Building a Social Media Brand for New School Recreation

by Deana Sdao

Since its inception, New School Recreation (NSR) has been home to a number of physical and recreational activities for New School (NS) students. Each month, the NSR holds a number of activities around the city including rock climbing, fitness classes, and horseback riding in hopes of getting NS students involved. Unfortunately, NSR is based at an arts-focused school in one of the largest cities in the United States; therefore athletic and recreational activities are often placed on the backburner for students. So it seemed like a project that was worth undertaking, and I worked closely with three other group members – Jenny Rodriquez, Empress Varnado and Samantha Briglio -- to build a brand for NSR. Initially, my group had planned on working with a comedy group based in Los Angeles, but after much deliberation and the addition of a new group member, we realized that NSR would be perfect to promote, as it lacked substance and the appropriate channels of communication. As a group, our goal is to effectively utilize and update New School Recreation across a number of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare to effectively promote, connect with NS students, and generate conversation. Author Dan Schawbel states in his novel Me 2.0, that “a key part of branding is visibility – clearly displaying your value to the world. The more people who either know you or have heard about you, the better” (20). The biggest obstacle for the current NSR is to connect with NS students and make them aware that this resource exists in a disorganized academic landscape and in a crowded social media market.

NSR has continually struggled to promote itself and get students to come out to events, as they are often spread around the city and are scarcely promoted. Within the first few weeks of brainstorming ideas, we realized the true potential of social media promotion and communication for not only NSR, but for students who may benefit from their services. Although we understand that NSR serves as a hub of activities for students, its voice within the school is not clearly defined. In his book, Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky notes that “certain activities may have some value but not enough to make them worth pursuing in any organized way. New social tools are altering this equation by lowering the costs of coordinating group action” (31). With limited funding and resources, the NSR can easily utilize social media to promote itself, help raise awareness of what activities are available, and reach their intended group of students at barely any cost. In today’s digital age, social media has become a main form of communication and with the number of individuals on these platforms continually rising, it has become the perfect and cost-effective way to promote, connect, and generate conversation.

When we started the project in October, the NSR was utilizing a few social media accounts, but unfortunately the accounts were not being utilized to the best of their ability. The NSR had established and developed a Facebook account, which was used the most out of all of their social media accounts. With over three thousand likes, the Facebook is used in terms of connecting to students, but unfortunately it lacks conversation, consistent updates, and links to the NSR’s alternative forms of social media. In addition, the NSR also had a Twitter account under the username @recatnewschool, which had a total of 80 followers and 155 tweets. Unfortunately, rather than keeping students informed, it was barely utilized and it was the least developed of their social media accounts. Similarly to their Facebook, no conversation was taking place, as many students had asked questions, which were left unanswered, ultimately leaving the loop of connection open. Additionally, the NSR also has a Word Press account that is utilized as their homepage, as well as a Flickr account for access to photographs of events. Although these accounts were created, they were not being developed and updated to their full extent. Author Robert Fine states, “social networks are adding new features and new ways for users to engage with each other, share content, and make connections” (427). Through the lack of communication on social media, it is evident that NSR was not using the aforementioned accounts to their greatest capacity to make important connections.

At the beginning of the project, NSR had no clear idea of who they were as an organization or who they wanted to become. Our initial goal as a group was to find the voice of the NSR. We determined that NSR should be known as positive, inviting, and informative. As a group, we decided that students should feel comfortable enough to participate not only in NSR events, but also discussions on social media. Schawbel believes that, “branding is for those who want to create a powerful presence and a memorable identity” (109). As a group, we want students to understand that NSR is a valuable resource and provides a wide range of activities and events. And although the NSR does not have an established space for students, we want to effectively communicate that its presence on digital platforms is strong. According to Mashable writer Dermot McCormack, “brands committed to honestly answering questions of who their audience is and what they believe in, and fine-tune accordingly, will gradually start to feel their influence rise” (Mashable). Our group decided that once our aforementioned voice was created and communicated, it was imperative for us to find the NSR’s audience. Through research and working with NSR director Diane Yee, it was evident that their audience was not only students, but also staff and alumni. Finding out that more than students are interested in the NSR allowed us as a group to tweak our performance throughout the semester to reach our intended audiences.

In order to promote, connect with students, and create conversation we decided as a group we would have to alter our initial strategies. We felt as though we should no longer look to remove the Word Press or Flickr accounts, but instead focus our attention on creating Instagram and Foursquare accounts and building relationships on our already existing platforms. Author Robert Fine states “Facebook has 500 million users, [while] Twitter has 150 million users with millions of tweets happening every minute” (20). As two of the most popular forms of social media, we felt it was imperative to place our efforts on these two accounts. Additionally, we decided to move away from YouTube and worry about creating videos at a later date. Our first and foremost goal was to create conversation, as well as develop brand visibility and awareness, as according to Schawbel, they “are the first steps towards acceptance by customers” (20). We want NS students to understand what resources are available to them through promotion, brand visibility, and conversation.

