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MIT Commencement 2014

Thanks to the departments that actively participated in Commencement via social media. Many departments saw a growth in followers and engagement as a benefit of their activity surrounding the event.

MIT 2014

At MIT, we used the hashtag #MIT2014, which followed the pattern set in earlier years (e.g., #MIT2013, #MIT2012). We displayed the hashtag on the Infinite Display screens across campus, as well as on cards that were handed out to each student as they picked up their regalia at the MIT Coop. We also displayed signs in the information tent on Killian Court.

#MIT2014 cards for Commencementmit2014-display

MIT 2014 sign


During Commencement, we saw thousands of tweets, in addition to posts across several social networks, using the hashtag. A lot of other content was posted without a hashtag, or with unofficial (and less popular) hashtags, such as #mitcommencement, #MIT14, and #MITgrad. Tweets were displayed on a large screen in Killian Court while attendees were finding their seats before the ceremony and waiting for the procession.


Selfie: Anika Gupta '14 and Rafael Reif

One great moment during the Commencement ceremony involved Anika Gupta ’14, senior class president, who presented the senior class gift to President Reif. This year, the seniors broke the 84% giving rate record by reaching 86% participation. President Reif, after congratulating the Class of 2014 on their achievement, asked Anika if she would take a selfie with him. The photo also captured the many graduates on Killian Court behind them.

Others went above and beyond for Commencement. For example:

During and after Commencement, I pulled together stories on MIT’s Storify profile. Browse these stories here:

Preparing for MIT Commencement 2014
MIT Commencement 2014: Photos and Videos
MIT Hooding Ceremony 2014
MIT President Reif’s Charge to the Class of 2014
Ellen Kullman: MIT Commencement Address
Families and Friends Congratulate the MIT Class of 2014
MIT Mortarboards 2014
MIT President Reif’s Selfie With the Class of 2014
MIT Commencement from the Graduates’ Point of View

How did your social media efforts go for this year’s Commencement? What did you do well that you plan to do next year? Share your experiences in the comments.

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Remove “Check Out” From Your Social Media Vocabulary

Yes, it’s my pet peeve. It’s the use of the phrase “check out.” The phrase isn’t inherently good or bad; what really stands out is its overuse as a sign of vocabulary laziness.

In the past 30 days, 10 million tweets used the phrase “check out.” I’ve included some examples below, with the number of times each phrase has been tweeted in the last 30 days. Data was taken at the time of this writing.

“Check out our…” (846,000)
“Check out the new…” (178,000)
“Check out this video…” (65,000)
“Check out our website” (34,000)
“Check out this article” (23,000)

The benefits of going beyond “check out” 

It’s easy to announce something great by telling your followers to “check it out.” However, taking a little extra effort to use different wording can add value to your posts. The benefits include the following:

  1. Uniqueness. Your posts will have a simple uniqueness. While 34,000 tweets used the phrase “check out our website” over the past 30 days, fewer than 100 tweets used the phrase “explore our website.”
  2. Tone. If you tweet for an academic department, your posts should reflect the tone of the department’s work. Why reduce many varied action words (e.g., view, visit, explore, see, read, watch) down to one over-used phrase?
  3. Message. You will successfully focus on the message, not the medium. When you use the phrase “check out,” you are more likely to follow it with a medium such as “check out this video,” “check out our website for more information,” and “check out what the dean said about…”. In this case, you focus on the fact that the message is a video, on the website, or coming from the dean’s mouth. Instead, focus on the message – use your precious character count on the headline, discovery, or point.


Below are some examples and their alternatives.

Sometimes you just need a more descriptive word.

  • Example: “Check out our new website!”
  • Alternative: “Explore our new website!”

Replace the phrase with more information.

  • Example: “Check out our nanotechnology program.”
  • Alternative: “Interested in nanotechnology? Try our new program: http://….”

Focus character count on the message, not the medium.

  • Example: “Check out this video with Professor Y.”
  • Alternative: “[Video] Professor Y explains how…”

The phrase “check out” may be superfluous; in this case, just remove it.

