What #highered can learn from the #MBteamS and @tsand social media win

February 5th, 2011 Karine Joly 11 Comments

Unless you haven’t been checking twitter this past few days, you must have heard about the MB Tweet Race that just took place.

As I explained a couple of weeks ago on this blog, Todd Sanders (@tsand) from UW Green Bay took part in a social media campaign orchestrated by an automaker, a real race – between 4 teams riding real cars across America – powered by twitter fuel provided by supporters and friends.

MBteamS won the tweeter raceTodd and John should be winning WON this race (results have been announced at 4PM ET) – even though they were seen as the underdogs in terms of followers. They are not celebrities, don’t have sexy figures and aren’t considered to be major tech influencers.

So, how did this happen?

These are the 5 lessons I was able to draw from my experience as a higher ed observer and a humble participant:

  1. Real-life experiences are everything

    Social media is about people. So, it’s definitely not a number games (how many followers you have) as many have (re)tweeted it during the race.

    It was a natural move to gather around Todd on twitter for the higher ed web community because twitter had been used in the past as a key ingredient of real-life community-building events: the 2008 facebookgate (with the use of GoogleDocs to power real-time collaboration) and the heweb09 keynote meltdown. Todd attended the heweb09 conference and shared many funny videos from the event. He also had a front-and-central role in the “Don’t make me tweet” video shown just before Steve Krug’s keynote at the heweb10 conference last October – which helped higher ed folks who didn’t know him yet share a real-life experience with him, even if he wasn’t present in-person at the conference.

  2. Communities can organize with… a little help and the proper platforms

    As soon as Todd and John heard they would take part in the race, they created a website and a dedicated facebook page for their team supporters. During the 2 weeks before the event, they shared updates, funny videos, game plan (including manually RT @tsand to get maximum points, which might have been the game changer) and even ran a practice run on twitter. What they also did was to invite everybody to join the team through their HR page, transforming mere followers in team members. As a result, most higher ed folks were not just helping Todd to win, but they were also trying to WIN this tweeter race.

  3. Unsolicited endorsements by bloggers and community influencers

    Todd never asked me to write the post to rally up the higher ed community behind his team, but I did because it felt right. And, I’m pretty sure that fellow higher ed bloggers Barbara Nixon, Brad J. Ward, Andrew Careaga, Eric Stoller, Tim Nekritz and Mallory Wood among many others would say the same if they were asked. They told the race story and provided context to explain why the higher ed community (and other friends) should rally behind #MBteamS. The fact that these endorsements didn’t resulted from a coordinated pitching effort made them even more authentic and powerful.

  4. Making it all about others and… having fun

    Todd has been doing funny videos for a long time (I first crossed his path when he did the Stuff to Do videos at his university), but he has also been raising money for charities for awhile. It’s all about having fun with… a higher purpose (although it can also be about having fun for the sake of it – or football – or bacon ;0)
    In this specific case, Todd made it once again all about others: winning 20K for St Jude Children’s Hospital, raising an extra 5K for St Jude, supporting the Packers, making the higher ed community proud and winning a beautiful car for… his wife. All Todd asked for himself was to have fun – and I’m so glad he did.

  5. Timing and… divine intervention?

    Social media is all about the people – but they got to show up to play. The fact that most of the country was snowed in the first day of the race played, I believe, a major role in helping build momentum on twitter. As you know, not every working professional get snowdays as we do in higher education. So, the snowstorm also helped twitter-fuel #MBteamS in some way the first day.

While web virality and social media success cannot be just copied and pasted, these are definitely lessons that can help guide the social media campaigns of your institution.

I believe the #MBteamS formula can work for universities and colleges because most of our target audiences and constituents shared community-building real-life experiences – they went (are going to) college together after all.


Michael Stoner has shared what he learned on his blog.

So, how can you try to do it?

  • Make it about the people:

    Personalize the campaign but don’t forget to develop a strong team spirit so everybody wins at the end.

  • Make it about a good cause people can relate to on a personal level:

    How about raising money for a scholarship for a group of deserving students or for research that will have a direct impact on lives?

  • Organize (but don’t try to control) the community:

    Create and provide tools, information, updates and education material if necessary

  • Inform your community influencers in a personal way:

    Use personal communications not press releases, so they can tell your story if they think it makes sense for the community

Any other ideas or feedback? Please share with the rest of the class by posting a comment!