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How the Dalai Lama Helped Santa Clara University Prove Social Media ROI

When you’re selling shoes, the metric to prove social media ROI is relatively easy. Ultimately, it boils down to …how many shoes you’ve sold. (A lot of quantifiable engagement metrics lead to that end result, but ultimately, shoe sales trump all else).

Using the #DalaiLamaSCU hashtag, Santa Clara's social media team arranged an amazing online event around His Holiness' visit to campus.

Using the #DalaiLamaSCU hashtag, Santa Clara’s social media team arranged an amazing online event around His Holiness’ visit to campus.

For many of us working in the nonprofit world – higher education, in particular – there is no sale-of-shoes metric that easily tells us what’s working and what’s not. Sure, there’s fundraising, event attendance, number of applicants, and other quantifiable objectives, but there’s also the far less tangible goals of improving the reputation of and sentiment toward your institution. At a very high level, those are the goals Santa Clara University’s marketing and communication pros are chasing and – thanks, in part, to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama – SCU (a BWF client) has an excellent case study on how to prove the value of a strong social media strategy.

“Santa Clara University is the Jesuit University in Silicon Valley and the theme of the talk ‘Business, Ethics and Compassion’ played into much of our key messaging,” said Marika Krause, Assistant Director of Media Relations at SCU.

On February 24, the Dalai Lama spoke to about 5,000 people on the Santa Clara campus, providing SCU with a daunting challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity.

Ultimately, SCU’s MarComm team is working to drive home the institution’s strategic priorities which include excellence in Jesuit education, the promotion of global understanding, justice, academic community, and engagement with Silicon Valley (where SCU is located). For nearly two years, Santa Clara’s communication pros have been building and implementing a strong social media strategy and presence. So when the Dalai Lama visit was announced for late winter, the SCU MarComm team knew they had an opportunity to make big things happen online.

“He is one of the biggest names to visit SCU,” said Stephanie Bravo, Assistant Director of Social Media. “His message of peace, compassion, and social justice naturally fit with SCU’s message.”

Bravo says, in addition to the strategic priorities, her team’s goals also include growing SCU’s online and social media communities. Then, using those communities to clearly communicate the message and priorities of the institution.

“Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and BuzzFeed. We also used Storify to pull it all together after the event. The key to tying it all together was one unifying hashtag the we put on all the programs, press releases – even banners outside the event.” said Krause.

SCU's timely and consistent conversation management helped ensure mostly positive online discourse around the Dalai Lama's visit.

SCU’s timely and consistent conversation management helped ensure mostly positive online discourse around the Dalai Lama’s visit.

“The hashtag was the main tool that kept us organized. It kept the public informed before the event and engaged during the event. It worked so well to generate content that we were able to create photo albums from hundreds of people’s photos from the event,” said Bravo. “A team of 5 student interns were instrumental in helping me post live at the event, which led to our trending on Twitter throughout the day.”

SCU's efforts placed their event on the international stage via Twitter's "trending topics" board.

SCU’s efforts placed their event on the international stage via Twitter’s “trending topics” board.

That’s right, the relatively tiny Santa Clara University was sharing space on Twitter’s nationally trending topics list with big hitters such as Netflix and the news of Hollywood comedic legend Harold Ramis’ passing.

Again, a large contributing factor to SCU’s success, was the work put towards strategic planning since mid 2012.

“We had less than two months to pull off more than a year’s worth of logistical planning for the Dalai Lama’s visit. I’m pretty glad we’re all still standing!” said Krause. “I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise that we did so well on social media, because I think we had the groundwork in place for it to happen, but I’m grateful. Social Media is far from an exact science.”

As for advice on managing an event like this? Santa Clara Communications Director Deepa Arora offers the following…

“Be adventurous, try new things, be prepared for the unexpected. On the Live Twitter Feed during the event, some of the tweets were considered inappropriate,” said Arora. “Some students who tweeted the Dalai Lama were inviting him for a drink or asking about rumors, such as if Beyonce was in the audience. We monitored the Twitter feed, but did not delete any tweets. We had to do some hand holding to prepare senior administrators for the tone of the feed, but reminded everyone that SCU is a college campus and sometimes students say silly things. There’s no reason to turn off the Twitter feed for that.”

In the end, Santa Clara’s savviness with regards to managing internal and external forces, led to an amazingly well orchestrated event. And it wasn’t an accident. It’s the product of dedicating staff and resources to creating a sound social media strategy that’s ready for anything or, in this case, anyone.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Justin has been working with Santa Clara University since fall 2012. To learn more about Justin and his work, click here.

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