  • Examples: “Check out this article about Professor Y on STEM education” or “Professor Y explains why STEM education is important. Check out the article: …. [link]“
  • Alternative: “Professor Y explains why STEM education is important. [link]“

Be creative

You may want to try even more creative approaches, such as asking a question the article attempts to answer, using a catchy headline, or inserting a quote from the content. You may even attach an image. There are many possibilities.

By Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Q&A with Liz Woodward

Liz WoodwardLiz Woodward manages social media for MIT’s Office of the Arts, more fondly known as Arts at MIT. MIT is a very creative place, and Liz manages social media content that highlights the Institute’s juxtaposition of science and art. I asked Liz a few questions about her job.

How long have you been managing your department’s social media? What’s one lesson you’ve learned in that time?

I’ve managed our accounts for just over a year. I learned very quickly that social media needs to be social. I want to create personal connections and engage with our followers. This means replying to every tweet/comment, asking lots of questions, and providing content that inspires discussion. Social media should be a conversation, not a one-sided speech.

What is your favorite social network, and why?

Instagram. I love that it allows you to show something, rather than say something. In an age where unsolicited opinions can be easily shared through Facebook and Twitter, it’s refreshing to see a social network built around sharing beautiful moments. Its creative environment is very inspiring.

What is the hardest part of managing social media for your department?

In social media there is constant room for improvement, no matter how great your current work is. There will always be another tweet I could have sent, another platform I could be using, or another story I could have shared. While this challenge is part of why I love my job, it can be easy to take on too much. I had to accept that I can’t do everything, no matter how much I might want to. It’s more important for us to have fewer well-maintained platforms than it is to have a smaller presence everywhere.

How do you allocate your time for social media? 

I have around 15 hours a week solely devoted to social media. At an institution as innovative and creative as MIT, interesting content is not hard to find. I spend most of my time writing our updates. It can be challenging to write an engaging headline in 140 characters, but it’s just as important as the content. If an amazing article is framed poorly, it won’t be successful. I avoid using the phrase “Check out this  ______” at all costs. It is my social media pet peeve. There are so many more interesting ways to grab the reader’s attention!

Interaction with our followers takes a lot of time too, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the job. I use Tweetdeck to monitor keywords and reply whenever I see an opening. A simple “Thanks” or “Glad you enjoyed it” shows people that they’re valued.

What is a piece of content you published that you’re particularly proud of?

“My favorite posts are always ones that highlight the creativity of MIT students. Last summer I developed a series with Anya Ventura called Studio/Lab. We documented the workspaces of students and faculty members who blurred the lines between art and science. The posts were immensely successful. Our followers loved getting a behind-the-scenes look at MIT, and we were able to repurpose the content on Facebook, Twitter, Blog, and Flickr.

Studio/Lab: Media Lab Fabrication Laboratory

Studio/Lab: Trope Tank

Studio/Lab: Lifelong Kindergarten

What part of your job is the most fun?

“I love being a window into the unique arts environment we have on campus. The general public tends to associate MIT with science and engineering, unaware that the arts are a huge part of our students’ experiences. The best part of my job is connecting people to our arts programs and getting them involved.”

Connect with Liz via LinkedIn

Interview by Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Q&A with Kellen Manning

Kellen Manning

I approached Kellen Manning to see if he’d be willing to answer some questions about his work. Kellen manages social media for MIT’s Division of Student Life.

Kellen, what’s the hardest part of managing social media for your department?

Probably the fact that before I got here social media in my department wasn’t a priority, so everything was new. We didn’t really know our audience, what would work, what wouldn’t work, or if we even had an audience at all. So the act of building an audience and engaging with said audience in ways that interest them was and has been a challenge. As time goes on, we are taking more chances with content and replying, so the gap between what we know and what we don’t is getting smaller. But, due to the nature of working with students, the audience and their needs are constantly changing. So, it’s a process.

What tools do you use to help you do your job?

We are using Hootsuite Pro for the bulk of our posts. We use it to follow conversations that are going across Twitter that may be about MIT or something related to MIT. I’m constantly searching keywords for tweets to respond to, as well as to retweet.

