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Internet and Identity

Dream Team, Author

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Not only have major companies such as Coca-Cola and Bud Light been using social media to create online conversations about their products, but Universities around the globe have now started to target social media platforms to create their own university identity online. A universities online presence not only entices more individuals to apply by connecting to more individuals all over the world, but it also allows for universities to capitalize on fundraising opportunities from current students on campus and near or far alumni.

On April 11, 2014, Valparaiso University president, Mark Heckler sent out an email to students, staff, alumni announcing the day as Valpo Day, where current students, parents, staff, and alumni were encouraged to show their support for the university by making donations and sharing their Valpo pride on Facebook, Instagram, and twitter using the hashtag #ValpoDay.  This marketing campaign raised $285, 674, while creating a very impactful online presence totaling to 2,000 tweets, 186 photos on Instagram over 22,000 individuals who saw university Facebook posts,   2,272 more likes on Facebook, and got over 3,000 hits on Youtube. Out of the 1885 total donors, 1473 donors (87%) were alumni. This goes to show how a small liberal arts university has the power to connect with tens of thousands of students, alumni, and individuals who have never heard of the university before all in a single place and get them thinking about the same thing. University president Mark Heckler attributed this idea to the overall success of Valpo Day and the impact this day had on everyone affiliated and unaffiliated with the university. Below, you can watch short clips of an interview about Valpo Day with President Mark Heckler, and Integrating Marketing Coordinators Nicole Niemi and Amy Lowery.  

During the interview, we were able to learn that the IMC team created a communication schedule that graphed an outline of what text or pictures would be tweeted and posted throughout every hour of the day. The first posts began with inspiring youtube videos and picture posts of the university to explain the significance of the day, and entice people to begin giving donations. Later on in the morning, the IMC team tracked data to discover the picture posts were being shared more often, getting more likes and retweets. With this data, they were able to tweak their communication schedule to allow for more picture posts to go out keeping ValpoDay’s immediate presence on social media outlets. This worked so well that ValpoDay achieved the highest platform of social media success when it started to be “trending” on twitter.

Success on social media sites can be interpreted and measured in a variety of ways. Often times it is measured in the number of likes, the number of followers, the number of retweets, and the number of views on a video. While these are quantifiable ways to measure success, these numbers do not measure the active engagement of the audience with whatever is being communicated, nor does it measure the quality of interactions between participants in an online environment. Nicole Niemi made a comment in the interview that other ways to measure social media success are measuring audience participation by reading comments on posts and viewing their pictures in response to the posts they started. The comments and additional posts that people shared on social media (using the hashtag #ValpoDay) allowed IMC to track social interactions between participants and measure if the message that Valpo Day was intended to communicate was in fact being communicated. Nicole said social media success for Valpo Day was measured by “the feeling or energy that the day was able to create” for Valpo students, staff, and alums. At the conclusion of Valpo Day, people all over the world were able to connect with one another for one day, interacting with each other by sharing posts, videos, and pictures, showing their pride for the one school that connected them in the first place.

The quantity and quality of the interactions between individuals on social media sites was significant because it demonstrated Clive Thompson and Nicholas Carr’s argument at work. The quantifiable ways to measure social media success demonstrate Carr’s argument because people who can so easily like a status/photo/tweet just do so to stay informed or involved with community life without fully engaging themselves into interactions with others, making their relationships shallower. Participants who commented on posts, retweeted, and actively participated in the Valpo Day event illustrate Thompson’s argument because social media outlets allowed users new ways to learn, talk, share information, and remain connected to people all over the world.

Therefore, social media is good and bad. Those who actively engage themselves with social media by commenting/sharing information to interact with others near or far from them make their brains active and smarter. Those who passively “like” posts just to stay informed so as to not feel left out, and use social media to pass to the time,  are making their relationships shallower and threaten their ability to interact with others face to face. No matter what social media is being used for, it’s not going away anytime soon. Individuals, Universities, and other companies are finding new ways to use social media to share information all the time, and it is up to the user how prevalent they want social media to be, and to be used in their own lives. 
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