The Big UofG Summer Graduation Roundup 2019
To say that my first 7 months on the UofG Social Media team have been eventful would be a bit of an understatement.
I’ve gone face-to-face with a real Tyrannosaurus Rex, filmed a beautiful Gaelic rendition of a Burns song in the breathtaking Bute Hall and was honoured to play my part in the celebration of one of the University’s brightest, best and longest-serving members of staff, Professor Sir James Hough - recently knighted for his part in the first detection of gravitational waves.
But June and July presented my biggest challenge yet in the form of some of the most important dates in the University calendar: summer graduations. Emma, Natasha and Dan set the bar incredibly high with social media coverage in previous years – so as the new kid on the block I was keen to make my contribution and continue their fantastic work for 2019’s summer graduation season.
Here I look back at some of the work we produced this year and some of my key take-aways.
People love stories. A story, at the most basic level, is when a hero faces (and usually overcomes) a problem or a conflict in a neat little package that goes beginning, middle, end. A good story can inspire you, move you and give you hope. There are plenty of heroes to choose from at UofG graduations and we were lucky enough to tell some of their amazing, inspirational stories.
On Commemoration Day this year, for example, CEO of the Scottish Refugee Council Sabir Zazai was awarded an honorary degree. His father Mohamed wanted to travel from Afghanistan to attend the ceremony but was denied a visa by the Home Office. The story was projected to nationwide attention after media coverage, eventually resulting in the visa being granted. Natasha caught up with father and son on the day to tell the final chapter of their dramatic, but ultimately heartwarming story.
Another inspiring story to come out of graduations this year is that of Wendy Onabule. Despite excelling in school and securing unconditional offers, Wendy faced missing out on university because her family were seeking asylum at the time she was applying. The UofG Widening Participation team stepped in and managed to secure funding for Wendy’s first year. This year she graduated with a Masters in Medicinal Chemistry and is returning to UofG to start her PHD.
These kinds of stories don’t just document a person’s journey. They encourage other people out there in similar circumstances not to give up, to keep fighting, keep pursuing their dreams. Stories like these give people hope. That’s the power of a good story and the importance of telling them.
TALK TO COLLEAGUES AND COLLABORATE
One of the great things about stories is that they travel by word-of-mouth. So the best way to find some good stories to tell, is talking to people – simply having a blether. In the run up to graduations I visited one of UofG’s amazing janitorial staff, Graeme, to pick his brains about some of the finer points of the graduation ceremonies. As we chatted, he told me about Kevin Bowyer, who plays the mighty organ in Bute Hall and likes to have a bit of fun with the song choices at the end of ceremonies. I thought it’d make a nice little video and it started a lovely conversation online with UofG alumni sharing their memories of parading out of their graduation to the Star Wars theme tune, Indiana Jones and so on.
A few weeks ahead of graduation season, I reached out to colleagues to ask them to get in touch with any good graduation stories they might have. The video about Wendy (above) came about as a result of this, as did the following videos about Moa, one of our Future World Changers, and student-athletes Camilla and Millie.
Collaborating with colleagues also lets us help with their objectives. The video about the student-athletes above, for example, doesn’t just tell the stories of Camilla and Millie - it celebrates the work UofG Sport staff like Calum does to support student athletes and publicises the crowdfunder they’re running to help fund the Sports Bursary Programme. Stories like these also act as recruitment tools for prospective students who might be considering applying for UofG and want to know how they support student athletes or what the culture of charitable work is like, for example.
HAVE A PLAN – BUT DON’T PLAN TOO MUCH!
As well as the stories we were telling about individuals, we wanted our video coverage to feature as many graduates as possible from across as many different days as possible. So, as well as scheduling in filming times with individuals, we also set aside time to gather vox-pop style interviews – i.e. approaching people on the day and asking them a few fun questions. We kept the questions consistent and collated the answers into ‘themed’ videos and ‘roundup’ videos. Our new Student Comms Officer Cal was instrumental in this and, although only a few weeks into the job, absolutely hit the ground running filming and editing these fantastic little packages:
Everybody has a story to tell – they just need an invitation to tell it. And it’s so important to go out and just film as you never know what gems you’ll unearth.
