Matthew Griffin, like most Penn students, has experienced the excitement of college life from move-in day to NSO to snow days, and has posted it all on Facebook. However, unlike most, his posts have anywhere from 200 to 800 likes.
As the manager of New Media Communications hired by the University Communications Office last February, Griffin oversees Penn’s social media efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube, and creates posts on behalf of the University. The position was created last year, a first step Penn took towards unifying and expanding its social media presence.
Since then, the official Penn Facebook page has gained 20,000 followers in less than a year, with an estimated 20 percent increase in engagement by its followers. Although Penn only comes in sixth out of all Ivy League schools in terms of number of followers with over 50,000 likes on Facebook, the school has a comprehensive coverage of social media outlets.
The main responsibility of the new media manager, Griffin said, is to share the Penn experience the way the student body experiences it. To encapsulate the experience and draw in the audience, he participates in the Penn experience by going to as many events as possible, and relies heavily on a visual approach to present stories.
On Instagram, visual storytelling intern and College junior Kyle Toomey posts photos of moments captured at Penn ranging from a St. Bernard on Locust Walk to students playing the ukulele.
“From time to time I like to throw my own little flavor into an image and give the audience something different to view,” he said in an email.
With over 20,000 followers on Twitter, Griffin helps Penn maintain an active presence by retweeting posts about Penn and responding to tweets Penn was tagged in..
When Penn responds to a tweet posted by a prospective student, “it freaks people out,” he said.
Penn’s Tumblr page, which is jointly managed by Griffin and College sophomore Alexandra Roman, the written storytelling intern, has a wide variety of posts. It recently released a “Top 10 Style Do’s and Don’ts for Surviving the Winter in Philly,” starting with “1. DO sport some cool gloves.”
Griffin hopes that the more casual and conversational nature of social media communication will allow Penn to connect personally to students.
“Your audience needs to know that you’re there, they need to know that there’s a person behind that name. They might not think of you as a person,” he said. “If anything, I feel like we have this personification of College Hall, where the archway is a mouth, tweeting from on high.”
To achieve a more personal presence, Griffin has adopted a more conversational personality for Penn’s Facebook page, both for posts that are more news-focused, such as stories about research by Penn faculty, or posts that seem more like “an aside to a friend.” Whether it’s prompting students to “hurry into Van Pelt Library and get warm,” or reliving the first snow at Penn through an album dedicated to photos of the Penn campus blanketed by snow, Griffin tries not to be bound by the notions that these posts need to be “grand enough for the Penn voice.”
Followers, whether current students or alumni, have responded enthusiastically to candid shots of Penn posted on Facebook. A photo of the Quad gate on a snowy day was liked by almost 900 followers and shared over 90 times.
“I engage in Penn’s posts almost everyday, since I’d like to know events taking place in and around campus,” Yanxi Zhu, a first-year master’s degree student, said in an email. “Also, there are always wonderful pictures in Penn’s posts.”
Ting Zhang, a College freshman, said that she frequently engages with Penn’s social media, for around 30 minutes a day.
“A few times a week, I love to keep abreast of what is going on at Penn because they were such memorable years,” Karen Franks, a 1989 College graduate and 1997 Nursing graduate said in an email.
Penn also maintains a constant dialogue with the different schools within the university, and that also extends to social media. The Penn Nursing Science Facebook page commented on a post about the Fels Public Policy Challenge on the Penn Facebook page. In addition, Penn tags different schools, like the Wharton School, on its Twitter posts.
Looking to the future, Griffin hopes to continue expanding Penn’s presence in social media and exploring possible collaboration opportunities with Penn’s Office of Admissions.
“Higher education as a whole is notoriously slow when it comes to adopting [social media],” he said, “so my goal is trying to be a little faster than that.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Matthew Griffin is not a 2007 College graduate.
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