On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Colorado State University's social media team ruled in favor of posting about it – but our decision to post did not come lightly. Or easily.
In our role of serving as the voice of Colorado State University, we typically remain neutral regarding political messages in our social media messaging. We understood that this post could be a great success, or a total fail. As an institution, CSU is committed to cultivating diversity, inclusiveness, acceptance and tolerance – so stepping up, in a timely manner, in support of the SCOTUS ruling was important. It was a risky thing to do. But it was the right thing to do. Had we done nothing, our silence could have been deafening.
Our objective was to create a message that spoke to students, faculty, staff, friends and alumni, showing CSU's support for our diverse campus community. Our goal was to create a visually striking image that was relevant to the roots of our university while adding CSU's voice in the larger conservation surrounding the historical moment.
Statistically, GLBTQ students are at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and if our message could help just one student or CSU community member feel accepted and included, we would serve CSU's mission of fostering an environment of inclusion and acceptance.
There are two things that we knew would make this campaign successful. First, it had to be timely. We didn't want to jump on a bandwagon later in the day or over the weekend, like some universities ended up doing. We knew that we needed to post quickly the morning of the ruling. Second, we knew that using the right visual was paramount. It had to be something authentic to connect CSU to the SCOTUS ruling.
Our strategy included creating a visually compelling, timely graphic, relevant to Colorado State University that incorporated the colors of the rainbow that would engage our social audiences across our institutional platforms, and provoke feelings of pride and acceptance for our diverse campus community.
Fortunately, we already had the perfect asset. In 2012 on National Coming Out Day, a beautiful photo was taken on CSU's Oval. The giant trunks of the Oval's iconic elms were wrapped in rainbow colors. We knew immediately that this was the right visual. The Oval is the heart of campus and we knew this image would resonate well with our social audiences.
After the #LoveWins icon was created and overlaid onto the photo, the graphic was posted on all of CSU's social media platforms with a quote from President Obama's speech regarding the SCOTUS ruling, "For all our differences, we are one people – stronger together than we could ever be alone."
The key features of this graphic are the use of CSU's iconic Oval, the rainbow ribbons tied around the elm trees and the #LoveWins icon. We succeeded in creating an image that not only represented Colorado State University, but also included the colors of the rainbow in a meaningful way. The selection of President Obama's quote as the corresponding message that accompanied the graphic was carefully deliberated.
This work was unique to our industry because we were the only major university in the Midwest to post in support of the SCOTUS ruling. In fact, only a handful of schools nationwide made the courageous decision to post about the ruling.
We weren't sure how our fans would react to our #LoveWins posts, so our expectations for engagement statistics were undefined.
The #LoveWins message was posted to all of CSU's institutional social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.
The impact of our decision to post about #LoveWins turned out to be social gold.
We had great success on Instagram and Twitter – in June, our Instagram photos averaged 840 likes. We posted two #LoveWins images that received a combined 3,134 likes. A new Instagram best.
But the biggest impact was on Facebook. On average, CSU's Facebook posts organically reach an average of 50,000 people, garner about 1,000 likes and receive 30 comments. To this day, #LoveWins is our second most popular Facebook post. Ever. It reached 530,432 people (organically), received 10,353 likes, 2,533 shares and 154 comments.
Engagement wise, #LoveWins sparked lots of emotion across our social platforms. As we expected there would be, some people shared their dissenting views, but what we didn't expect was the overwhelmingly positive response. On Facebook, for example, the comment thread was flooded with sentiments of pride and acceptance including this heart-felt fan comment, "It was personally moving to come across the picture above yesterday – especially since it came from the University … I couldn't be prouder that University leadership is raising the standard in what it means to be truly welcoming."
We recognized the historic impact of the SCOTUS decision and wanted to share a message of inclusiveness, acceptance and tolerance for our community here at CSU. Looking back five years from now, we will know that we weren't silent. In the end, we believe that "Love" wasn't the only winner on June 26, 2015. CSU won, too.
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