In previous years our office had helped collect photos for the Commencement ceremony opening slideshow. With the doors opening at 9:30 am, this slideshow repeated for a couple of hours, followed by a video of the graduates making their traditional walk across campus as they prepared to enter the arena. This year we still wanted to do a photo slideshow, but with a twist; we wanted something that was different, something engaging and something fun, so we turned to social media.
Last year we used the #wmgrad hashtag to track Commencement-related activity (and archived it in our first Storify). This year, in the weeks leading up to graduation, we teamed with the folks in Student Affairs to get the word out. Realizing the wealth of potential photos available, we encouraged the soon-to-be-graduates (via email listservs, our student services portal, Twitter and Facebook) to post photos of their graduation experiences to the photo sharing site Instagram using the #wmgrad hashtag…and we were not disappointed!
Within hours of the first email being sent out with the instructions, photos were retroactively tagged with #wmgrad and new photos came streaming in. We had dozens of photos from each graduation-related event, from ringing the Wren Bell on the last day of classes, to the Candlelight Ceremony the night before graduation, the Walk through the historic Wren Building and across campus to the Hall on Sunday morning, and finally coming out onto the arena floor and being greeted as the W&M Class of 2013.
We wanted to be able to monitor the photos coming in as well as present them in an appealing way, so we turned to a great little site called eventstagr.am. Evenstagr.am offers a service where they will pull photos from Instagram for any given hashtag(s) and create a web-based slideshow (with various customization options). All of our interactions with the eventstagr.am support folks were stellar; they answer questions with lightning speed and even offered to be available on the weekend for support during the event. On Sunday, as new photos came in to be moderated and were approved, they were instantly and seamlessly added to the live slideshow playing on the big screens in W&M Hall. Those seated in the audience were able to watch a near-real-time photo feed of their graduates’ experiences leading up to this momentous day.
It was exciting to see the photos coming in, with over 10 photos a minute coming in during the peak of the walk across campus. We ended up with 322 photos in the slideshow (tantalizingly and ironically close to W&M’s 320 years of existence). Nearly 200 graduates participated via the hashtag and we had over 1,100 photos tagged with #wmgrad by the end of the weekend. Afterwards, all of the photos used in the slideshow were put into a Storify and shared on Twitter and Facebook so students, their families and friends could find the photos later to look back, reflect and enjoy (so far the story has been viewed over 830 times!). We also created a Storify of the entire weekend’s events so that we could showcase some of the photos and well-wishes from, during and after the Commencement ceremony.
So by all accounts this social media experiment was a success, and we look forward to adding this as a “new tradition” on W&M’s historic and tradition-filled campus.
~Tiffany Broadbent Beker (@tb623)