Engaging Students on Social Media

Spring in New England is pretty sweet. After “suffering” through frigid temperatures, epic snowbanks, and awful driving conditions, the warm winds of spring are a welcome respite from winter. Spring is also graduation season, when college and university students from Maine to Connecticut don caps and gowns and pose for family photos. This is also the time-May 29, 2015 of this year to be exact–when I can officially engage with the newest alumni of the Harvard Business School via Twitter and Facebook. Up to this point things are, well, complicated. While I’m not prohibited from reaching out to current students during their two-year stint at HBS, students are not considered to be part of my social media “beat.” But, over the past few months, students have started interacting with us on a more regular basis and I’ve felt emboldened to engage with them; and in this post, I’ll share some strategies I’ve used.


Scaling the Conversation

Each day, a number of alumni follow us on Twitter. The same is true for students. Whenever we get a follow notification from an alumnus/a, we tweet the handles of his or her section mates to them. When a student follows us, we take a slightly different tact. The first thing we do is confirm what year a student is in. If the student is a first year, we’ll ask him about his first impressions of HBS or what he’s looking forward to most in his inaugural year. If the student is in her second year, we’ll try to find out what she hopes to do post-HBS.

Below is a glimpse at how one of these recent interactions played out.

Once Cherian responded to my tweet and shared what he had on tap for the future, I was able to attempt to “scale” the conversation; which involved extending an offer to the student.


I’m able to make this offer–and follow-through on it if necessary–due to the way we track alumni on Twitter (click here for more on my alumni tracking approach) and how we use LinkedIn (read my post, “Tipping the (Social Media) Scales” for more information). It didn’t take long for Cherian to accept my offer and once he did, I went to LinkedIn, accessed our alumni group, and typed “Shanghai” into the “Advanced” feature field. Once I found a trio of alumni in Shanghai who were also on Twitter, I sent the following tweet.


Capture (and Share) Campus Life

Cherian’s case was an example of reactive social media, an approach predicated on waiting for a student to engage with us in some way. But there are times when I’m more proactive. This typically occurs when I’m able to capture an aspect of student life, something which occurred last week.

Since my building is only a half-mile away from the HBS campus, I usually walk to meetings. During my travels, I noticed several flag football games being played on a nearby field. I approached some players on the sideline and was informed that the games involved current HBS students. Before long, I was snapping photos of each contest on my smartphone and then posted the following on Facebook.


Soon after adding the collage, I reached out to individuals on my Twitter student tracking list and sent the Facebook link to them.



While I wasn’t happy with the amount of “likes” the post received (six is REALLY low for us), I believe it’s an approach that could–if done correctly–engender significant student engagement.

Another strategy I’ve employed is connecting students with topical alumni-generated content. Last month, we asked alumni on Twitter to finish the following statement, “My Welcome to #HBS Moment was…” Once we completed our chat–which, at last count, involved 30 individual alumni–we tweeted the ensuing Storify to new students on our Twitter list during their first two weeks of classes. My rational, like with the section football collage, was to share a specific type of content with students, one that would appeal to as many of them as possible; and sometime next month, I plan to send the same query to first- and second-year students so I can add new, fresh perspectives to the Storify.

Welcome HBS

HBS welcome2

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

Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.


Tipping the (Social Media) Scales

The question I’m asked most often—besides, of course, “Seriously, why did you do that (insert stupid thing)?” by my wife—is “How do you plan on scaling this?” This question usually comes from my colleagues at Harvard Business School (HBS) after I cite some of my Twitter engagement stats during a meeting or in casual conversation.

The query is definitely a fair one.

HBS has more than 70,000 alumni and since January 2013 we’ve engaged with 1,200 of them via Twitter. “Engagement,” as we define it, is when an alumnus/a replies to us—including our handle in his or her tweet—,“favorites” one of our tweets, and/or retweets one of our posts (for more on our approach to alumni engagement, read my post, “Rules of Twitter Engagement”). Granted, 1,200 is a paltry number compared to 70,000, but this small slice of the alumni population has engaged with us on more than 15,000 separate occasions since early 2013.

And while I am happy with these overall engagement numbers, I constantly feel like Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when it comes to Twitter.


Simply put, I want more….engagement.

But unlike the gluttonous fellow from the fictional town of Düsselheim—and the first one to meet his unlikely (or likely?) demise in the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder—I know that Twitter engagement is a lot harder to come by than chocolate.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’ve experimented with a few approaches that have helped us “scale” our alumni engagement at HBS; strategies I share in the paragraph below.

Two Novel Approaches
Over the past two years, we’ve published 80 “stories” via Storify (check out our feed at https://storify.com/hbsalumni). We’ve used the platform to aggregate tweets and Facebook activity around events or topical questions we’ve posed. Our typical approach—especially on Twitter—is to schedule a series of tweets to a select group of alumni (for example, our question about leadership was tweeted to alumni interested in this area) and then wait for the targeted alumni to respond. But, for our most recent chat about great brands, I took a different approach. While I still concentrated on alumni interested in branding on my tracking sheet (for more on Twitter tracking, read my post “Making the Case: Explaining the ROI of Your Social Media Efforts”) I also did two other things for the first time.

1) I went to my “lists”—which include all the alumni I have found on Twitter—and searched for individuals we had never interacted with before.




I then scheduled direct tweets to some of these tweeters with the hope that they would respond. I felt confident in this approach since the topic—brands and branding—was so general that it was bound to stimulate a response, or responses. That is, alumni didn’t need specialized knowledge to comment on the topic. Below are a few of the responses we received. In total, of the 32 alumni who commented 15 of them responded (i.e., engaged with us) for the very first time.




2) The second thing I did was much more time-consuming. I searched our HBS alumni LinkedIn group for graduates who listed “branding” as an area of interest in their profiles. I then accessed each alumni record to see if the alumnus/a included a Twitter handle under their “Contact” field. If they had, I tweeted our question to them as well.




So did this process work? Was I able to scale alumni engagement in a meaningful way? The answer is yes and no. As the chart below illustrates, I was able to increase new alumni engagement by 82% (from 33 to 79) from August to September…but I’ve had more productive months–specifically May 2013 and June 2013, where I interacted with 88 and 96 alumni, respectively, for the first time.

Naturally, more testing is necessary which I hope to write about in a future post.





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 https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.


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 https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.



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 https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.



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 https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.