alumni on both social media platforms.

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS.  Follow Robert on Twitter at