What Being A Waiter Taught Me About Good Social Media

Once upon a time, I was a waiter.

It was the summer of my freshman year of college and I needed to earn some extra cash for books, food, and, um, spirits for the year ahead. Since my older brother had worked at Friendly’s for a few years, I figured I had an easy in. So, after a brief interview–mostly a formality, really–I soon found myself donning the restaurant’s classic visor and red shirt and learning the ins and outs of the menu.

My time at Friendly’s wasn’t too memorable, save for the time sparks flew from a weathered coffee machine and when a patron said she couldn’t understand me because I was “mumbling.” My response to the latter? I grossly enunciated my words when I delivered her order: “Here. Is. Your. Milkshake. Please. Let. Me. Know. If. You. Need. Anything. Else.” Naturally, this resulted in a “talking to” from my boss.

But there were a few things that made the experience a valuable one. I not only met some great people, many of whom I remain friends with today, but I also developed a deep appreciation for customer service. This “service” included everything from helping make the restaurant experience more enjoyable for my customers to resolving the “problems” they had. During a given shift–between delivering Reese’s Pieces Sundae’s and SuperMelt sandwiches–I would help patrons clean up spilled milk; find directions to their next stop (I worked at Friendly’s way before GPS and MapQuest); and locate a place to dispose of their assorted scraps of paper and other refuse.

While I wouldn’t consider myself the most altruistic of individuals, I truly enjoyed helping those I served and this customer service perspective is something I’ve embraced in my current role as social media manager for the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) alumni office.

But how do you apply a social media customer service model to alumni relations? I’m not, after all, selling anything. My main concern is alumni engagement, which is an abstract concept that’s difficult to quantify (i.e., it’s almost impossible to determine whether or not my social media work has helped inspire alumni to donate to the school or participate in some other way by, for example, attending an alumni event).

But I do believe there is tremendous value in applying customer service approaches to social media and in this post I’ll share some examples of how I’ve put this into practice.

Read more by clicking here.


Photo Bomb? My Weird, Unpredictable Instagram Journey

Me and Instagram didn’t get off to a good start.

It was early 2014 and I had just begun posting photos onto the platform as part of our “Making a Difference” project. The initiative encouraged alumni to share how they were impacting their communities (an example is below) by snapping and posting photos onto Instagram or Twitter.

And every few weeks, I would load the photos onto the site using the hashtag #HBSMakingADifference. We hoped, that by using the hashtag, alumni would have an easy way to see the totality of photos published as part of the project.

By all accounts, things were going well…until I realized the hashtag wasn’t working.

What followed were months of failed efforts to contact Instagram and numerous–and ultimately fruitless–attempts to resolve the problem myself (for the full play-by-play of my inaugural Instagram experience read my post, “My Favorite Social Media Mistake and What I Learned From It (Part 2)”).

So, you can imagine I felt a little burned by Instagram.

Read more by clicking here.


(Almost) Everything There is to Know About Social Media Strategy

I’ve got bi-polar disorder/My shit’s not in order/I’m overweight/I’m always late/I’ve got too many things to say/I rock mom jeans, cat earrings/Extrapolate my feelings/My family is dysfunctional/But we have a good time killing each other. –Mary Lambert from Secrets

I don’t have a lot in common with Mary Lambert. I can’t sing. I don’t have cool tattoos. I’m usually pretty punctual. And I most definitely cannot rock mom jeans…or any other jeans for that matter.

So why choose lyrics from a Mary Lambert tune as the jumping off point for this blog post? Well, beyond really digging the song Lambert co-wrote, I’m drawn to the universal appeal of lyrics. Lambert–who I first heard singing the hook on “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis–is illustrating how she, like most people, can’t be pigeonholed; she’s a number of different things (from “bi-polar” to “always late”) that, when put together, capture who she is.

Like Lambert, most people defy easy definition. We’re a complex species–for example, I’m a little neurotic, more disorganized than I’d like to be, and have very questionable taste in music (case in point: after parties in college, I would make my housemates play my favorite album of all time, Abba: Gold. For some reason, Swedish super pop from the 1970s didn’t go over well with my school chums).