Rather than focusing our attention solely on Facebook, it is evident that Twitter has more potential to reach students and promote the NSR. Writer Jeff Bullas discusses a survey that “revealed the most popular social media channels are Facebook with 80 percent and Twitter with 66 percent” (Bullas). Twitter provides the opportunity for individuals to connect with others, follow accounts that align with their own interests, and receive quick 140-character bursts of information. Twitter is considered a B2B micro blogging network, which allows for “sharing thoughts through brief updates” (MoreBusiness).  During our research, we looked at a number of NSR competitors to see how they maintain their social media accounts, such as NYU athletics, as they have over a thousand followers. We decided to borrow a few of NYU’s strategies, such as tweeting frequently, integrating links to other accounts such as Instagram, and introducing a NSR specific hash tag (#nsrec). Our strategy also focused on closing the connection gap by making sure questions regarding NSR were answered on the account. Clay Shirky argues that in the social media realm, “conversation is king and content is just something to talk about” (99). Therefore, our most important plan of action was to bridge the connection loop. Additionally, we also changed the username of @recatnewschool to @TNS_Recreation to help streamline the accounts and make it easier to find in a crowded social media landscape. After implementing these changes, the biggest concern was keeping the account updated; therefore we employed Hoot Suite to allow for pre-scheduled tweets during the semester to keep the account up-to-date with events and comments.

In terms of Facebook, we decided to steer away from making large changes, focusing on smaller ones that ultimately proved critical. The first small change was creating photo albums of events, updating the account, and streamlining photographs. Although the NSR had a large amount of ‘likes’ when we started the project, we felt as though our focus should be to connect with students rather than gather ‘likes’. For months, students have been posting questions on Facebook that were always left unanswered. Shirky believes, “conversation creates more of a sense of community than sharing does,” and similar to our Twitter strategy, we believed it was imperative that we closed the gap and focused on conversation with our audience (50). All in all, we felt that continuously generating conversation and providing updates would be beneficial for Facebook and allow us to focus more on building the alternative accounts.

Since Facebook’s recent acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion, the photo-sharing application has become popular among individuals and brands as a tool of promotion. At the beginning of December 2012, we implemented an account under the username, tns_recreation. The application allows for cross-platform sharing, as photos can be uploaded to Facebook and Twitter and can be searched on the aforementioned sites through the #nsrec hashtag. Each photo uploaded can be altered through filters and tagged with numerous hashtags to help increase popularity. Shirky states that through the “introduction of user-generated labeling, the individual motivation of photographers – devoid of financial reward – is now enough to bring vast collections of photos into being” (46). For example, one of our recent uploads was a photo of NS students on a hike. To gain attention we used a number of different hashtags including #hiking, #camping, #thenewschool, and #nsrec, as users can scroll through each photo associated with the tag regardless of its date.

In terms of YouTube, the school has less then 250 views and only a handful of videos. We discussed as a group that YouTube could be utilized to promote videos of events and distribute news blasts. Additionally, we decided that location-based social media was more important to infiltrate, rather than focusing on the YouTube account. With TNS being based in New York City, there are hundreds of activities and opportunities available. Therefore, we decided to develop the NSR’s First Annual Social Media Scavenger Hunt. This event will allow students to check in at different locations around the city, receive discounts, and even win prizes by tagging photos on Instagram and tweets with the #nsrec hashtag. According to Shirky, “one of the few uncontentious tenets of economies is that people respond to incentives. If you give them more of a reason to do something, they will do more of it” (18). Our goal is to draw people into our social media accounts through the scavenger hunt and its incentives. Once the NSR student employees understand the true potential of social media and are educated on the aforementioned accounts, each individual can be given an account to manage throughout the academic year. By dividing up each account, each platform will be continuously updated and students will remain connected and informed.

Throughout the Fall 2012 semester, the group worked hard on implementing our social media ideas and keeping the accounts up-to-date. Clay Shirky believes that “we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations” (21). The aforementioned quote exhibits why we as a group felt social media is the appropriate tool for promotion and conversation for the NSR. Over the last few months, we have developed each social media account and utilized a number of the aforementioned strategies to develop the NSR’s voice, promote events, connect with students, and generate conversation. On both Twitter and Facebook, we have increased the flow of information and posted updates relating to our target audience. The increase of connection on Twitter and Facebook has been prominent, as we have gained a significant amount of followers on each platform. The creation of the Instagram account has also proved positive, as each photo has garnered not only attention, but also a large amount of likes. Additionally, after a few months of posting photos and generating conversation via Instagram, the account grew from zero followers to over a hundred. All in all, we believe the NSR was successfully promoted and we will continue to promote the NSR through social media accounts to our audience, while remaining up-to-date.