How long have you been managing your department’s social media? What’s one lesson you’ve learned in that time?

I’ve been managing social media for the Division of Student Life since September 2013. The one lesson I’ve learned is that despite what I was told when I started, MIT students are definitely active on Twitter.

You say MIT students are active on Twitter; how have you been able to get them engaged with the Division of Student Life? 

Ah, good question. There are actually a number of ways we do it, and a lot of times it’s just responding when students have questionsasking questions, and keeping conversations going.

In these examples, students merely responded to something we wrote, and we responded with ways to help them, whether it was to push their blog to our audience or to calm their fears. Once, a prospective student responded to our tweet stating how nervous she was about Pi Day. A simple “good luck” seemed to go a long way.

My favorite type of interaction, though, tends to be with students who don’t follow. On Hootsuite I track a lot of keywords (“mit student”, #MIT, “MIT diversity”, etc.) so I get to see a lot of tweets that I normally wouldn’t get to see on my basic timeline. One example is an incoming student who mentioned his lack of photography skills. I responded by tagging @ArtsatMIT with a mention that they could help. They picked up where we left off and told him about photo classes at MIT. And of course he started following @MITstudents after that.

I’ve found that the most important part of engaging with students on Twitter is to listen and respond. Even just retweeting something interesting that they say goes a long way in gaining their attention.

What do you read/watch/listen to that helps you stay on trend? What resources help you keep learning more about social media?

Well, first off I check Fast Company, Digiday, and Mashable fairly regularly for updates. I learn about the what, how, and where of social media from these three.

From a voice and engagement standpoint, I always think about a quote from anime legend Hayao Miyazaki. He was speaking about the state of anime and the basic problems he sees with the genre and medium at large. Basically he said the problem with anime is that there is a whole generation of creators who grew up devoted to anime, and they use what they’ve seen in other anime films/shows to influence their work. This leads to their work coming off as inauthentic. What they should have focused on was actual human interaction, and let those real-life scenarios influence them. So, while I definitely pay attention to people who work in my field, I tend to pay more attention to conversations I see on Twitter on a daily basis. I also try to take as much as I can from how people interact offline. Taking elements from that goes a long way in connecting with your audience.

What are your favorite people or brands to follow on social media?

The first brand I can think of is Waffle House. I have actually become obsessed with their account out of a mixture of forehead-slapping hate and general admiration. Waffle House does an amazing job of engaging their audience. They are constantly replying and retweeting, which is an aspect of Twitter that I love doing. Their voice tends to come off a bit forced with the use of dated slang and overreliance on trying to be funny. That double-edged sword of excellent engagement, while being unafraid to try things, no matter how bad it seems, fascinates me.

Connect with Kellen via LinkedIn

Interview by Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Validation as Part of Social Media Customer Service

While many universities and their departments jump right into broadcasting their message via social, many pause before starting to use social networks for customer service. They know it will be much more difficult to use social in this way. Why? Because producing one-way content is easier than dealing with a two-way conversation.

Some companies start using social media to broadcast and find that they are involuntarily included in customer service conversations. For example, when customers are unhappy, they might take to Twitter to air their grievances.

Whether well-thought out or involuntary, your customer service via social is happening (or will happen) and you need to be ready for it.

Positive, neutral, negative

When someone mentions your department online, her mention will be positive, neutral, or negative. Plan your response to each type of mention. Here are some of my tips:

Positive mention
A positive mention is one that extols your department or shows the department in a positive light. This could be students taking a picture of themselves having fun at one of your events, or it could be direct praise of the department itself. How to respond:

  • Acknowledge with a “thank you.” He’ll feel even better about it and will be likely to share more positivity in the future.
  • Like or share it to your own page.
  • Validate the feelings and keep the conversation going. If she says, “I love my linguistics class!” perhaps say, “That’s great to hear,” and add, “Which class is it?”
  • Some may not need a reply.

Neutral mention
These mentions may not require a reply, but others may. For example, questions about products can be neither positive nor negative; the individual merely needs more information. How to respond:

  • Respond with information (e.g., “Yes, that class counts as a humanities core credit.”).
  • Validate in some way. Some people want attention and will mention you more if you give them attention.
  • The mention may not require a reply.