So, with how unique and multifaceted we are, you’d think social media managers–who are, after all, human beings–would push the boundaries of creativity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. This is true in some cases, but I’ve found many social media managers who follow the “status quo”–which, by my definition, is a strategy predicated on broadcast messaging (as opposed to direct engagement) and reactive (as opposed to proactive) engagement. By pursuing this approach, each social media channel can appear one-dimensional and, even worse, indistinguishable from its competitors.

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Cracking the Facebook Engagement Code: Part 2

I have a long history of questionable decision making.

When I was a child, I cut the whiskers of the family cat because I thought they were too long. In college, I tried to crush a beer can with my head—leaving myself with a massive headache and a crude, smiley-faced scar. As a thirty-five-year-old married father of two, I seriously twisted my ankle at the beginning of a run and continued running for FIVE more miles (following the run, I had to take a three weeks off after my ankle swelled to twice its previous size).

More recently, I made another poor decision: I titled a blog post, “Cracking the Facebook Engagement Code.”

Like all decisions I make—whether they’re good or bad—I put a lot of thought into the title. I had spent months trying to boost my Facebook engagement numbers by 1) identifying Harvard Business School (HBS) alumni who had interacted with us on both Twitter and Facebook and 2) then trying to bring these alumni from Twitter toFacebook. I would send a tweet, including the handles of several of alumni in it, with a link to content on our Facebook page. This tweet would typically be a call to action, for example encouraging alumni to comment on a question we asked or check out an article one of my co-workers authored.

In the beginning, this approach worked splendidly. Alumni not only clicked through to the page, but also left long and thoughtful comments. (See some of these interactions in my post at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140806124123-38520837-cracking-the-facebook-engagement-code?trk=mp-reader-card). So, after this approach worked a few times, I penned my first “Cracking the Code” post.

And then, everything fell apart.

Read the rest of this post at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cracking-facebook-engagement-code-part-2-robert-bochnak?trk=prof-post. 


Representin’ (Your Brand) on Social Media: Part 2…or What I Learned from the Great Snowman Challenge of 2014

I have been known, on occasion, to take things a little too far. Evidence of this can be found in my frequent use of movie quotes–lately, I’ve been asking my young son “Who throws a shoe, honestly?” whenever he tosses his footwear–and how I really get into character whenever my children and I play Project Runway (let’s just say I’ve sported a boa, sensible hat, and a fashionable, albeit snug, women’s jacket all in the name of fashion).

Therefore, when my wife, sister-in-law, and I decided to make marshmallow snowmen over the Christmas holiday it seemed only natural to suggest we have a contest. The concept was simple. We would each make our snowman–or “snowperson” if I was being politically correct–and then ask our friends, family, and colleagues to vote for their favorite via Facebook and Twitter. The snowman who received the most votes would be the winner and the person who crafted the winning selection–my wife, sister-in-law, or me–would have their “angel” placed atop the family Christmas Tree.*



My contribution was “Jim” and going into the contest I believed my prospects of winning were good.

Boy, was I wrong.

The final tally was “Earmuff” 30 votes, “Brunchie” 20 votes, and “Jim”….6 votes. Curious as to why people voted the way they did, I asked my colleagues on Twitter to share their thoughts.

Here’s what they had to say, um, tweet.





Still, I was perplexed as to why my offering fared so poorly. Looking beyond the craftsmanship or lack thereof of “Jim”–after all, Ann Handley may have been spot on that my snowman was “sad”–I soon realized that I made some tactical errors. My individual lapses, coincidentally, are some of sames ones social media managers make when it comes to brand representation and in this post I’ll share some of my missteps and how they can be avoided.

What’s in a Name?

I’m not sure how it began. It may have started with the character “Jim” from The Office or the original captain of the Enterprise, James Tiberius “Jim” Kirk. Either way, at some point I started substituting this one syllable name into casual conversation. For example, when my daughter and I would talk about getting a dog I’d say, “You know what would be a good name?” and my daughter would reply, “I know…Jim.” So, when I was thinking about names for my snowman, I thought “Jim” would be perfect and that voters would feel the same.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I had made a critical error, one that many social media managers make when representing their brands.

