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




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