Officials hope Booker keeps audience ‘engaged’ at Commencement

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., spoke on campus three years ago. As GW's Commencement speaker this year, officials hope he will use his social media savvy to connect with the audience.

Graduating seniors might want to perfect their selfie poses.

The University announced this year’s Commencement speaker, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., using the GW Snapchat account last week. Experts said choosing the senator – who is well-known for his social media presence – could help graduates and their families become more engaged with Commencement than ever before.

In just the past week, Booker has tweeted and interacted with GW students celebrating or critiquing his selection as the keynote speaker. He has also used Twitter and Snapchat to connect with constituents, first as the mayor of Newark, N.J., when he would help residents shovel their driveways or deal with city issues if they contacted him on social media.

Booker said in an email he was excited to make the announcement on Snapchat because of how pivotal social media has been in politics over the last several years.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the way that social media can bring more people into the democratic process, push government to be more transparent and shape more collaborative public policy decisions,” Booker said. “GW is a highly engaged campus, both online and off, and I can’t wait to spend time with the Class of 2016 in May.”

Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles, who helps select the Commencement speaker each year, said officials are still talking with Booker’s team about ways to incorporate his social media presence into the ceremony. She said staff will display students’ social media posts on Jumbotrons and live-tweet the speeches, like in past years.

“We hope that the entire GW community will be engaged on social media on Commencement day with Senator Booker’s accounts and the University accounts,” Voles said in an email. “I fully expect GW to be the top trending topic on Twitter in D.C. during Commencement.”

She said the decision to make the announcement on Snapchat was a natural one, given the senator’s online reputation.

“We knew we had to make the announcement on social media,” Voles said.

The announcement video shows Booker behind a GW geofilter with doodles of a GWorld card, the Captain Cookie logo, a motorcade and Lisner Auditorium. The video was viewed 1,274 times, screenshots were taken 18 times and the account gained 175 new followers after the post, Voles said in an email Thursday.

The announcement was also posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where it received 18,582 views and 3,346 likes, comments, retweets and shares, Voles said.

Experts said announcing Booker as Commencement speaker on Snapchat allows the University to connect more intimately with students, a population that values getting news before their parents and peers. Last year during Commencement, Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski – GW’s most prolific tweeter – used the official Snapchat account to give a behind-the-scenes look at Commencement.

Nikki Sunstrum, the director of social media at the University of Michigan, said GW should continue to use Booker’s reputation to build excitement around Commencement weekend. She said that geofilters or social media takeovers can give students a chance to feel closer to a celebrity or official.

“Those things allow audiences to identify with their personality, and feel like they’re building and cultivating a relationship,” Sunstrum said. “They’re going to be so engaged with what he has to say, he’ll really be able to hit on his key messages.”

GW’s social media team earned an Emmy last summer for a series of promotional videos about GW. Over the last two years, the team has expanded the University’s online presence by joining Snapchat and upping their interactions with students on Twitter and Instagram.

Ryan Maguire, a social media strategist at Princeton University, said the rise of Snapchat shows how much technology will continue to shape communications strategies in higher education. Maguire said that university social media teams are most effective when they meet their audience where they are.

“The combination of photos, text and video could amount to an announcement unlike any past classes have seen,” Maguire said in an email. “Snapchat gives a university the opportunity to communicate with students in the language they speak.”

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