The English language has been transformed by the digital age. In early May, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary introduced several new terms from the online lexicon to its folds. Recognizing the evolution of twenty-first century discourse, Merriam-Webster has inscribed “hashtag”, “selfie”, and the beloved “social networking” to its hallowed pages. With the omnipresence of social media (another inductee to the dictionary hall-of-fame in 2011), “tweet”, “post”, and “hashtag” have become staples in the dialogue of many online users.
According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of all online adults use at least one social networking site. Unsurprisingly, social media usage has increased every year over the past decade for each age category. The IACP’s Center for Social Media estimates American adults spend over three hours per day dialed into the social media matrix. For scale: 58 photos are added to Instagram each second, Twitter users send 100,000 tweets every minute, and users worldwide spend more than 20 billion minutes per day on Facebook. From tweets to posts and comments to shares, social media has forever changed interaction in the public sphere. Social media has infiltrated language, reformed relationships and developed new methods of communication not only for the individual, but also for the organization.
Engineered to connect people, social networking platforms have given businesses a network in which the bond between consumer and organization can be easily facilitated. Sites like Facebook and Twitter allow for the bilateral exchange of information, which, if cataloged correctly, provide organizations with an additional arm to reach targeted audiences. Naturally, business schools across the globe readily instruct their students on integrating social media techniques into business strategy. These courses often deliver students with theoretical approaches to optimizing online ROI, developing successful content, and targeting consumers, but rarely do students receive the practical experience that is critical to understanding the impact of a fluid social media campaign on business growth.
The H-E-B School of Business and Administration (HEBSBA), in conjunction with the San Antonio Non-Profit Council (SANPC), have found a way to assist students in filling the experience vacuum. On May 6th, HEBSBA students were on the front line in a historic event for the city of San Antonio. In its inaugural year, The Big Give San Antonio, a 24-hour online giving event hosted by the SANPC, raised $2 million for the city’s non-profits; double the initial goal set by the council. Facilitated by the relationship between the HEBSBA and the SANPC, capstone seniors were asked to take control of all social media efforts for the city’s non-profits, a critical role in maximizing the outreach and impact of the campaign. The Big Give project required students to utilize budget forecasting, integrated social media strategy and an entrepreneurial spirit to prepare for the philanthropic marathon.
Student involvement in The Big Give was not an extracurricular activity or assigned community service, but a semester project embedded in the school’s pioneering capstone course. Through partnerships with area organizations, capstone allows students to take knowledge gained in the classroom and apply it to solve real-world problems. Professor of Management and Capstone Instructor Dr. David Vequist elaborates:
“Very few business schools anywhere in the world routinely get their undergraduate students to interact with the business community the way we do in our Capstone II class at UIW. To have the opportunity to plan, manage and strategize the entire social media campaign for a multi-million dollar event is a great accomplishment for these students.”
Lead by Vequist, students were broken into five groups designated by social media platform: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn. To prepare for the event, students dove into market research, producing analyses of online donor demographics, user demographics specific to the assigned platform, and viable implementation strategies. Eduardo Bravo, senior international business major and YouTube team member, explained the importance of the background research: “Many of these [non-profit] organizations don’t know how to utilize the tools that are available to create a successful campaign. I feel we empowered many of them by giving them resources they didn’t know existed.” Specifically, students from Team Facebook utilized platform manager AgoraPulse to deliver real-time page analytics as The Big Give was underway. This allowed the team to be strategic in their content delivery and learn from their past performance.
Students began building social advocacy for the campaign early in the spring semester. Team Instagram launched their #ILoveMyCitySA initiative in April. The contest encouraged the global community to post pictures of their favorite parts of San Antonio. The team received 63 submissions and recorded a 45 percent gain in followers to The Big Give’s Instagram feed. Subsequently, Team Instagram saw followers increase by over 180 percent from the month of April until the end of the campaign.
Instagram wasn’t the only team to receive a prolific response from the community. Team Facebook’s strategic approach to engaging the target market paid dividends, as page fans grew by 110 percent on the giving day. Engagement from the target market also rose by 76 percent, outperforming the response rate of over 88 percent of Facebook pages. Team Twitter’s methodology also peeked interest in donors. From late April until early May, The Big Give SA’s Twitter account received an average of 27 mentions per day and collected retweets from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and actress Eva Longoria. “We are proud of the results,” said Team Facebook member Erica Castillo. “This partnership between the school of business and The Big Give really was a success.”
For capstone students, these tangible outcomes told only half the story of success. The opportunity for students to step outside of the classroom and into the fray allowed the seniors to prepare for the competitive business market. “Overall, we gained a lot of hands on experience, making this project important to our future success,” said Allison Speakmon, international business major and Twitter team member. “The skills we learned are great resume builders that we can take into the business world.” To Denis Chambers, international business major and LinkedIn team member, the opportunity to exercise the UIW tenet of service was central: “It was really great to meet and work with the non-profits. It gave me a deeper understanding of the efforts put forth by [the agencies] to help our community.”
In just it’s first year, The Big Give saw involvement from over 460 non-profit agencies, replicating and then surpassing Austin’s first year agency participation rate of 289. The Big Give SA not only shined in Texas, but also set the bar nationally, out pacing all 83 participating U.S. cities in unique donors. The giving campaign received donations from every zip code in Bexar County and the word spread beyond international borders with donors reaching out from Argentina, Australia and South Africa.
Indicative of the campaign’s success, Executive Director of the SANPC Scott McAninch has been invited to speak at The Big Give’s national organization on social media best practices, which, McAninch explained, was a result of the efforts put forth by the students: “The [Incarnate Word] will be talked about at this presentation and the partnership with the H-E-B School of Business that made this campaign such a success. The way the students approached this project gave us so many fresh ideas to implement next year.”
As these seniors prepare to don cap and gown and transition from the classroom to the boardroom, experiences like The Big Give empower them to become industry leaders. Online frontiers will continue to be forged in the digital age and HEBSBA graduates will be prepared to accept the challenge. Textbooks become outdated and new theories are proposed, but true experience will never lose its value. Like Merriam-Webster, these students can now add a new term to their portfolio: “#Ready”.