Bringing Social Media into Real Life
To celebrate the beginning of the fall semester and the return of students, Texas A&M hosts Howdy Week, our official week of welcome, the week before fall classes start. During Howdy Week, dozens of events happen all over campus to help introduce students to campus services and organizations.
For two days during Howdy Week 2017, the university hosted the "Rough! Tough! Free Stuff!" social media vending machine on campus. In exchange for a tweet or Instagram post that mentioned #HowdyWeek and the vending machine, students would receive a free t-shirt, hat, or 12th Man towel from the vending machine. The goals of this activation were to 1) introduce and/or further student relationships with institutional social media accounts; 2) interact with students in a "real life" setting; and 3) welcome new and returning students to campus for the academic year.
With the mission of bringing social media into "real life" and creating a memorable experience for our students, we identified a time, location, and vehicle for our giveaway. We selected two days in the middle of a week when thousands of students are exploring campus, looking for new and exciting things to do. We chose to set up the machine outside of our student center, without a doubt the busiest area of campus. And the unique vehicle for our giveaway was a vending machine powered by social media, not only to give students exactly what they want (free stuff) but also creating conversation on and around our social media channels.
Our massive machine was loaded up with apparel and our location-based, one-time only giveaway was a go! We knew students would already be documenting their week through social media so why not interact with them where they are and reward them for using our hashtags? In return for an opportunity to share your favorite photo of campus or what you love most about Texas A&M with our hashtag, students received a $20 T-shirt, hat, or a coveted "12th Man Towel" that can be found in any dorm room.
Over the two days that the vending machine was active, the university distributed approximately 1,500 free items to students. The line for the vending machine often wrapped around the student center, thanks to the online chatter and buzz that was created once students started sharing on their social media accounts. Once the activation was complete, the university received data on which students used the machine, as well as insights into the platform they chose to use to make the machine vend. Additionally, throughout the school year, the university has received recognition from its peers for this innovative use of "real life" social media, as well as inquiries into how the activation was managed and executed.