Meet UP’s Social Media Sages

By The Beacon | October 24, 2013 1:55am

By Kathryn Walters |

For Joe Kuffner and Jeff Kennel, a typical day at work in UP’s Marketing department could mean running around Portland dressed in the infamous Wally Pilot suit for an Orientation video, snapping pictures of UP’s fall fashion or shooting video while hiking chest-deep in water in the Columbia River Gorge.

These projects might seem strange for someone employed at a university, but for Kuffner and Kennel, the faces behind UP’s social media, it’s all about building UP’s brand and bringing the UP community together.

“I just like creating something that is awesome for an alum to see that takes them back and say ‘I really miss UP,’ or for current students to say ‘Wow, that’s really awesome, I love seeing my school represented that way.’ Or for prospective students to go ‘Wow, that’s a culture I could really fit into,’” Kennel said.

Kennel is UP’s videographer and photojournalist, and Kuffner, on top of his other duties as assistant director of Media Relations, runs UP’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts. They often work together to create content for UP’s social media, and it’s common to see them on campus on a sunny day taking pictures of students’ school fashion for a Facebook photo album or asking students to share the last photo they took on their phones for a YouTube video.

“What matters to me is that people enjoy what we post and think that UP is fun and cool versus getting a bunch of likes all the time,” Kuffner, a 2005 UP alum, said. “If I really wanted to, I could post a bunch of cat videos every day and people would like them, but it wouldn’t really do anything in terms of talking about UP and sharing stories about UP and things.”

Kennel said tuning into social media, like posting a photo album of campus fall fashion on Facebook, might seem trivial at first, but can reveal unique insights into life on The Bluff.

“It’s an interesting insight into people, because what they wear can be interesting, or maybe some people don’t care what they wear, and maybe that means something,” he said. “I think it would be cool to be in New York City and see what kids from Portland are wearing, so you can see little insights into our culture through the things we do.”

Over the last few years, Kuffner has made it his mission to amp up UP’s social media presence. He took over the Facebook and Twitter accounts in 2009, and makes an effort to post on the Facebook page as often as possible, but only things he feels that UP students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni will connect with.

“I try to stay away from some of the things that companies do on Facebook, like caption contests and fill in the blanks,” he said. “I’m a lot more interested in posting good content and seeing how people connect emotionally.”

Content could mean an Oregonian article about UP or a Tumblr GIF set titled “30 Signs You Went to University of Portland.” Kuffner posted this GIF set on Oct. 9 and shared it on Facebook. Within 24 hours it had 498 likes, 75 comments and 97 shares.

Last fall, Kuffner also started a UP Instagram account to engage with students, which now has over 2200 followers.

“I spend a lot of time searching on the hashtag ‘UP’ or ‘UPortland,’ and if someone says they have a test the next day, I might say ‘good luck!’” Kuffner said. “Sometimes I wonder if people think it’s kind of weird that the college is saying that, but I figure, what the heck, it makes things a bit more personal and special so that’s gone really well.”

Senior Susie Sprinson follows UP on Facebook and Instagram, and thinks the level of UP’s social media presence well represents UP’s smaller and more intimate community, which may appeal to prospective students.

“I think it’s appropriate for the size of school we are,” Sprinson said. “It’s probably useful in attracting younger students too if they are looking at schools and they see that UP is on Facebook and Instagram, that is a draw for them.”

Social media has allowed Kennel to expand the journalistic content he creates for UP. During spring break last year, he travelled to Guatemala with UP nursing alumni and a current nursing student to cover a surgical team that provides free surgeries for rural Mayans, and he found that posting photos live on Instagram instead of taking typical photos and video made it a more engaging experience.

“Usually I have my really nice camera and I take really nice video, but there was something more meaningful about being able to share that photo right away,” he said.

One of the challenges of working in social media, according to Kuffner and Kennel, is trying to quantify the value of social media for a university, as opposed to a brand or company.

“In some ways it’s great that we don’t have to hit some kind of number or goal for having to sell X number of something with a post, but at the same time it means that the value is kind of fuzzy and intangible,” Kuffner said. “I want people to connect emotionally. I want them to feel nostalgic and proud about the University, and there’s no way to track that.”

For Kuffner and Kennel, the biggest reward for using social media in their jobs is seeing how UP videos, photos, hashtags and GIFs make a mark in the world of social media.

“When you create content that’s really good, it has a life beyond just the moment that you post it,” Kuffner said.

UP’s social media stats

Facebook page - More than 14,000 followers; has grown by more than 3,000 each year since 2010. -Over the past three years, the page has ranked among the top pages for “engagement” among 150 peer institutions: 3rd place in 2012.

Twitter page -More than 2,700 followers, which has grown from around 300 since 2011. -Among the Top 5 percent most-followed accounts on Twitter.

Instagram page -More than 2,200 followers -Among the Top 70 Higher Ed Instagram accounts by number of followers.

YouTube account -Since 2009, has received more than 345,000 total views on 365 videos posted. -Page received more than 91,000 views in 2012 and more than 214,000 so far in 2013 - Most popular videos are Sam Bridgman graduation video, RISE campaign advertisements and “viral” videos (disposable camera project and slow motion video booth).

Statistics courtesy of Joe Kuffner.