Negative mention
These are the mentions we dread. This type of mention includes complaints and lies in an effort to put down your department, or it may consist of an innocent person who had a bad experience.

  • Don’t be defensive.
  • Don’t attack the person for his statements.
  • Take the conversation off-line quickly (e.g., “We’re sorry you had that experience. Email us at ___ so we can help you.”).
  • Some individuals say mean things, but not because they have a concern that can be resolved. Usually, this type of trolling should not get a response; they want a fire and you’d be fueling the flame. Just ignore.
  • Validate him. Help him feel heard and valued, even if you can’t give him what he wants.

Case studies on validation

These three types of mentions will have opportunities for you to validate the individual.

On Instagram, @murcia73 posted a beautiful photo of the MIT dome from a unique angle. This is a great example of someone expressing her positivity toward an institution through art. I made sure to comment via MIT’s Instagram account, @MITpics, “Very nice.” And indeed, she continues to post to Instagram beautiful photographs of MIT’s campus.

On Instagram, an individual posted a math joke and said, “Tomorrow I am participating in a national mathematics competition.” Through MIT’s Instagram account I replied, “Good luck with the math competition!” She responded, “Thank you so much!” This wasn’t a positive or negative mention, nor was it an ask for information. However, I helped her feel noticed and validated for her love of math. I’m sure she views MIT more positively than she did before.

An individual had applied to an MIT program and was rejected. Feeling upset, he took to Twitter and posted, “The future of education will be in the FACTS of the young leaders and not in the judgment of any system.” Attached to the tweet was a screenshot of his rejection letter from the department. I have had this experience before and I know if I don’t validate the sentiment, the individual might continue to post until he gets the attention he wants. This wasn’t a bad or a malicious person. It was someone who was rejected and experienced disappointment.

My reply: “Let’s explore your idea further – besides time in industry, how could a prospective student be evaluated?”

His reply: “I attached a visual map with my answer.” The image he attached was a diagram of the qualities he thinks an MIT leader should have.

My reply: “Thank you for your thoughtful response!” I validated him. I made sure he felt valued, despite the rejection.

What Kind of Experience Does Your Content Provide?

Scott Murray, MITBy Scott Murray
Social Media Specialist / Career & Global Ed Advisor
Global Education and Career Development (GECD)
Twitter: @strangewander

There’s more to meeting audience needs than providing the right information. Medill on Media Engagement (by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism) organizes content creation around a core question: What kind of experience does your content provide? Through their study of media engagement, Medill scholars have classified dozens of content “experiences” and determined which promote readership – and which discourage it.

Experiences offer a powerful way to conceptualize a brand’s tone and voice. In addition to thinking “What does my audience need to know?”, experiences encourage us to ask “What should having their questions answered feel like?” Perhaps you want your audience to feel smarter, empowered, inspired, enlightened, clever, elite or transported. And certainly you want to avoid making them feel overwhelmed, manipulated or bored. Identifying and describing your ideal user experiences can greatly influence content creation.

Thinking in terms of experiences helps to prevent the folly of assuming your posts are successful because they provide all the right information. It encourages you to address how your audience should feel while reading it.

MIT’s Global Education team, a part of GECD, provides a good current example. We created the Twitter handle @MITglobal with the goal of sharing information about the wide range of opportunities our students have to go abroad. But we also want to deliver what Medill calls the “Makes Me Feel Smarter” experience by providing international context to MIT life. So we try to highlight global initiatives from across the Institute and even share bits of news and culture from around the world. When the Guardian reports on MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab and their contributions to mapping informal public transit in Nairobi, we want to be tweeting about it. That way we can help showcase the many international applications of MIT research and talent.

Our Facebook page, on the other hand, seeks to tap more into an “Identity” experience, connecting students for whom international adventure is a key, transformative part of their MIT narrative. International opportunities are often highlighted through the lens of student stories. This past IAP, for example, study abroad participants were encouraged to share photos documenting their global voyages using the hashtag #iapglobal. Those photos are now collected in a Facebook album and as an article on Storify.

