How Some Colleges Are Being Strategic When it Comes to Social Media

For those of us who grew up with social media, how many times have we heard the warnings to “monitor your privacy settings” and to “be aware of what you post”? We are constantly reminded that universities look to social media when reviewing prospective students’ applications. But now the proverbial shoe is on the other foot as students increasingly use social media to research prospective colleges and universities. Although these institutions have long made use of social media, many have been crafting comprehensive strategic plans to make their profiles even more appealing to their various audiences.

An article on Wired entitled “Why Universities Need to Get Social” points to five reasons  why universities need to rethink their social media strategies. Here’s the BIGfish take on the four that we find most important:

1) Reach Students

Colleges are targeting prospective and current students, as well as alumni, all on the same mediums. If a student is particularly interested in a college, that student is likely to follow the university on various social platforms, or to mention the university online in some way. This allows universities the chance to reach out to individuals and connect with them personally. For example, check out this recent Twitter conversation between Boston College and a proud alum:

A 2012 survey by Zinch found that 68% of students used social media to research schools. In addition, 38% stated that they have used social media as a resource when deciding where to enroll. This serves to highlight the importance of universities being active and engaging on social media. “I think that using these tools and platforms gives students a real insight into what colleges are really like,” says Cara Rousseau, social media manager at Duke University. “It’s not the glossy brochure, but it’s a real sample of what the experience is all about.”

2) Build an Active Community

When a university engages in social media, it is with the understanding that the young people it will engage with are well versed and active on those mediums. Colleges therefore must share interesting and relevant content that also encourages audience participation.

On February 27th, Boston College released their take on Pharrell Williams’ Oscar-nominated song “Happy” on YouTube. The video’s description boasts: “140 students, faculty, staff and alumni. 32 locations around campus. Six days.” This is a great example of a college using new and innovative ways to engage with students and create a conversation. BostInno even covered the video, citing its positive reception across social media. Even BC alum and NBC correspondent Luke Russert shared the video on Twitter:

3) Keep Audiences Informed and Updated

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism notes that today, more and more people get their news from social media rather than traditional news sites. Breaking news and scandals dissipate quickly across platforms like Twitter and Facebook. It’s vital that universities update their social media platforms as soon as there is an important announcement or breaking news. In doing so, audiences will know that they can find all of the information they are looking for by turning immediately to the university’s social media sites.

In addition, prospective students are looking to online communities to learn more about universities from students themselves. Shelly M. Placek of Johns Hopkins University spoke with Digital Trends concerning the school’s social media site, Hopkins Interactive. “Things like the food on campus, dorm life, social life, and examples of real students’ schedules aren’t things that would typically be covered in a traditional website or view book, at least not to the depth that a prospective student is interested. This was the thought behind creating Hopkins Interactive.” The site, which is run by current student volunteers with minimal staff oversight, gives students a central location to write and post about the school freely.

4) Monitor Reputation

Social media has become the first place people go to voice their appreciation or disdain for a particular brand, product, or service. In a world where a simple tweet can go viral in a matter of minutes, whether positive or negative, it is important that a university is monitoring what is said about it on the web. Gone are the days when students solely expressed their frustrations to their dorm mates or phone calls home. Now, students tweet or blog about them, which give universities more of a chance to do something to address the issue.

This article by University Business notes that social media is a great way to bolster retention rates for current students. The article mentions that at Ithaca College, community managers monitor comments on official campus Facebook pages and scan Twitter for certain hashtags or campus mentions. “We are actively listening for any students who are unhappy with their experience and try to reach out to them and rectify their situations on an individual basis,” says Molly Israel, director of communication at Ithaca College.

As social media moves from being a trend to being a part of students’ daily lives, universities need to adapt to the needs of their audiences. Students aren’t looking to be barraged by tons of pictures posted to their feeds per day, or bogged down by mundane university updates. It is important that universities use social media to be proactive, engaging, and current. Social media allows universities the unique opportunity to interact with followers directly through personalized responses. By posting interesting and relevant content, universities are able to build an active community. Lastly, universities should post important announcements, breaking news, and campus events in order to keep students informed. By providing the right amount of engaging images and videos, interactive conversations, and university news and updates, universities will effectively be able to engage their followers through social media.

Dana Harvey


What is Public Relations?

LinkedIn named public relations one of the “10 Most Misunderstood Jobs,” with PR coming in at No. 8. According to the study, 42% of parents with kids in PR management jobs said they couldn’t confidently describe what their son or daughter does for a living. Social Media Manager, a role many PR pros also take on, is No. 3 on LinkedIn’s list, with the parents of 59% of people with that job saying they couldn’t describe it.

The results of a Google image search for “Public Relations” are pretty confusing as well. You’ll see lots of images and diagrams filled with words like “sharing,” “audience,” “social media” and “communication,” and the occasional stock photo of microphones set on a lectern – none of which help actually explain what PR is.

Why is it so hard to describe what we do?

The Google image search gets one thing right: public relations is a combination of a lot of things. Our job, even on a daily basis, consists of many tasks that can include pitching reporters, building media lists, setting up media briefings for our clients, writing blog posts, managing social media profiles, and writing press releases, just to name a few.

According to Wikipedia, “PR is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public. Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.” Many people don’t realize that when you read an article online or in a newspaper, a PR pro likely pitched that story idea to the author. There are many ways PR pros take a story to the press – we discuss some of the most common tactics below.

How does it work?

At BIGfish, we work with many early-stage companies who need to launch their product and/or spread the word about their brand. We help these organizations define their vision and mission so that their messaging is consistent and strong, and then take their story to the press.

