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



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