University President Steve Scott asked “Hello…” into the void as students abandoned campus earlier this month, but he wasn’t alone online.
With tens of thousands of views on various social media outlets, as well as hundreds of comments, shares, likes and favorites, Pittsburg State University’s latest viral video, soundtracked by the music of Adele, touched heartstrings while invoking laughter and tears.
It also showcased the beauty of the Pittsburg State University campus while connecting past, present and future students with a down-to-earth, humorous university president in the latest of a series of videos that have become powerful marketing tools for the university.
“While all forms of media are important to us, social media has its own unique expectations and opportunities,” Scott said. “In that space, video is king. Video drives emotion and engagement … both of which are essential to us creating and enhancing affinity for the university.”
One of Scott’s first appearances of this sort was doing the “Happy Dance” in 2014, and the videos soared to new heights, gaining national attention and many new follows on social media when Scott signed an April 1 document christening the university “Pittsburgh State.”
“The April Fools video was the first one that really showed how these things can be huge,” said Brett Dalton, coordinator of web content and social media “If you can somehow make the president, and with him the university, seem much more relatable and more human and fun, which is what 17- and 18-year-olds are looking for, than it really becomes a recruiting piece.”
“With this modern marketing, you have to reach them where their playground is, on social media and Snapchat,” added videographer Jacob Anselmi. “We have facilities we show on them, we have campus we show on them, and the overall message of ‘you can receive a good education, but also can have fun and a great experience when you come here.’”
“Chris Kelly (associate vice president for university marketing and communication) has built an incredible team who lead this effort, with the impact being seen in our private and community support as well as our enrollments,” Scott said. “Jacob Anselmi is the creative individual behind our videos and Brett Dalton directs social media activities. Together, they bring unique ideas and delivery methods to our communications strategies. I enjoy working with them, and appreciate their efforts to challenge me to get outside my comfort level.”
Scott then took that challenge and ran with it for “One Friday Afternoon.”
“Again, we had another great idea from Dr. Scott to try to capture in a goofy way what people wouldn’t think of those folks doing on a Friday afternoon in the summer,” Anselmi said.
“Everyone we've approached to be a part of the videos has literally jumped at the chance to be involved,” Scott said. “That shows their spirit for this place and their willingness to poke a little fun at themselves.”
Audiences giggled away as dean of library services Randy Roberts rocked out, associate professor Lynn Murray pulled out her “Friday” toy box, associate professor Troy Comeau prepared his “American Idol” audition tape and provost Lynette Olson revved her motorcycle.
However, the highlight was Scott’s on-camera admission of his penchant for spending his weekends as Gus the Gorilla.
Scott/Gus then highlighted the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, the Plaster Center and Carnie Smith Stadium while engaging in all the university has to offer and fulfilling some of the major goals of the videos.
“I’d say we have several things in mind: 1) we want to have fun and make people laugh; 2) we want to create a shared experience for our students, faculty, staff, community, donors and alums; and 3) we want to convey a distinctive and important message,” Scott said, noting the university’s latest hit is all that and more. “The 'Hello' video is a great example of that. People laughed when they watched it; it was an experience that many in Gorilla Nation shared; and the message of 'we miss our students' is so authentic to our values and who we are.”
While Pittsburg State is by no means the first university to utilize this strategy, Dalton said the marketing world has taken notice.
“I was at a national conference in Miami, Florida and the speakers there were from Harvard and Stanford and all these big schools,” Dalton said. “There’s this Q&A session and toward the end this gal grabbed the microphone and asked, ’Is the guy from Pitt State here?’ She said, ‘How did you get your president to do that?’”
“We just asked,” Dalton said he replied. “We had an idea and we asked and he did it.”
“I don't think I realized it ahead of time, but a side benefit of the videos has been how they humanize us,” Scott said. “Our sense of humor and willingness to poke fun at ourselves serves to do this quite well. When I encounter students on campus following the release of a video, they often give me an affirming smile and energetic greeting. That means the world to me.”
Dalton said one challenge of operating within the social media realm is viewers’ limited attention spans.
There is a little risk that goes into this,” he said. “If you didn’t watch (April Fools) until the very end there was nothing that really made you think that this wasn’t true, and Dr. Scott received emails and hand-written letters from people who didn’t watch it all the way to the end.”
“We did have a few alums who were a little irritated with our April Fools video not initially realizing it was indeed a prank,” Scott said. “They got a kick out of it in the end.”
Dalton said social media feedback not only indicates alumni enjoyment, but also a sense of pride for current students and positive consideration by prospective students.
The team also has no intention of slowing down.
“We'll keep our eyes open for the right moment to create a unique and engaging message,” Scott said. “In fact, toward the end of January I anticipate releasing a very moving video that's sure to create some emotion and further deepen our connections. Yes, that's a tease!”