Company: Carnegie Mellon University
Contact: Jay Brown, Associate Director of Marketing for Web Communications
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Industry: Higher Education
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 4000

Quick Read:

In October 2006, Carnegie Mellon completed a Web 2.0-focused Web site redesign, created with the help of digital marketing agency Barkley REI, based in Missouri.

The redesign put in place the foundation for a plan to create and execute an ongoing social media campaign in Fall 2007. The campaign's goal was to increase the visibility of Carnegie Mellon online and increase brand awareness among students and alumni.

The university intended to highlight its professors, alumni, students, and curriculum by launching a series of online videos. It also hoped to connect on a deeper and viral level with its 70,000 plus alumni to help build the university's presence and outreach, offline and online.

"We recognized that we needed to engage with our intended audience on their terms," said Marilyn Kail, assistant VP for marketing communications. "Prospective students are cynical about typical hard-sell marketing. They trust their peers. They appreciate entertainment. This is why social media marketing worked so well."

The school created a YouTube channel and a Facebook presence as well as releasing a series of videos on YouTube, Yahoo Video, AOL Video, and Carnegie Mellon's site, among others. Word of the videos spread to some 290 technology and news blogs.

The response to one of the school's social media initiatives was overwhelming, resulting in over 70,000 views, thus far, of videos—the RoboU series—featuring alumnus Daniel H. Wilson and a dancing yellow robot named Keepon.

Carnegie Mellon also released a series of lectures from professors as part of its YouTube channel's playlist, titled "Lectures." One of those videos, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," has had more than 2.2 million views on Carnegie's YouTube channel. The 1 hour, 16 minute lecture was given by Dr. Randy Pausch.

The Challenge:

Carnegie Mellon University has 10,000 students and 70,000 alumni. To reach potential students, it and wanted to move beyond hard-sell marketing and instead turned to social media.

First on tap was a Web 2.0 redesign of the university's Web site. The university engaged digital marketing agency Barkley REI in fall 2006. In October 2006 the new site debuted, giving students the power to submit both homepage content and videos to be featured on the site.

For fall 2007, Carnegie Mellon hoped to engage the 70,000 plus alumni and 10,000 students with its initiatives on both Facebook and YouTube as well as its newly redesigned Web site.

"The whole campaign and challenge was about going where the audience was and allowing them to communicate the subtle message that Carnegie Mellon is a school doing cutting-edge work, but it's fun too," said Paul Magnani, president of BarkleyREI.

Carnegie Mellon's social media campaign goals included:

  • Securing 10,000 video views for each of the three main RoboU vids
  • Getting 500 subscribers to the school's YouTube channel within a year of the campaign's launch
  • Garnering 1,000 Facebook fans—followers of the school on Facebook—within a year of the campaign's launch
  • Engendering viral forwarding of the campaign's videos and having them picked up by large blog sites

The Campaign:

Carnegie established a channel on YouTube, which allows universities and others to create areas (called channels) on its site.

The channel is accessible via Carnegie's site as well, as is the school's Facebook profile.

To encourage video contributions from its students, the university established a YouTube playlist called "Student Vids." By including "Carnegie Mellon" in the descriptions of the videos they upload, students flag their content for possible in the playlist.

Jay Brown, associate director of marketing for Web communications, monitors YouTube content tagged with "Carnegie Mellon" and pulls student-created videos into the "Student Vids" playlist.

As part of the social media initiatives targeted at alumni, the school debuted a series of humorous videos featuring alumnus Daniel H. Wilson, author of "How to Survive A Robot Uprising," and Keepon, a small, yellow dancing robot programmed by Ph.D. student Marek Michalowski.

Initially, in January 2008, three RoboU videos were posted on the CMU Web site— and uploaded to YouTube, Yahoo Video, and AOL Video. Those videos were titled "Daniel vs. Robophone," "Keepon: Friend or Foe," and "Keepon Auditioning." On the YouTube channel, these vids were also posted in a pop-up version, similar to VH1's pop-up videos, featuring info-nuggets during the videos.

In January 2008, Carnegie Mellon also released a series of lectures by notable professors, visitors, and students on its YouTube channel. The YouTube playlist titled "Lectures" features 11 lectures, including one by Bill Gates and one titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," which was delivered by Dr. Randy Pausch.

The videos ran from 15 minutes to one hour and sixteen minutes—the length of Pausch's.

Carnegie Mellon also created a page on iTunes U— .

The Results:

The Web 2.0 initiatives by CMU continue to increase awareness about the school and its offerings.

Carnegie Mellon's initial goal of 500 YouTube channel subscribers within a year has been surpassed. It now has nearly 2,000 subscribers.

Carnegie Mellon students continue to "blog forward" the school's online initiatives, and word of the videos has spread virally to more than 290 technology and news blogs, including Gizmodo, which averages 50 million page views a month.

The initial goal of for the three main RoboU vids was 10,000 YouTube video views each. (YouTube views are counted if a video is played in its entirety.) All three videos have surpassed that goal: "Keepon: Friend or Foe" has nearly 43,000; "Keepon Auditioning," nearly 22, 000; and "Daniel vs. Robophone," more than 15,000.

The videos were viewed a combined 78,985 times (on all sites where they reside) during first month of the campaign, according to Brown.

Definitely the most extraordinary video view numbers have been for Dr. Randy Pausch's lecture titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." It is often now tagged and forwarded as "The Last Lecture," which is also the title of Pausch's new book, released in April 2008.

Bill Gates's lecture has gathered fewer than 37, 000 views and is 48 minutes long. In contrast, Pausch's lecture has generated 2.2 million views, despite its length: 1 hour, 16 minutes. Pausch's video now also appears at the top of CM's YouTube channel homepage.

The effort to increase brand awareness and affinity has been a great success, said Brown.

He also noted that the social-media campaign did not burden his staff with additional work hours. Moreover, the social-media focus has had little impact on the University's bottom line, as social media tools cost little to use, he said.

Lessons Learned:

  • In social media, keep your initial goals modest, because there is no guarantee that an online video, for example, will go viral. That said, make sure you understand what social media measurement tools are available and apply them.
  • Enabling collaboration among your organization's stakeholders can result in powerful outcomes. Encourage communication and forwarding of content to extend the reach of your message.
  • That messaging, however, needs to be authentic and engaging; it cannot be ad-speak or otherwise sound contrived. Better yet, it shouldn't be contrived.
  • Hope for the unexpected. There was no way to tell that Dr. Pausch's video would become the viral success it became. If that does happen, take full advantage; for example, Carnegie Mellon subsequently adjusted its YouTube channel homepage by placing the successful video front and center.

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