The Digital Campus

The Digital Campus

Fall 2011 Study Tour: Day 2

Day 2 of the study tour took the group to Stanford University. Guest bloggers Olivier Schwarz, from the University of Neuchatel, and Sylvie Fournier, from the University of Geneva, bring us up to speed on the day’s events and lessons learned. They co-wrote the following post:

We cannot display this galleryDay #2 began with a meeting at the Alumni Building of Stanford University. Ian Hsu, who is Director for Media Outreach at the Office of Public Affairs, welcomes us. Today, the Facebook page and the Twitter account (@Stanford) are the third and fourth most visited sites of all Stanford University pages on the web. How did they manage this, we ask? In 2005, Ian Hsu launched the first Stanford University Facebook page. Since then, the platform has never stopped growing and now has more than 233,000 likes. What are their tips and secrets? We all want to know.

First, they try to understand what kind of information people read. They do a lot of surveys on the web, but also by phone to know who are the people following them, how many times per day do they go one Facebook, and where did they learn about the Facebook page, etc. Understanding who is out there helps Ian’s team to know what to say in posts.

“The most important thing is to make people interact,” says Hsu, “And for that there is nothing better than hiring interns to take care of posts. Our survey shows us clearly that since we’ve had them, the traffic on Facebook and Twitter has increased more than significantly.”


Hsu finds interns through interviews and trains them over a few weeks using staging Facebook and Twitter pages. They then go out on the real pages and are monitored until they are ready to have the key of the house. “It’s quite a long process but it worth it,” explains Hsu. “Last year we had three interns. This year we’ve hired twelve!”

Apparently, the key to success on social media is students speaking to students who then share with their friends.

What do these pages bring to the institution? They sure bring visibility, they support the core messages of the university, like reputation and innovation in research, but according to Hsu they also change the vision people have of Stanford.

After an overview of the “Global Stanford Unit” social media strategy, we walked through the gorgeous campus to the Stanford School of Engineering (NB: Schools are similar to Faculties in Switzerland). Their way of acting on social media is much closer to Swiss universities in term of resources and organization.

Staci Baird, Community Manager for the School, is a very joyful person who did not hesitate to share her secret with us on how to act on social media: “Just be there! Show up!” Unlike others, her communication style is to be very transparent, as we can read on the Facebook page description of the School “(…) I’m Staci Baird, community manager for the Stanford School of Engineering! You can find me on Twitter at”

Very spontaneous, she only manages a schedule for the Twitter account, not for Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr, where she posts directly. She posts at least one news every day on each channel (NB: for Ian Hsu, one post per day is a good balance). About a third of her posts are self-created and two-thirds come from other people that she re-tweets and shares.

Of course, good posts drive traffic, but it is unlikely to increase fans and followers. Well, Baird found a leverage strategy to do so. Each year, every graduate receives a t-shirt that nobody else can gets. The communication team always takes pictures of graduates, and this year decided to upload those photos on Flickr and share them on Facebook. After graduation day, an email was sent to congratulate students and “by the way” recommend they have a look at the photos online. Facebook fans increased significantly that day.

After meeting all those people, we could think Stanford is very well prepared to face crises on social networks. Nevertheless, even if Ian Hsu and Staci Baird have clear strategies, none report to global Stanford directives which describe ethical acts or procedures (as Swiss universities actually). So guys, we do not have to be afraid of anything. “Just show up!”

Author: Megan Williams

Megan Williams is swissnex San Francisco’s Head of Communications. She likes to write about science and culture. A marine biology nerd and a dedicated science communicator, she also loves to hunt for design treasure at thrift stores.