When that story is a big announcement, we write and schedule a press release with a wire service like Businesswire. Once the press release crosses the wire (aka publishes), we pitch it to a list of targeted reporters. One benefit of hiring a PR agency is that we’re able to leverage our personal relationships with reporters and databases of media lists to secure coverage.

Once a reporter is interested in a story, PR pros provide them with any documents they might need (like press releases, fact sheets, photos and media kits – all documents we help our clients prepare in advance). Oftentimes, reporters ask to speak with a representative from the company. At BIGfish, we first send our clients a backgrounder on the reporter and then set up and listen in on a briefing, or interview. After the briefing, we continue to follow up with the reporter to ensure the story is published with the correct links, names, facts, etc.

One common misconception is that we, as PR professionals, talk to the press on behalf of our clients. While we do deal with the press on a day-to-day basis and answer the occasional quick question, most of our work is done behind-the-scenes. Our goal is to set up interviews for company representatives. This not only gets the company name out there, but also establishes the representative as an expert on that topic.

At BIGfish, we also encourage our clients to attend media events, such as Pepcom and CES, in order to raise awareness about their brand and build relationships with members of the media. As a PR firm, we create and order all materials our clients need for these events, like business cards, signage, tablecloths and brochures. We also reach out to the attending press ahead of the show to let them know our client will be there and invite them to come see what they’re showing.

Once at the event, BIGfish team members make sure relevant reporters are stopping by our client’s booth/table and introduce them to the company representative for quotes and additional information. We also obtain their contact information and follow up after the show to see if they need photos or have any questions.

We employ several other tactics at BIGfish, including product review campaigns, social media campaigns, setting up speaking events for clients, coordinating video production, and branding design – so you can see why it’s sometimes difficult to sum up PR in a sentence!

The result?

Your company gets coverage in trusted outlets that receive thousands or even millions of visitors (aka impressions) each month, raising positive awareness about your brand or product and driving traffic to your website. To see results of a previous BIGfish PR campaign, visit our case studies page to see more of our past work.

Brigid Gorham


5 Pitching Rules Every PR Pro Should Live By

We’ve all seen journalist’s blog posts and tweets griping about bad PR pitches. Some of the most common complaints from reporters include addressing them with the wrong name, pitching a story that’s not their beat and sending pitches that are too long. Below we’ve listed five pitching rules to help you avoid the trash bin and instead get your email pitches opened and read.

1) Do Your Research

Instead of building a massive media list full of reporters who might be interested in your client’s story, BIGfish recommends spending that time building a highly targeted list with the best reporters for your pitch. When building your media list, make sure you know what that journalist has been writing about lately, and that your client’s story fits in with those pieces. If they’ve written about a similar product or company recently, mention it!

2) Refine Your Subject Line

Interesting subject lines will, of course, increase the chances that someone opens your email. Taking the time to decide on the best subject line that informs and entices is important. Another BIGfish tip is to write subject lines like journalists write their headlines. Doing this not only helps a journalist see the story shaping up right away, but makes their job a little easier in a world where headline writers no longer exist. For example, BuzzFeed headlines are notoriously alluring and follow such a strict formula that they have a BuzzFeed Headline Generator – a robot that randomly creates original BuzzFeed-style headlines.


Make note of how journalists in your industry write their headlines and try a few subject lines that follow the same patterns. Additionally, if you’re pitching out a story and not getting as many responses as you expected, don’t be afraid to stop, take a step back, and rework your subject and/or pitch.

3) Get to the Point

Journalists write concisely and so should you. Remember, they write for a living, so they’ll know if you’re fluffing up your pitch with buzzwords.

Mention your client’s product or company up front, concisely describe what they do and explain your reason for writing (which should be something timely and newsworthy within their beat). Journalists will appreciate your efficiency. A good way to include additional information without writing it out in your pitch is to link to external sources and offer them the opportunity to speak with your client.

4) Offer the Exclusive

Offering an exclusive to just one journalist is mutually beneficial for the reporter and your client. The reporter is happy because they get to break the news before anyone else, and your client will get coverage on their announcement.

When pitching an exclusive story, start off by including “exclusive” in your subject line, and be sure to note that the information you’re sharing is under embargo until the date you will make your announcement. If they decide to run with the story, you’ll need to work closely with them to keep them in the loop. It’s crucial to coordinate timing on an exclusive to make sure the reporter is ready to publish their story as soon as your client makes the announcement.

5) Follow Up

Every PR pro knows the value of following up on a pitch. However, journalists’ responses to follow-ups can range from “Thanks so much for following up, I missed your previous note!” to “please do not follow up. If I don’t respond the first time, I’m not interested.” There are a few important rules to follow to make sure you’re not annoying the person on the receiving end of your follow-up:

  • Give a reporter a few days to read your email, mull it over, and respond to you before you check in with them again.
  • Keep your follow up short and sweet – all important information should have been in your initial pitch, anyway.
  • If your story is really urgent, a phone call follow-up is generally acceptable (as long as you followed rule #1).
  • Reporters are busy people typically working with tight deadlines. Always be respectful of their time. If they pass on your story, don’t bother them about it again.

Pitch away!

Now you’re ready to get started! Remember, the best way to avoid the most common pitching mistakes is to always treat reporters with respect and always be polite. If you do this well enough, you’ll start to build trust and eventually create lasting relationships with journalists, making it easy to work on future stories with them.

Are we missing any important pitching rules you would have included? Tweet us @BIGfishPR and let us know!

Brigid Gorham