What a security guard’s selfie can teach you about social media

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The 10 most-viewed news items in 2013 from Temple University’s Fox School of Business is what one would expect: Seven articles touted rankings (a big driver of business school reputations), and two announced new programs. The other recapped a reality TV panel, headlined by Jon Gosselin, at our school. That all makes sense.

Our school’s most-popular tweets? A picture of snow (caption: “Beautiful”), a tweet encouraging the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the rival Cowboys (which they did), a fact about Temple’s history in March Madness, and a selfie of Dave, our security guard.

These tweets have nothing to do with our core mission, vision, or reputation. To some social media managers, that could be frustrating, borderline terrifying. But we think it’s awesome.

My colleague Laurel Harrish and I approached Dave’s selfie with two thoughts: First, everyone loves him. Second, Dave could be just the inspiring, unexpected injection of school pride at what is typically the social media dead zone of winter break. So on Facebook, we went with this caption for our Dec. 17 post: It’s so quiet around here that Dave has learned how to take selfies. #ComeBackSoon.

Our security guard’s selfie—which seemingly has nothing to do with our business school brand yet is so engaging on social media—can teach PR pros four important lessons about generating effective content.

1. Tell followers your content is important (and make sure it is).

There’s a reason many journalists put BREAKING in front of their spot-news tweets. It cuts through the noise. BuzzFeed does the same with its definitive lists (“the most epic fails”). It’s tried and true: Tell followers they can’t miss this.

When tweeting Dave’s selfie—after seeing it explode on Facebook—we said it might shatter our retweet record. And it did. It’s chancy to make a claim like that if the tweet is a dud, but we also primed our audience to pay attention to and share the image. They did. In addition to a record combination of retweets and favorites, we received replies like this one: “omg such a perfect human!”

2. Localize the big thing.

This is a simple concept that can be so difficult to execute. Arby’s recently won big (almost 84,000 retweets as of this writing) at the Grammys when they asked Pharrell Williams if he’d give back their hat. How pitch perfect. It capitalizes on the in-the-moment national conversation and alludes to the brand without overtly trying to drum up sales.

[RELATED: Ragan’s biggest social media conference returns to the Walt Disney World Resort in April!]

People debate, discuss, and rally around big news events and trends. If your brand doesn’t have a legitimate tie-in, let the conversation pass without you. Join in if you can advance it.

For example, since 2000, Temple University has had alumni play in nine of 14 Super Bowls, including this year’s game (Denver Broncos Terrance Knighton and John Youboty). Last year, when former Temple star running back Bernard Pierce played in the Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens, the university’s Facebook page posted a meme of Pierce with this caption, one of my all-time favorites: Superb Owl Sunday. (Temple’s mascot is the owl.)

3. Celebrate the unique.

Call it selective exclusion. In the case of our security guard’s selfie, only a particular set of our school’s stakeholders get the reference. The same is true for Temple’s aggressive squirrels. Ask anyone on campus about squirrels, and you’ll hear war stories about stolen fries or pizza crusts. Haven’t been here? You won’t get it.

That’s the point. Talking some inside baseball to your biggest brand ambassadors further empowers them while perhaps motivating those on the “outside” to get in on the reference—by experiencing your product or reconnecting with it: Never mind. It’s a Jeep thing. You wouldn’t understand.

4. Showcase exclusive access.

One of the biggest advantages of being a PR pro, especially in house, is access: You can see the title of the novel on your CEO’s desk. You’re there when the prototype is unveiled. Share those perspectives to give your audience a peek behind the curtain. Everyone sees Dave the security guard when they walk in our building. We took them a few inches from his face.

Nike does this incredibly well on its Instagram account, often with subtlety. A recent photo of Olympic runner Mo Farah and training partners showed just the backs of their legs as the sunrise crested in front of them. Another featured the back of Rafael Nadal’s head as he tightened his tennis bandana. No swoosh, but plenty of character, in sight.

Your brand probably does super-important stuff, but not everything you do is going to ignite the public’s passion. So if it’s snowing or if your city’s team is in the playoffs and everyone is talking about it, you might want to (creatively) contribute.

Some would say that’s off-brand messaging. Humans call it conversation.

Brandon Lausch is a public relations professional at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, where he teaches Social Media Innovation. Connect with him on Twitter @brandonlausch. He blogs at http://RunSmore.org.

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists by searching their bios, tweets and articles, and pitch them to get more press. 

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