In a glass-walled room inside the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications — located on the third floor of 2 Whitney Ave. — a four-foot television screen flashes a series of ever-changing numbers: Facebook likes, Twitter followers and visitors to Yale’s website.
In one corner of the screen, graphs depict the growth of Yale’s engagement on select social media sites.
In another corner, a world map dotted with red spots shows the geographic distribution of online visitors to Yale’s news site.
During his inaugural address last month, University President Peter Salovey expressed a desire to build upon former University President Richard Levin’s engagement with the world beyond the United States. And as Yale looks to promote itself abroad — disseminating information about research, admissions, campus life and more — Yale administrators say that the use of social media is becoming more and more important.
“Anything that happens digitally is essentially an international operation,” said University Chief Communications Officer and Special Assistant to the President Elizabeth Stauderman. “What the social media effort does is broaden the access to anyone, and it’s a great equalizer because — with the exception of China where you have to use Sina Weibo — this is how you bring Yale directly to people.”
TO ONLINE AND ABROAD
In January 2012, Yale’s Facebook account boasted roughly 60,000 likes. In the months after Stauderman came into her current role, Yale’s Facebook likes began to see unprecedented growth, and now — less than two years later — they stand at over 727,000.
Stauderman’s appointment came several months after former University President Richard Levin convened the University Council Committee on Reputation, which included members like former Walmart Executive Vice President for Public Affairs Leslie Dach ’75, Huffington Post Founder Arianna Huffington and Shelly Lazarus, who ran the advertising giant Ogilvy and Mather.
According to Stauderman, the committee told the University that it needed to begin defining its own institution — or run the risk of letting others define it.
“The other thing they said was, ‘You suck at social media,’” Stauderman recalled. “[And they told us to] get better.”
Nearly two years after the committee’s formation — after an aggressive social media campaign that included adding more easily shareable content and targeting specific audiences — Stauderman and the four members of OPAC’s social media team say they now expect Yale’s Facebook likes to hit one million within another year. Yale’s Twitter followers have grown to more than 93,000, and followers on newer platforms such as Instagram and Tumblr have also rapidly come on board.
Much of the University’s social media traffic comes from abroad, with 85 percent of Facebook likes coming from individuals living outside the United States, according to Deputy Chief Communications Officer Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93.
But Twitter sees a much more domestic following. An online analytics survey of 10,000 of the University’s Twitter followers found that 29 percent of followers live in the Eastern or Central Standard time zones in the U.S., whereas nine percent of followers live in the Central European time zone, which includes major cities such as Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Brussels. The zone also includes swaths of Africa such as Algeria, Nigeria and Angola.
Nevertheless, the international dominance across Yale’s social media platforms suggests that — in vigorously growing its online engagement — the University has also borne out Levin and Salovey’s rhetoric on international expansion.
AN INTRICATE WEB OF STRATEGY
The growth of Yale’s social media presence is no accident — it comes directly from the four-person social media team at OPAC, which, unlike the rest of the office, operates out of a single room and constantly works to add, promote and share online content.
According to the four team members, posting easily shareable items on Facebook is one of the University’s important and effective strategies in expanding social media presence. Team member Taber Lightfoot, who plays the largest role in updating Yale’s Facebook page, pointed to photographs as the most successful content form.
“Content is queen,” Morand said. “Content is always the most important thing. It’s more important than channel. Having awesome content that’s easily shareable is what we seek to do.”
But content is not all that matters — OPAC also makes use of “geotargeting,” a tool on Facebook that allows the office to tailor its posts to particular languages or geographic areas of the world. Through another Facebook feature, the office is also able to release time-delayed posts, so that it can update its page at any time of day to keep up with international audiences. Before this feature existed, staffers said they had to come into the office around the clock to upload late-night posts.
In addition to using “geotargeting” to reach a broader audience, the office also makes use of Facebook’s paid advertising service. When Former Mexican President and Yale professor Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81 spoke in Ghana in March 2012, Stauderman said, OPAC bought a series of targeted Facebook advertisements in Ghana to promote Zedillo’s speech — and the University’s page also garnered 30,000 new likes during this time.
Morand said he expects Yale’s social media strategy to continue working in conjunction with international developments in the future. The continued international expansion of internet access, coupled with future Facebook efforts to make the site less data-intensive and thus more easily accessible, will further connect Yale to the world, he said.
A sweeping number of comments on Yale’s Facebook posts come from individuals abroad. Fahmid Sketched, a commenter from Bangladesh, told the News that he uses the page to gain insight into day-to-day activities on Yale’s campus. Jia Khan, a commenter on Yale’s page from Pakistan, said she uses the page to learn about the University’s admissions process and student culture.
“It gives guidance to the students [who want to apply to Yale],” Khan said. “It also shows how people of different cultures interact and live together.”
Divide and Conquer
Though OPAC strives to present a cohesive University image on the Internet, individual entities within Yale do not always mirror this same larger strategy, instead taking charge in their own ways.
The School of Forestry & Environmental Science — a leader in social media outreach, according to Morand — heavily uses Facebook advertising to promote its message aboard. During a recent admissions outreach trip to South America, the school bought advertisements in all the targeted countries.
Matthew Garrett, FES director of communication and web operation, said Facebook advertising has been more effective than Twitter on an international scale, and the school hopes to continue using it on another upcoming admissions outreach trip to Africa.
“It’s not something that is fully developed and it’s one of the pieces of our strategy,” Garrett said.
Like OPAC, FES has made more use of Facebook than Twitter. But not all of Yale’s schools have followed in these same footsteps. The School of Medicine does not make any special efforts to appeal to international viewers in its Facebook posts, according to Manager of Institutional Planning and Communication Jennifer Stockwell.
For Yale Law School, Communications Officer Debra Kroszner said in a Tuesday email that the school engages with both Facebook and Twitter — as both platforms serve as a “great mechanism to amplify global reach and highlight these important events and issues that take place every day inside the walls of the [building].”
Yale’s School of Management is perhaps the most unique case. For SOM, the use of social media is not about expanding its global outreach, but communicating information about the school’s already-global focus, said Spokeswoman Tabitha Wilde.
Wilde added that under SOM Dean Edward Snyder, the school has striven to become the most “distinctly global” U.S. business school — and that it utilizes online platforms in order to even further immerse itself in the global network.
On Yale’s campus, the effects of Yale’s multisided, vigorous social media campaign for the last two years are felt even by students, many of which use social media sites on a regular basis. But students interviewed said that Yale’s online propaganda is largely irrelevant to their own lives.
“I think they do a good job for other people — not for students,” said Andrea Barragan ’16. “The pictures are interesting for people who haven’t seen the campus. The posts are not relevant for us.”