and a Hashtag: A social media knock-out combo every digital media agency wished they’ve invented

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Marketers want their community to produce content without losing control and getting lost in the “user-generated” madness. So, most marketers default to containing the conversation risking the brand’s authenticity. Now, there’s a better way to leverage community contributed content for building brand reputation and engagement. This scalable, simple and effective social media strategy has been created, tested and proven not by a fancy digital media agency in New York City, but by Thomas Listerman, Director of e-Communications, from the University of San Francisco.

Thomas Listerman personifies the duality of applicable theory. A Ph.D. of Media and Communication Studies, he first earned some street cred strategizing and executing digital communication campaigns around health and biotech issues at WeissComm Partners, a public relations agency based in San Francisco. In 2009, Listerman joined the Office of Communications and Marketing at the University of San Francisco. Like all marketers, Listerman and his team have an overarching goal of building and reinforcing brand reputation — in this case, that of a 158-year-old academic institution.

The university’s former social media strategy was built around a “homemade” solution of RSS feeds and vetted contributors. The old-school platform brought in a total of roughly 30,000 visitors during the three years it was up.

“It ended up being very problematic and had taken a lot of effort to find the right contributors to get a community together that actually could tell the USF story,” said Listerman. After someone submitted an application to become a contributor, he and his team then vetted them. The selected few were then able to contribute to the school’s social media platform through RSS feeds. The total number of contributors in three years? Fifty.

In addition to the contributor process being tedious, publishing via RSS feeds proved to be more of a problem than a solution. Although the contributors were vetted and approved, there was no guarantee that the content they were publishing was good or had any positive impact on the university’s brand voice.

“We saw that the conversation about the university and social media [on this RSS feed site] was not as easily identifiable as it could be,” Listerman explained. He had to find a more dynamic and robust system that could give his team editorial control without diluting the community’s collective expression.

One-two punch

One day, Listerman saw a presentation about and decided to test the curation publishing platform against the RSS feed site. He also inverted the contribution process by establishing #usfca. Now, anyone could contribute content simply and easily via any social network. The suggestion engine pulls in all community generated pieces mentioning the university and tagged with #usfca from Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Linkedin, Vine, Instagram and all over the Web, and then Listerman and his team take turns during the week choosing what gets published on the topic page.

“That’s something we value a lot because it supports our idea of being able to collect content from where our users are at and where they add their content.” Listerman added, “We don’t have to guide them to a specific place.”

The results were astonishing. Within six months after its official launch the #USFCA topic surpassed 77,000 views and 600 contributors — roughly 1,440% more successful than the RSS feed site.

Further, as the contributor base scales (something that was not possible with the previous social media strategy), the more content is created and shared resulting in the exponential growth of visits and engagement of the topic. for the knock out

Still in the ring is the marketer’s biggest pain point: how to turn the deluge of community generated content into pieces that build brand and reputation. After three years, it was clear to Listerman that the automated feeds from vetted contributors weren’t enough to get the impact he wanted. The social media strategy had to evolve from content aggregation to content curation.

Inappropriate automation and over-controlled conversations risk brand value. Publishing by curation works because it requires the editorial acumen of humans, which can’t be replaced by feeds and algorithms. The technology behind helps people streamline the process of discovering, enriching and sharing relevant content with context.

Lean content is a term used to describe an optimized production process that has great impact but takes little time and resources. Listerman created a circular strategy that epitomizes lean content. Starting from established social networks (the natural place where communities already publish, share and tag) and followed by the aggregation of these and other mentions on the Web via the suggestion engine, Listerman has automated what is necessary without eliminating the most significant step: the selection and editing of each piece before it’s published. All comes full circle as the new post on the topic is shared seamlessly to all of the brand’s social networks.

Listerman concluded, “With, instead of marketing through social media, you actually tell the story of your community to reflect the story of your brand.”

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About the Author

Arabella Santiago
Arabella is's Director of Marketing and Communications.
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