In July 2015 the social media marketing at Harvard Medical School (HMS) was at a crossroads. The goal of HMS' social media is to increase the school's share of voice within the medical education field and increase engagement with the HMS brand. However, we were beginning to fall behind our competitors in these main areas and needed to find a way to catch up despite having a small social team with a limited budget.
After conducting a social media audit and competitive analysis, we found that many medical schools — including ourselves — lacked a strong visual storytelling element and had a nascent presence on Instagram. Consequently, we believed that bringing the stories of the HMS community to life visually would emotionally connect with new audiences, increase engagement with our brand, and enhance our brand perception. Additionally, we felt that being the first institution to utilize a high-quality visual identity with a cohesive, focused, and differentiated narrative could further set us apart from our competition.
We therefore set out to create a strong visual narrative to:
- Bring the HMS community, campus, and people to our followers
- Embrace the power and wonderment of scientific discovery
- Make HMS' innovation and achievements tangible and real
- Honor HMS' rich history and diversity
- Display HMS' leadership in the medical education field
- Showcase the dynamic personality of HMS
Our strategy was to produce an authentic, relevant, consistent, and compelling visual narrative on Instagram to tell the story behind the Harvard Medical School brand and also emotionally connect to principles larger than HMS. Furthermore, the strategy was focused on creating a long-term and high-quality channel presence and value through our storytelling. This strategy was aimed at engaging with our defined audience of 18-24 year olds who are interested in "alleviating human suffering caused by disease," which aligns with the HMS mission statement.
The first step was to develop our brand value and identity to inform the types of images and stories we would be posting — along with our message tone and narrative. We determined that our brand value is that of a leading institution for biomedical research and medical education and that our community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni are what defines us as such. Beyond our reputation, we also concluded that our combination of history and innovation make us stand out from competitors.
We then established five main attributes for the tone of our posts and narrative as inspirational, influential, serious, authentic, and accessible.
Next, we conducted an audience analysis to understand what types of stories would resonate best with our potential audience on Instagram, and of these, which would align best with our narrative and value. The types of stories and images around which we decided to build our Instagram channel were ones about our history, innovators, influencers, students, community, and discoveries.
All of these components formed our overall Instagram narrative and the qualities we consider when selecting stories to promote and the associated images.
We then began working with our editorial team to unearth the unique stories, images, and assets from around HMS to highlight through our visual storytelling. Additionally, we started engaging with our audience to repurpose the images of the HMS campus and community that others were posting on Instagram.
After setting the content for the account, we then created a system and guidelines for post type, frequency, style, and hashtag usage.
These elements have helped us implement the strategy; build an important level of expectation and engage with our audience; repurpose user generated content to further drive audience involvement with our brand; construct a 360-degree view of HMS; enhance our brand perception; and foster a balanced collection of images that work equally as individual stories as well as pieces of the defined larger narrative.
Once implemented, the consistency and structure of our strategy has allowed us to meet our goals by exponentially growing our share of voice, followers, and brand engagement on Instagram.
The initiative began in July 2015 and over six months we became the leading Instagram profile in the medical education field with over 25,000 followers — a 233% larger audience than the second closest competitor — through 150% growth. This amount of followers accounted for 10,000 more than all of our competitors combined after having started in the same range in July.
We also had 70,000 engagements with a 5% average engagement rate per post, which accounted for a 250% increase for our account and is 44,000 more engagements than all of our competitors combined over the period.
These improvements alone led to a 2% increase of our overall social media share of voice.
We also achieved a potential reach of 205,000 people and 1.6 million potential impressions for #HarvardMed.
Photo of the Week selections from our Instagram profile contributed a reach of 200,000 people and 11,000 engagements in 16 posts on Facebook and 116,000 impressions and 3,000 engagements in 15 posts on Twitter from September through December.
Additionally, we now have an established framework for sustained long-term growth, as the average engagement per post rose by 70% from 600 in June to over 1,000 in December, and continues to do so.
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