BE REACTIVE AND SPONTANEOUS
As useful as it is to have some sort of gameplan in place, Emma and Tasha have impressed upon me the importance of allowing some time to be reactive. What this means is being present, getting in amongst the hustle and bustle with a view to capturing unedited, unpolished content and sharing it immediately on social media. This allows us to capture lovely little moments which represent the atmosphere, the sights and sounds of graduation, and gives our coverage more of a live, fly-on-the-wall style. This style of coverage complements the more constructed, storytelling-style content perfectly.
BE ADAPTABLE & FLEX YOUR PLAN
Although video is a major part of our content strategy, it can also be time-consuming, particularly with edited packages. So even if you’ve planned a cut piece, inevitably schedules change or something will come up which absorbs a lot of the time you planned for filming and editing. In situations like this, it’s important to quickly recognise the lack of time and make the decision to change tack.
To give a real example, the Camilla and Millie video above couldn’t go out until a couple of days after Camilla’s graduation, but Camilla is an Olympian, a Commonwealth Games athlete and a fantastic student who we wanted to congratulate on the day of her graduation. So instead of putting the finished cut piece out, I published a one-shot video of Camilla with her gown on to tell her story in micro form and congratulate her.
A similar situation occurred when I had arranged to film a cut piece with Mark, an adult returner student who has had support over the years from Widening Participation. I filmed the interview, but didn’t have the resource to turn around a cut piece, so put out a one-shot video instead, telling his story in a Tweet-sized nutshell instead of a two minute video.
Although it isn’t as detailed as an edited package, we’re still telling Mark’s story and celebrating his achievements. The brevity possibly even makes it more immediately accessible and more shareable – and we still have that extra content which can be repurposed at a later date.
Natasha also found herself having to quickly adapt to a challenging situation when she and Cal were filming Outlander star Sam Heughan picking up his honorary doctorate at the Dumfries Campus graduations. They originally intended on doing a Facebook Live of Sam’s procession but, as beautiful as it is, the Dumfries campus doesn’t have the best mobile signal sometimes. To add to this, Facebook also helpfully went down that day – so clearly a live was not meant to be. Natasha and Cal instead focussed on turning around a simple video of the procession as soon as possible. That video went on to gain tens of thousands of views in a matter of hours.
So don’t let limited resources or technical limitations stop you telling the story, just adapt to the situation. “When life hands you lemons” and all that.
KEEP YOUR EAR TO THE GROUND
Listening to our community is such an important part of what we do on the UofG Social Media team. That’s why it’s invaluable to have social listening tools like Talkwalker, which flags up any time UofG is mentioned online and makes it easy to identify content which is quickly picking up a lot of engagement. When this happens, it allows us the opportunity to celebrate members of the community who are telling their own UofG stories.
An excellent example of this is Monifa Phillips, who became the first black woman to graduate from UofG with a PhD in Physics. Her post on Twitter has gained around 220k likes and 34k retweets. Although her story hadn’t been flagged to us in advance, Talkwalker surfaced her post quickly and we were able to share it and celebrate her achievements from the official UofG channels.
These brilliant little micro stories from Emma and Liz were brought to our attention in a similar way:
Again, it’s great to celebrate members of the #TeamUofG community sharing their own stories in their own inspiring words - social listening in action!
HAVE SOMETHING IN THE BAG
To cover something like a graduation, ideally you want to maintain a consistent flow of content being published on your various channels. So to achieve this you need a plan to allow ample time for filming, editing, capturing reactive content, posting, engagement, social listening as well as the usual emails, calls and general housekeeping. But no matter how well you build this plan, it’s always good to have as many pieces of good quality content in the bag in advance which you can place into your content schedule as required and buy yourself back some breathing space.
While I was covering graduations, Natasha’s pre-prepared piece on the new UofG Gin was an absolute godsend. Knowing this quality piece of planned content was being published allowed me to steal back a morning which I knew I could spend on editing or extra filming, at a time when I needed it most!
My first UofG summer graduations were hectic but ultimately enjoyable and pretty productive. Working as a team and collaborating with the wider UofG staff community, I feel we all successfully celebrated the latest wave of world-changing graduates and all things #TeamUofG together. Next stop: freshers week!