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.


3 thoughts on “

  1. There is no doubt that engagement is essential. But more important maybe the network effect of he told two people who told two people and so on. Collaborating/crowdsourcing with the alumni network can even generate big returns.

  2. Look at your monthly engagement numbers. Your first year produced higher numbers than your second year. But that’s something you should have expected; back then you were grabbing the low hanging fruit. A good number of those folks may have engaged with any “Joe” on the street because they were just waiting to have someone to engage with. Now, you are working harder, and more creatively to engage new people; That isn’t easy, and will continue to evolve as you evolve. I think you created two worthy efforts to continue to identify and engage new alumni – although it may not have been very efficient.

    Could you use LinkedIn to create a discussion group for HBS alumni interested in advancing the use of social media? This may include influencers to help grow your base using Yves approach (see comment before this one).

  3. Pingback: Social Media Matters

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