There is plenty of overlap between providing global context and celebrating global narratives, but the subtle differences of the two platforms’ strategies are informed by the articulation of these different experiences.

When considering user needs and strategic goals, it’s worth remembering that emotional concerns are also a crucial component to content strategy. To keep social media social, build your content around the feeling you want your brand to provide.

CPS Presentations for Spring 2014

Bara BlenderGuest post by Bara Blender
Communications Strategist
MIT Communication Production Services


Communication Production Services invites MIT communications staff to attend our spring presentations. Registration is required, and the location will be provided upon confirmation.

Social Media for Events
March 12, 2014
2:30-3:30 p.m.

With social media, you can feel the pulse of an event and listen in on the many different conversations that stem from one keynote speaker’s remarks. The immediacy and connectivity provided by social networks help participants engage more with each other and give more people a voice. Join us to learn how to optimize your social media efforts before, during, and after an event.

Presenter: Stephanie Hatch Leishman, MIT Communication Production Services

Instagram 101
March 25, 2014
10-11 a.m.

Launched in the fall of 2010, Instagram is a relatively new platform next to giants like Facebook and Twitter. What makes this social network unique is that it restricts content creation to mobile devices and its content to a square. See what makes Instagram wildly popular and how to use it for higher education communications.

Presenter: Stephanie Hatch Leishman, MIT Communication Production Services

Creating Communications That Connect: What’s Your Strategy?
April 17, 2014
1-2 p.m.

In a world where the average person is bombarded with more than 3,500 marketing messages per day, it is crucial that organizations communicate clearly and consistently. Learn how best to develop a strategic roadmap for identifying and creating the right mix of communications vehicles – whether web, print, or social media – ensuring consistent visual identity, message, voice, and alignment with the MIT brand.

Presenters: Tammy Dayton, Moth Design, and Dave Demerjian, 43,000 Feet

Time Management for Social Media
May 14, 2014
11 a.m.-12 p.m.

Whether social media management is 5%, 50%, or 100% of your job description, you want to do it well and the best you can with the time you have. Learn how to be more efficient with your social media management. You’ll learn the tools, techniques, and mindset that will give you a return on your investment.

Presenter: Stephanie Hatch Leishman, MIT Communication Production Services

The Obsession with Best Practices

One of the best blog posts I’ve read this month is “Digital labor ou digital volunteer? Marx à l’heure du web 2.0” by Sylvain Léauthier. He argues that the world of personal and professional marketing on the social web has become obsessed with best practices.

In this article, Léauthier says (translated from French):

“Websites, blogs, and articles are full of tips, recommendations, white-papers, and other good practices on the proper use of FacebookTwitter, or blogs, whether personal or professional contexts. … These tips may sound like real injunctions, as if there was only one right way to behave and use these media. This obsession with ‘how-to’ prevents an introspective approach to our use…”

And Léauthier, I completely agree.

Firstly, just read enough best practices, and you’ll realize they contradict each other. Dan Zarrella says to write tweets between 120 and 130 characters, while Miranda Miller tells you to use fewer than 100 characters per tweet. Zarrella says people who post 10-50 times per day have the most followers, with the “sweet spot” at 22 tweets per day. Miller says to tweet 4 times per day or less.

Secondly, although best practices are important and offer valuable information, the obsession with these best practices results in two bad behaviors: total dependency and overlooking your goals.

Avoid total dependency
It’s actually helpful to read best practices, and you should pay attention to them. However, don’t depend entirely on someone else telling you how to do everything without some experimentation and analytics assessment on your own part. Someone told you the best time to post to Facebook is at noon, so you do. It’s good to respond to best practices by experimenting on them. However, if you never go back and check on how effective posting at noon was for you, you’re lacking an important step in your social media management: analytics assessment for iterative improvement.

