The Importance of Being Observant

There’s A LOT my wife doesn’t “get” about me.

She can’t understand how, if given the choice, I’d eat the same thing every day (i.e., burger and fries) or why I wear my torn and weathered jeans when I have several pristine pairs sitting in my closet. My spouse is also mystified by my obsession with superheroes–which is understandable since I’ll be 40 in May–and how I manage to splash water everywhere while doing the dishes.

But there’s one thing that perplexes my wife more than anything else.

It’s the regularity in which I bump into walls, chairs, bed frames, and other inanimate objects in our house.

Her sentiment makes complete sense; we have, after all, lived at the same address for 7 years so I should be able to find my way around. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case and my wife believes my “bumps” in the night, morning, and afternoon are because I’m not observant.

(She’s probably right. After all, I have been known to ask, while driving, “Hey, when did that Pizzeria Uno open?” Only to hear, “Um, it opened 6 months ago, honey.”)

Now contrast this with my social media work for the Harvard Business School (HBS). If anything, I can be too observant, but I believe this as an asset as opposed to a deficit and in this post I’ll share why.

Making Your Time Count

My office is located a half mile away for the HBS campus. Because of this, I spend very little time on the main campus. When I do go there, it’s usually for a meeting or to hit the gym, which I do  3-4 times a week. The gym is a five-minute walk from the school’s parking lot, so the amount of time I’m actually on campus each week is about 40 minutes–20 minutes of walking to the gym, 20 minutes strolling back. These walks, while short, have been very helpful from a social media perspective. I have witnessed glimpses of campus life that I’ve been able to integrate into my Twitter and Facebook work to great effect. The screen shots below are glimpses of what I’ve seen.









While all these screen shots are different, they do have something in common.

None of them were planned.

In each case, I happened to notice something interesting, whipped out my Android, and took a few photos. I usually waited until I got back to the office to post the photos and then I waited to see what kind of response we’d get on Facebook. I also used Twitter to drive followers to the page.

The results for this type of unplanned social media activity were positive. The first three posts, which together, resulted in 66 likes, 5 comments, and 4 shares, outperformed, by a fairly significant margin, the content I’d usually post on Facebook. The fourth post of the child “riding in style” was different. With 97 likes, it remains one of the highest performing items I’ve posted.

There is, of course, a lesson to be learned here beyond the importance of “awareness.” The lesson is that opportunities for social media engagement can happen anywhere and at any time. You just need to pay attention to the right “signs” and have the proper tools to act accordingly.

Below are the “signs” I look for and the tools I typically have at my disposal.

1) Audience Benefit

Whether I’m sitting at my desk or strolling to the gym, I’m usually thinking about my audience. My audience, for example, is interested in connecting with HBS and they feel a genuine sense of nostalgia for the school. Since the alumni are on the “older” side, many have families which is also a consideration. So, when I’m walking through campus and I see something of interest, I usually stop and think A) will this be of interest to a critical mass of alumni and B) how can I use it if I do take action? There have been many cases where I’ve seen something cool, but realized that it wasn’t a good fit and kept on walking. The “riding in style” opportunity was a perfect example of all the right elements coming together–the child’s riding through a building alumni are very familiar with, he’s a child (which appeals to the parent set), and, in a more general sense, he’s doing something unique; after all it’s pretty rare to see a three-wheeler racing across a tiled floor at Harvard.

2) Move Fast

Life, as the philosopher Ferris Bueller said, “moves pretty fast” so too must the social media manager. When capturing unplanned content, it helps to have a camera or phone at the ready. I would suggest having the latter since it’s very easy, with today’s smartphones, to take a photo and post it onto social media in minutes, if not seconds, after you take it. It only took a few minutes for the boy to ride by, so time was of the essence. Fortunately, I was ready.

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


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  1. Pingback: RT @RobertBoc: Snowmen, Ferris Bueller, & more… « Silence and Voice

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