William & Mary Mascot Search: The Power of Integrating Social Tools


William & Mary Mascot Search: The Power of Integrating Social Tools

Sep 19, 2010By Michael Stoner

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You know your new mascot has arrived when it gets a plug on The Daily Show.

But more interesting than the mascot itself was the process that led William & Mary to choose it. The search began when W&M’s new president, Taylor Reveley, heard board members, students, and alumni alike bemoaning the fact that the college didn’t have an official mascot to rally support for the college’s athletic team, the Tribe. So President Reveley created a task force to select a mascot for the college, charging its members to make the search open, engaging, and fun.

Susan T. Evans, director of creative services, planned the communications for the mascot search. As project manager for the redesign of the William & Mary website, Evans had seen firsthand the power of social media: the re.Web blog, which chronicled progress on, was widely praised by colleagues and earned an Edustyle People’s Choice Award in 2008. She built a mascot search communications plan around social media, knowing that that’s how people would engage with each other and the college.

Evans and her team set up a web page for the mascot on the W&M website. This was the outlet for more static content. A blog; a Twitter feed (@WMMascot); a Mascot Search Facebook Group; and a YouTube Channel were augmented by a Flickr gallery, some email, print, and an online survey.

Together, these channels formed the basis of a broader communications campaign that helped constituents stay up to speed with and participate in the mascot selection process. Plus, as the campaign got rolling, it got a real boost as it picked up earned media from print and broadcast outlets.

How the channels fit together

Here’s how these channels fit together.

The blog was the more traditional of the channels and almost functioned like the website. Evans said, “We used the blog to lay out the ground rules for what kind of mascot we were looking for. Then, we used it to share information. For example, we’d post information about meetings. A lot of this was like a press release. We had some comments on our blog, but not the volume we received on Facebook.”

Facebook, on the other hand, was where a lot of the interaction happened. Evans reports, “At the time we launched the mascot search we had about 10,000 fans on the William & Mary Facebook page, so we co-opted it for the mascot search because we had so many people using it compared to the other channels.”

Evans and her colleagues used Twitter to break information. The campaign’s 1,360 Twitter followers received the first notices about news on the search.

During the later stages of the mascot search, they used Flickr to unveil concept drawings of suggested mascots designed by Torch Creative, Inc. “And we used it at the end to unveil the final selection,” Evans said.

She regards YouTube as the most successful channel overall, though during the selection process it also served as a (useful) distraction. “During the search, we took suggestions for 90 days using a SurveyMonkey survey and then accepted feedback about them for a month. During this time, and while the committee deliberated, we used YouTube to post funny things about what we were doing.”

At the conclusion of the campaign, W&M used posted a very funny video on YouTube revealing the new mascot. “Get Me the Griffin,” featuring President Reveley, helped to engage constituents who weren’t able to join the 700 people who attended the campus launch event. “When the Griffin walked out into the crowd,” Evans said, “our simultaneous internet launch had many people involved via social media.”

Lessons Learned

Before the campaign began, William & Mary did not define specific metrics for success. “We didn’t know what to expect, beyond having a goal of involving as many of our current students/alumni/faculty/staff/parents as we could. We didn’t even set up targets for how many suggestions we wanted to get. We knew that mascot searches can be messy, so we were hoping that by being inclusive and allowing people to participate we would get consensus and that people would realize we were listening to their suggestions/ideas.”

The response was “off the charts,” Evans said. “I was very pleased with the participation in the search; we more than 800 people visit the website to suggest a mascot idea. Moreover, we had 22,000 comments of feedback when we narrowed down to the final 5 finalists.”

And the engagement wasn’t just comment-deep. “I was surprised at how strongly people felt about their mascot suggestion. They took a lot of time to write their suggestions/comments, many of which were very well documented and thoughtful. Some people even ran their own campaign to promote the mascot they suggested—they had their own Facebook pages like those who hoped we’d choose “Bricky the Brick.” People’s passion for their mascot was pretty surprising.”

But, she noted, “The main lesson we learned was that the integration of these social media tools matters. We didn’t realize that the power behind what we were doing was that we were using all of these channels together, but in different ways. The result was that we had a cohesive presence.” That “cohesive presence” was the result of an integrated set of multiple community tools, a consistent concept and brand, and an informal tone.

And, she noted, “It may seem like common sense, but one of the key assumptions we were able to confirm is that older alumni will use the Internet to engage with us. At the beginning of the campaign, some people said to us that the alumni wouldn’t participate via the web. That was hardly true! Alumni of all ages participated and visited the blog. They submitted suggestions regardless of their age. Total participation was about 50 percent alumni—and a substantial number of those were ages 50–80.” Even prospective students submitted drawings; one parent who visited his son, a college employee, brought drawings of proposed mascots with him and personally delivered them to Evans’s office.

An unanticipated byproduct of the mascot search was the enormous amount of media coverage it received. “We did a little bit of media outreach,” Evans said. “The athletic department used its ListServ and we did distribute information along the way to media. But a lot of media got information directly from our website and blog.” The coverage included the segment on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a William and Mary alum, along with stories in the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Chronicle of Higher Ed, ESPN, and the AP.

  • Michael Stoner Co-Founder and Co-Owner Was I born a skeptic or did I become one as I watched the hypestorm gather during the dotcom years, recede, and congeal once more as we come to terms with our online, social, mobile world? Whatever. I'm not much interested in cutting edge but what actually works for real people in the real world. Does that make me a bad person?