Know your goals
Every department is different. This means that its goals are different, meaning its key metrics are different, meaning the tactics employed on its social media platforms will be different. This means there isn’t “one right way to behave,” as Léauthier says. One tactic may bring you more followers in your key audience. Another tactic will bring you more interaction and engagement on your posts. In their best practices, the experts tell you how to do both, but they can’t tell you which tactic is more important, because different metrics match up to the unique goals of your department.

Think about best practices lists this way: 

  1. When a social media expert tells you how to get more followers or more shares, they really are telling you some ways to get more followers or shares. But ask yourself, will more followers or shares affect your ultimate goal, or is it actually click-throughs or likes? Figure out what metrics matter to you.
  2. See these lists as opportunities to do an informed experiment. Although best practice lists aren’t the end-all-be-all rules of the trade, they are still highly valuable. An uninformed experiment is like shooting in the dark, but best practices help guide your aim.

Stephanie Hatch Leishman (@hatchsteph)

What Is “Dark Social”?

You might have noticed an increase in direct referral traffic to pages on your website. This traffic can come from visits that result in bookmarked URLs or typing a URL directly in the browser, but much of this traffic also comes from “dark social.”

In the past, the term “dark social” sometimes referred to the “dark side of social media.” The phrase described online activities of drug dealers or the bad effects of social media, such as cyberbullying.

In the fall of 2012, dark social started to be used in a different way. Now, dark social refers to social media sharing that isn’t distinguishable from direct referral traffic that’s not social (e.g., bookmarks and typing the full URL, as mentioned above).

Examples of dark social sharing

  • Email
  • Online chatting
  • Text messages
  • Sharing a handwritten URL

Origins of the phrase

The first instance of the phrase “dark social” appears in what is still one of the best-known articles on the topic, “Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong” by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic (Oct 12, 2012). Madrigal’s article was reviewed by BuzzFeed less than a week later:  “There’s Less ‘Dark Social’ Than Meets the Eye” (Oct 18, 2012).

Soon after that, the phrase appeared in other articles, such as “‘Dark Social’ Media” (Nov 1, 2012) and “Six serious misunderstandings about social CRM” (Nov 21, 2012).

Why should I be aware of dark social?

As you report on your website analytics, you can see how much traffic comes from social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. However, social networking goes beyond the big-name social networks. Email is social. Online chatting, texting, and even talking in person are all social activities. If you really want to track how much social activity is referring people to your site (versus most search traffic), dark social should figure into your numbers.

Now that experts are aware of direct traffic and its largely dark social composition, they try to tackle the issue of these “invisible referrers” in relation to analytics. One example is Angie Pascale’s article, “Tracking dark social media: a light at the end of the tunnel” (Dec 11, 2013).

As Pascale points out, “Take note of direct traffic on the long, complicated URLs that users would rarely remember and type directly into a browser window. This will help to inform you of how much dark social sharing occurs with your content and further understand how you can accommodate the needs and habits of your target audience.”

What are your go-to resources on understanding dark social traffic? What observations are you making about the effects of dark social on your own website? Share your comments.

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Where to Start with Facebook Insights

Last week I gave a presentation called Introduction to Facebook Insights. Insights can sometimes be overwhelming when you’re first learning to use it, so I explained how to start in a few steps:

  1. Understand metrics terms. Learn what “Reach” and “Engaged” mean. Learn to tell the difference between Page metrics and Post metrics (e.g., Page Likes vs. Post Likes).
  2. Acknowledge your department’s priorities. Without them, you won’t know what numbers to look at and report on. Set social media goals aligned with those priorities.
  3. Find the information in Insights that matches your priorities and goals. Are you interested in getting more female applicants for your program? Export your Insights data and look at the tabs called “Lifetime Likes by Gender and Age” and “Daily Demographics People Talking About This.” Are you interested in gathering a more global audience? Look at your top countries and languages.
  4. Assess your work. How are you doing in these areas? Is one of your priorities to get more traffic to your website, but most of your posts don’t mention or link to any page on your website?
  5. Optimize your content based on the information you’ve found. Does most of your audience log in to Facebook later in the day, though you are posting in the morning? Do more people click on your photos than on video? Figure out what is working for you and what isn’t, and change your tactics accordingly.

Stephanie Hatch