University turns to Facebook Live to showcase high-profile events

Media Credit: Lisa Blitstein | Senior Staff Photographer

Officials held a livestreamed conversation with University President Thomas LeBlanc as one of the centerpiece events during his inauguration last week.

When University President Thomas LeBlanc was inaugurated last week, officials held a livestreamed conversation with GW’s new leader as one of the centerpiece events.

At a Facebook Live town hall Tuesday with School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno, marketed to GW’s worldwide alumni audience, LeBlanc fielded questions submitted through Facebook on major topics like college affordability and the campus community. Since Facebook Live was introduced in 2016, the University has livestreamed a combined 23 events including last week’s town hall and inaugural ceremony, admissions tours and high-profile speeches, according to the University’s Facebook page.

Matt Manfra, the associate vice president of alumni relations, said Tuesday’s conversation was a way to make alumni outside of D.C. feel a part of the inauguration and learn about LeBlanc. Officials said the stream garnered 30,000 views and that questions came from as far away as India.

“Many people on campus have had the opportunity to meet the president or attend a town hall with him,” he said in an email. “Our alumni outside of Washington, D.C. haven’t really had that opportunity, so we saw Facebook Live as a great way to reach them.”

The town hall reflected a growing trend at the University to use live streams and memes on social media accounts to build stronger connections with prospective students and alumni. Experts said this effort can make community members far away from Foggy Bottom feel more a part of campus life.

Jon Hussey, the University’s managing director of digital marketing strategy, said digital marketing officials evaluate social media analytics weekly to judge which posts get the most engagement and then adjust digital strategies accordingly.

“Throughout the years, though, there are a few things we’ve tried to keep consistent – we monitor constantly, engage frequently and try to be helpful by answering questions or addressing concerns,” Hussey said in an email.

He said the University often tries to post timely content and memes to interact with followers immediately, especially through Facebook Live, a more recent tool to connect audiences with major events. GW’s livestream of the first speech that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., delivered after the presidential election, garnered 1.5 million views and more than 60,000 viewed a discussion between Sesno and then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in January.

The University also livestreamed election night watch parties on campus and the announcement of LeBlanc as University president in January.

Officials have used social media over the last few years to keep up with student requests and address complaints. The University also expanded its social media presence to include Snapchat in 2015. At the time, the University was also monitoring apps like Yik Yak to get a better sense of the GW community.

In 2016, the University announced its Commencement speaker Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., using its Snapchat account.

Manfra said using social media helps to enable “meaningful engagement” between graduates and the alumni relations office.

“We leverage the reach and tone of social media to evoke nostalgia – through photos and videos – share University news, promote alumni accomplishments, invite alumni to events, answer questions about benefits and services and connect our worldwide community of Colonials,” he said.

Digital marketing experts said universities can use different social media outlets, like Facebook or Twitter, to generate online publicity and connect with different populations, like prospective students and alumni.

Carol Duan, an international social media associate at Boston University, said Facebook Live streams are a reputation-building tool for the university. She said often BU will have question and answer sessions with professors conducting interesting and important research.

“We find our alumni community are very vocal and active in terms of when they see this kind of thing will comment and share this kind of content,” she said.

Officials have also sought to connect professors to media outlets during major news events in an effort to build GW’s reputation as a top university to study politics and public policy.

Sarah Kaczmarek, a professor of digital communications at Georgetown University, said social media can be used to keep alumni engaged in university happenings by announcing events and delivering campus news, especially leading up to events like 10-year reunions.

She added that utilizing social media can help prospective students – who are applying to more colleges than ever before – better picture themselves on campus.

“It obviously might give you more insight into what life might actually be like on campus or at different events that you wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.

Sarah Roach contributed reporting.

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