"Spirit of IU" Social Media Campaign
IU Alumni Association
"Indiana University has to be a heartfelt force of life." In 2009, the Indiana University Alumni Association (IUAA) undertook a major redesign of its website with IU Communications as its partner. As the brand and content strategy for alumni.indiana.edu took shape, it became clear that the organization needed to work harder to engage alumni at a younger age, whether they were IUAA members or not.
We proposed the creation of a new online community outside the formal strictures of IUAA: Spirit of IU. There, users could post photos, take part in contests, and have conversations with other users centered around their shared enthusiasm for all things Indiana University. It would be a place for IU alums to gather, without the commitment of joining an official alumni group or attending an event.
Scope of work included:
- Creative concepting
- Information architecture
- Interaction design
- Visual design
- Video production
- Content strategy and development
We also created promotional materials, including posters and temporary tattoos, to introduce the site to the IU community.
The concept behind Spirit of IU was inspired by what we found when we explored how IU alums talk about Indiana University online.
We discovered alumni baking IU-themed cakes and cookies. We found fashion bloggers posting photos of IU-themed ensembles. We flipped through the wedding photos of alumni who came back to campus to get married or dressed their wedding parties in their school colors. We saw dogs, cats, and babies decked out in official IU merchandise.
We wanted a way to harness all that goodwill that didn't require alumni to do anything they weren't doing already – sharing photos, telling stories, and keeping in touch. But we also wanted to make it fun, so alumni would be willing to let IUAA and Indiana University join in on the conversation.
Because we had no veteran game developers on staff, we spent a lot of time looking at smaller online communities like foodspotting.com and Tasty Kitchen to see how they attracted users, the ways in which they enabled them to participate in the community, and what incentives they offered to keep them coming back.
Because Spirit of IU was intended to be a supplement to the primary IUAA website, we also looked for an off-the-shelf technology solution that would enable membership, photo sharing, user comments, contests, and games to keep development costs relatively low. After reviewing a number of products, we chose Social Engine as our platform.
Why not Facebook? There was one primary question we faced: Why would alumni choose to post a photo at Spirit of IU instead of some other social media outlet they already used regularly? As the community grew, we could expect it to generate its own momentum. But how could we attract new users to try it when there were relatively few people posting there?
Rewiring the alumni brain through games and contests. We chose a two-pronged strategy to encourage participation. First, we used the principles of gamification – users would receive points for setting up an account, inviting a friend, or posting a photo. With a certain amount of points, they would receive achievement "badges" on their profiles. As their point totals continued to grow, they could exchange them for small prizes, from their photo on the IUAA website to a profile in the alumni magazine.
We also created high-profile contests judged by guest alumni celebrities. The first invited users to submit photos of themselves wearing IU colors. The contest was hosted by alumna and well-known fashion blogger Jessica Quirk of What I Wore. Winners received a signed copy of her forthcoming book as well as IU apparel donated by IU Licensing & Trademarks. The winner, Natalie Wise, is also a blogger, and she wrote several posts about the experience, further spreading the word about our new community.
Another contest invited alumni to submit an eight-word story about their IU experience. These were judged by Nancy and Michael Uslan. Nancy is the driving force behind the Books & Beyond Project, while Michael is a Hollywood producer, with a filmography that includes Batman Begins and The Dark Knight among many other films.
We also promoted the site offline, handing out temporary tattoos at IU sporting events and installing signage at alumni gatherings.
We reached IU's "superfans." They're eager to re-engage with IU. In less than a year, more than 800 users signed up and more than 5,000 photos were uploaded. The site experienced a significant spike in users after the fashion and story contests were promoted on the IUAA home page.
Most importantly, people engaged with the community at a younger age – even before they were officially IU alums. (Both contests were won by current students.) As Spirit of IU became a natural part of their engagement with IU, the percentage of younger users increased, helping IUAA become a vital part of the student and alumni experience throughout their lives.
Development of the site, from research through launch, took approximately seven months. The total budget, including information architecture, design, content strategy and development, and programming, was $32,800.
Users love the site. And so do peer institutions. Spirit of IU was recognized by peer institutions and the content strategy community as a bold new way to build emotional relationships with higher education audiences. In May 2012, creative director Rebecca Salerno and client relations director and strategist Erika Knudson shared the Spirit of IU story at Confab, an international conference dedicated to improving the quality and value of web content.