I didn’t take my audience–in this case, the voters–into account.

This is something I never would have done in my role as social media manager for the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) alumni office. My social media approach, particularly on Twitter and Facebook, is completely audience driven. Each day, I try to bring together alumni with common interests and share web content with classmates of specific graduates. The goal is always the same: to provoke some kind of response, whether it be a clickthrough to an article or a reply to a tweet.

Below are a few recent examples of this approach in action.





Granted, it took some time to come to this social media strategy of direct, high touch engagement and understanding what our alumni on social media were most likely to respond to.

This is an approach I didn’t take with the snowman contest. If I had taken a step back and thought about my audience–which was a cross section of family, friends, and business colleagues–I may have gone with a different name, one more appropriate to the situation (i.e., the holiday season). Looking back, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if I had gone with “Snowball” or “Jingle” instead of “Jim.”

(The takeaway for brand managers are: 1) Just because you think something is cool doesn’t mean anyone else will and 2) ALWAYS take your audience into account–and what they may be interested in–when pushing out social media content.)

Mind Your Competition

Another critical mistake I made was ignoring my competition (i.e., my wife and sister-in-law). Along with disregarding what they were naming their snowmen–which may have put me at a competitive disadvantage–I also didn’t look at my snowman looked compared to theirs. As you can see, my submission lacks–especially around the midsection–many of the features of Brunchie and Earmuff. For example, my wife and sister-in-law included colorful buttons on their snowmen. I just dabbed on some frosting in the same area.


Disregarding your competition is another common error. While I don’t check in on our competition every day, I do try to “take a peek” on what they are doing on a fairly regular basis since HBS is competing with ALL the other brands–especially other higher education institutions–that our alumni are following on Twitter and Facebook. If our competitors are doing something different and gaining traction with our shared audience, we need to know about it so we can adapt and modify our approach if necessary.

And in the end, I’ve found that ignoring your competition–like naming a snowman “Jim”–is NEVER a good idea.

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.

*As children, my wife and sister-in-laws made Christmas angels as part of a class assignment. The angels are decades old and each year one is placed on top of the tree. For our first annual snowman contest, I “played” for my sister-in-law, Pia, who was unable to join us since she was performing in The Lion King on Broadway in New York.

Read my post, “Representin’ (Your Brand) on Social Media: Part 1″ at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140801134139-38520837-representin-your-brand-on-social-media?trk=mp-reader-card



The Social Media Tools I Can’t Do Without

All of us–whether it’s NFL star J.J. Watt who sports a VERY cool black arm brace or Pharrell Williams who dons an interesting(?) hat--have our tools of the trade; objects which are instrumental in helping us do our jobs better and/or feel a greater sense of comfort. When I was little, these tools consisted of my thumb (which could usually be found in my mouth), a “blanky,” and a stuffed giraffe I dragged around by its neck until it’s head literally fell off.  As I grew older and matured (well, that’s debatable), these tools became more elaborate and practical. Toys and stuffed animals were replaced by sports equipment, pens and pencils, personal computers, cellphones, Blackberry handheld devices, and so on.


Today, I have vastly different tools of the trade–especially from a  professional perspective–than I did when I was younger. And in this post, I’ll share what some of these items are and how they are integral to my work as social media manager for the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) alumni office.

#1 Storify

My first–and these are in no particular order–indispensable social media tool is Storify. Most alumni would agree that we tweet A LOT. In fact, from January 2013 to December 2014 we tweeted 37,000 times which resulted in 4,900 retweets, 8,782 replies, and 6,905 favorites. While much of this activity consisted of day-to-day engagement with alumni, a significant portion of it also focused on event coverage as well as chats we curated with alumni.

Given this flurry of daily activity, I needed an easy-to-use means of collecting, organizing, and publishing specific tweets. Storify seemed to be the best option and one I was familiar with from my previous position at the Tufts University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

)Here’s an example of some of the event coverage and chats we have published through Storify.)


