Commencement 2017

20,000 Guests, 6,500 Grads and One Big Papi

Similar to many other institutions of higher education, our annual Commencement Exercises are by far Boston University’s largest event of the year. So much so that preparations and planning began for 2018 the day after 2017 Commencement was completed. As the University’s social media team, our role is to inform our grads and guests, entertain them, and enhance their experience to make it as positive and memorable as possible. In the constantly shifting digital landscape, our methods for doing so are varied. Though by no means an exhaustive list, below we review some of the key social media initiatives undertaken for Commencement 2017 along with results and overall impact.

Overall Trends in 2017:

  • The dominance of Instagram: In just one year, Instagram went from accounting for 43% of our engagements to 61% for Commencement-related content.
  • The importance of social-specific videos (i.e. videos that are under 60 seconds, viewable without sound and have a square aspect ratio): On every single metric, our video performance drastically increased in 2017— save for one: average time watched. This indicates our audience is generally looking for more “snackable content” that can be consumed quickly, a format our “social videos” matches well with. Overall, our commencement videos have accumulated nearly 100,000 views.
  • The power of real-time: While our photography team always captures thousands of stunning images at commencement and turns them over at lightning pace, we never before had access to quality photography in real-time. In 2017, we had the assistance of a photography intern with a wi-fi enabled camera on the field feeding us photos for social media as she took them. We posted a photo of an honorary degree recipient, former Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as he took the field. The result? It swiftly became our most-liked Instagram photo of all time. Before chalking this up to merely the power of celebrity, a similar photo posted the following day, did not receive nearly as many engagements or reach even half as many people.

Key Initiatives


While our use of Snapchat in 2017 wasn’t new, we saw continued improvements in this area. We created two unique on-demand geofilters to cover the venue on the day of the event. Though our experience with on-demand filters has grown, I’m consistently surprised by the ROI of this nominal investment. Overall, our filters received over 3,100 views for every $1 spent on their use in 2017. The previous year, this number was only 1,450, representing an increase of 114%.

We also showcased the day’s activities on our institutional Snapchat account (bostonu) and received 18% more views on our story than our snaps did the day before and over 200 screenshots.


Given upgrades to our video scoreboard on Nickerson Field in the summer of 2016, we were excited to try out Tagboard, a software that aggregates user-generated social media posts around a given hashtag and displays the content in a consistently-updating feed on any display. Our team had the ability to moderate the content and customize pace and display remotely. This content rotated in the time leading up to the start of the ceremony and was publicized on our main social media networks to encourage sharing. Our goal in using Tagboard was to make social media use a part of the Commencement experience and amplify user-generated content to enhance feelings of community and affinity for the University.

As a result, our Commencement hashtag usage (#BU2017) increased 48% from usage in 2016. Parents, friends and guests of the graduates in particularly enjoyed seeing their grads on the big screen and sending messages of congratulations in real-time. This also led to a huge influx of user-generated content for the social media team to sift through.

360 Photos

Commencement marked our first official use of our Ricoh Theta S 360 Camera. We used this only for still images and did so to visually display the Commencement field before the arrival of the grads and immediately after. Combined, these photos achieved nearly 1,000 engagements.

Instagram Grad Cap Contest

Since we know from experience that a huge percentage of our graduates take the time to decorate their mortarboards and show off their personalities with funny quips, inspirational quotes, or words of thanks, we chose to capitalize on this by hosting an Instagram contest in the days leading up to Commencement weekend.

As a result, we received 25 submissions and were able to repurpose the content into an Instagram post on our channel that received over 3,000 engagements.

Facebook Live

While it’s become commonplace to live-stream university commencements, we had never done so on our Facebook page. Rather than offer the whole ceremony up via Facebook live, we intentionally chose to only feature the speech by alumna Bonnie Hammer, chair of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, to the graduating class.

This video ultimately reached over 125,000 people and has been viewed over 9,000 times.

Media Coverage

While local media outlets have traditionally covered our Commencement ceremony, in 2017 social media influencers joined in, too! With the lure of Boston legend, former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz as an honorary degree recipient, local influencer Only In Boston attended and posted both a photo and video to his accounts. This resulted in nearly 6,000 engagements.

Chinese Social Media

We replicated our traditional social media efforts on our Chinese social platforms, predominantly Weibo and WeChat (for more on how we use these channels, see our previous post).

On Weibo, in particular, we posted 47 updates reaching over 145,000 users. On WeChat, six Commencement-related newsletters were sent out, and our post open rate increased by 3% from last year.


Does your campus have any quirky traditions? Here at Boston University, it’s a huge campus legend that students who walk across our University seal in Marsh Plaza won’t graduate in four years. This myth has persisted across generations of Terriers and has resulted in amazing photo opportunities come graduation. New grads feel that, with diploma in hand, it’s finally safe for them to set foot on the seal.

We’ve capitalized on this by compiling all of the photos we can find into an aptly named Tumblr: I Stepped on the Seal. Grads can view these from year-to-year and easily submit their own on the platform. It’s a great visual representation of a fun campus tradition that we can then repurpose on other social channels.

Overall Results

Overall, our performance for Commencement content on social media in 2017 increased on every measure from the previous:

  • We published a total of 254 Commencement-related posts in 2017 compared to 194 in 2016, an increase of 31%.
  • Total engagements on our channel increased by 199%.
  • Shares increased by 192%. This metric is of particular importance as shares act as a peer endorsement and expand our reach and visibility beyond our current audiences.
  • We drove 45,210 link clicks to editorial content, an increase of 207% from last year.
  • Overall, our content had a reach of 5.8 Million, a 9% increase from 2016.

What other ways have you seen Universities building and engaging with their communities around Commencement? We’d love to hear from you!

By: Emily Truax, Assistant Director of Social Media