The Great State Road Trip is a social-first, real-time campaign created by Communications and Brand Strategy at Michigan State University. It shows MSU's impact across the state of Michigan through various types of content shared on institutional social media accounts (and later, a curated website). It is a fresh take on how MSU has traditionally highlighted its impact in Michigan, and it was extremely collaborative: teammates from all areas of our department contributed (public relations, analytics, digital, social, development, design and photo/video).
As a top research university — and Michigan's largest university — MSU is uniquely positioned (by Spartan values and ways of working) to make an extraordinary impact on Michigan — its people, communities and economy — as it provides opportunity and finds solutions that make a better world. As part of this signature product, we highlighted MSU's work across the state — from agriculture, water resource conservation, energy storage and health to media arts, biomedical engineering and rare isotope research.
The Great State Road Trip had two goals: clearly show MSU's positive impact in the state of Michigan in engaging ways; and grow MSU alumni's affinity for their alma mater through pride-worthy content.
For measurement purposes, we set the following social objectives:
We leveraged the popularity of the Pure Michigan Road Trip (originally inspired from the work of former MSU doctoral student Randal Olson) and the fun, tradition and nostalgia associated with summer road trips to create a road trip adventure that featured MSU research and outreach across the state and its impact on individuals and communities in Michigan, as well as around the world.
Our strategy was to diversify content across multiple platforms, while creating a cohesive story using #MSURoadTrip with each post, regardless of the platform. We posted content on MSU's institutional Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, with the intent that different audiences would be reached.
We were able to test many pieces of content across platforms, giving us the ability to focus on telling smaller "stories" or parts of bigger stories. We used meta-tagging to further inform which pieces of content would be placed on specific platforms.
This was the first time our team had launched a social-first brand campaign of this magnitude. We strategically told different stories in different ways from different parts of the state, based on the social media channels that each piece of content would be distributed on. To tell our stories, we used gifs, photos, infographics, video, boomerangs, Snapchat and Instagram stories and audiograms. We also determined which content could be developed in advance of the road trip and could be released on the road when appropriate.
The majority of the road trip took place July 17 – Aug. 4. Prior to leaving, our public relations team sent media a press release that detailed the project and listed our city stops. Additionally, we began running ads on our MSUToday site (our university's main news site) and in MSUToday Weekly Update (our weekly e-newsletter). We also promoted the trip via our institutional social media channels. These pieces featured the trip title (The Great State Road Trip), subhead (Exploring MSU's Impact Across Michigan) and the call-to-action hashtag (#MSURoadTrip).
Internally, we categorized the kind of content we pushed out as featured content (eight videos that went into more depth on different categories of research); secondary content (no set quantity, but still the aim was research-based) and tertiary content (no set quantity, but with the aim of showing the spontaneous moments). Five out of the eight feature videos were done on the road.
We developed approximately 75 pieces of planned content for The Great State Road Trip which were woven into a larger schedule. We also had behind-the-scenes, real-time content posted to our various social media channels.
We boosted 60 pieces of content across all social media platforms. Paid boosting had previously been reserved for larger feature-type products.
For people who did not follow our trip on social media, we launched the curated site msu.edu/roadtrip on Aug. 22 via an email announcement sent to 322,395 people and various institutional social media posts about the trip.
Following is a list of some key statistics resulting from The Great State Road Trip campaign:
Social (July 11 – Aug. 29)
Website (msu.edu/roadtrip) (Aug. 22 – 29)
Highlights video (released on social media and inclusion in MSUToday Weekly email) (Aug. 22 – 29)
We found that when we included in a very obvious way a Spartan helmet or anything that had "Spartans Will." (our tag line), we garnered the best engagement results. Being able to identify that a post and piece of content was MSU-branded immediately was something that helped engage our audience – across all social media platforms.
Being able to test out different kinds of content, all while showing MSU's impact throughout Michigan, allowed our team to continue to better engage our audiences. This project has proven to be extremely successful in diversifying our content through a multi-platform approach – something we will continue to build upon for future brand campaigns.
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