From the outset, the main objective of my social media work has been to engender as much alumni engagement as possible. This goal can be met through Twitter alone, but Storify opens up additional outreach opportunities. For example, once I publish a Storify I can send the link to classmates of alumni quoted in the story. Or, conversely, if I post a Storify of an event I can forward it to alumni who attended the event or were unable to attend. This can lead to additional alumni engagement and inform even more alumni of our social media efforts.

#2 TweetDeck

During a typical month, I’ll curate 2-3 chats on a particular business-or career-related topic via Twitter. These conversations usually last a few days and commence with a leading statement I want alumni to complete (“Leadership is…”) or a question I’d like them to answer (“Which HBS Professor had the greatest impact on you and why?”). In the hours leading up to the chats, I identify the alumni I would like to target–this can be based on everything from business interests to when they graduated–and then, using TweetDeck, I schedule tweets to these individuals


TweetDeck is an ideal tool for this type of outreach. Like Storify, it’s easy to use and as a bonus it offers the option of seeing additional social media activity like notifications and mentions.

#3 Spredfast

I had been working at HBS for about a year when I heard about Spredfast for the first time. Our central communications office had adopted the social marketing platform and was gradually rolling it out to several departments at HBS. At first, the platform didn’t seem like a good fit for my work, since one of its primary features was the ability to schedule tweets, Facebook posts, and other social media activities.


With the exception of the chats I highlighted in the previous paragraph, I do little scheduled social media messaging. And when we do, I prefer to use TweetDeck. But when I looked deeper into Spredfast and its functionality I found some very useful applications, one of which is its ability to provide excellent analytics. This is vitally important to my work since one of my mandates is to drive traffic to our alumni website. So, beginning in August 2014, I began sending all tweets and Facebook posts to our content via Spredfast, making sure to tag the content appropriately (i.e., all of our articles are given an “HBSWeb” ID). The following is example of some of the reports the platform generated.



With these reports–which provide everything from clickthrough numbers to engagement stats–I’m able to provide yet another means to justify the impact and importance of our social media efforts. I can show, in a pretty detailed way, that Twitter and Facebook are useful means for getting alumni to consume (and hopefully amplify) our content.

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.


What The LEGO Movie Can Teach Us About Social Media

As the father of two children under eight years old, I have seen The LEGO Movie A LOT. But I can’t really complain, especially since the other films I watch on a regular basis feature a pair of sisters with a seriously dysfunctional relationship (C’mon, Anna and Elsa from Frozen communicate exclusively through a door for, what, fifteen years, and we expect them NOT to have any issues?), a tow truck, named “Mater,” in serious need of a dentist, and a “castle steward,” voiced by Tim Gunn,* who serves a princess who ascended to her lofty post “overnight.”


After spending many hours with Emmet and the gang–and since I see almost everything through the prism of social media–I thought it was an ideal time to write about The LEGO Movie, social media, and what we can learn from one of the highest grossing films of 2014.

Lesson #1: REALLY Listen to Your Audience

One of my favorite scenes from the film happens within the first half hour. After Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) narrowly escape Liam Neeson’s Bad Cop, Emmet reveals that he is not, in fact, “The Special.” Once Wyldstyle gets over her initial anger, she gives Emmet a detailed explanation of the prophecy and the nefarious plans of Lord Business. Emmet responds by saying. “Great. I think I got it. But just in case… tell me the whole thing again, I wasn’t listening.”

While Emmet’s failure to really listen doesn’t do any irreparable damage–Wyldstyle does end up repeating herself–the same can’t be said when it comes to social media, especially Twitter. Dismissing, or flat out ignoring your target audience, can alienate the very people you wish to engage and can lead to negative brand perception. But when you actively listen to your audience AND act on what they are saying–or tweeting–a number of engagement opportunities can arise. Below are a few examples of how, as social media manager for the Harvard Business School (HBS), I have embraced this approach to varying degrees of success.

On Tuesday of this week, alum Alejandro Goyen posted the following tweet.


Recognizing an ideal engagement opportunity (after “listening” to this alumnus), I responded as follows.


While Alejandro did favorite my tweet, we didn’t see any other engagement.

Things were much different when we interacted with fellow alumnus Tom Leung, as evident below.


Like with the previous example, we reacted to what Tom tweeted, but in this case we received a more substantive response.

And once his offer was on the “table,” we had much more to work with social media wise.


These two examples happened within hours of each other and serve as proof that listening is integral to effective social media engagement.

Lesson #2: Ignore the “Haters”

There are detractors (people who question your decisions and motives) and then there are the haters, individuals who seem to relish in despising you. Emmet has the latter in spades. Everyone from Batman to Abraham Lincoln seem to have it in for our hero, uttering such gems as “You are so disappointing on so many levels.” and “A house divided against itself would be better than this,” respectively.


Granted, Emmet doesn’t help his own cause, especially when he delivers one of the worst motivational speeches of all time. But even in the face of mounting criticism–coming mostly from the Dark Knight himself–Emmet remains undeterred and succeeds, first by saving Batman and company with his double decker couch and later by convincing Lord Business to lay down his arms, um, Legos.

We can learn a lot from how Emmet dealt with the “haters.” As a field/discipline, social media is still fairly new and because of this it’s not uncommon for social media managers to have their work questioned or criticized. This is completely understandable, especially since much of the work we do is both unpredictable AND experimental. While I can predict some things (e.g., alumni responses to a question I pose on Twitter), I’m often surprised by which content resonates with my audience and which does not; case in point, I posted the link to an article penned by an alumna yesterday, with no idea how it would perform. Based on past posts, I expected 25-30 clickthroughs and maybe 10-11 “likes.” The post generated 600 clickthroughs (and counting) and 24 “likes.” I have absolutely no idea why.

So, how should you “deal” with the “haters?” I can sum it up in three words.

Data, Data, and Data.

Okay, that was four words, but you get the point.

Regardless of the social media platforms, or platforms, you’re focusing on, it’s imperative that you have a way of measuring your success. Here at HBS, I gather data on both global (clickthroughs, “likes”) and granular (individual alumni engagement) levels; for more on my data collection and reporting read, “Making the Case: Explaining the Return on Investment (ROI) of Your Social Media Efforts.” While choosing what you want to gather data on–I for, one, spend most of my time analyzing individual alumni interactions on Twitter–is difficult, it’s crucial that you have this information at your disposal. Because once you have this information in your arsenal, you’ll be able to respond to some (and hopefully all) queries regarding your approach.

Lesson #3: Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, matters

Near the end of the LEGO Movie, Emmet delivers a MUCH better speech than he did earlier in the film. With Bricksburg, Emmet’s home, on the brink of destruction, our hero appeals to the compassionate side of Lord Business , encouraging him to “take his hand” and join the “good guys.”

During the speech, Emmet also shares how everyone–Lord Business included–can be “The Special.” That, essentially, every person is important and has value.

This philosophy–one I’ve tried to embrace even while driving here in Massachusetts–is a key feature of my social media work. Each morning and throughout the day, I review my alumni lists (for more on list management, see “Rules of Twitter Engagement”) to see how I can connect with alumni. Sometimes these connections happen on an individual bases (see below) and sometimes they involve multiple alumni. But, ultimately, the important thing is making each individual alumnus/a we interact with feel valued.


Granted, this individual engagement approach may be a tough sell to your supervisor. But here’s one way to look at it from a numbers perspective. If you have ten of these types of engagements a week (note: we typically have four to five times this number), this will translate into 40 individual engagements and month and 480 a year. These types of interactions, which may not have happened otherwise, can lead to alumni feeling more brand affinity (i.e., a feeling that the alumnus/a is being listened to) and can help open the door to other engagement opportunities through events, student mentoring programs, etc.

For me, this approach is a no-brainer…just like the double decker couch.**

 *While I may have take issue with the program “Sophia the First,” Tim Gunn can do no wrong in my book.

**I’m a huge fan of the double decker couch as well and would have built one myself–and probably gotten injured in the process–if I had thought of it while in college.

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.