Let the Tweeting Commence!

Though other universities have been incorporating social media into graduation ceremonies for years, 2014 marked the first year that the social media stars aligned at University of Mary Washington’s Commencement.

We displayed tweets on the Jumbotron before Commencement. Photo from @uofmarywashington (Instagram).

We displayed tweets on the Jumbotron before Commencement.
Photo from @uofmarywashington (Instagram).

We wanted to establish a dedicated hashtag for UMW Commencement – we went with #UMW2014 – and promote “live tweeting” on the Jumbotron prior to the undergraduate ceremony.

Our goals and overall strategy:

  • engagement of parents and students prior to the ceremony
  • generation of user generated content to populate our Commencement website in the future
  • engagement of family members and alumni who couldn’t be present for the ceremony itself

This year was in effect a pilot project for us. We had very little funding available and very little time to pull our plans together. We also had to negotiate between several different offices at every juncture.

After researching companies and talking with our colleagues at other institutions, we settled on TweetWall. We were so pleased with their amazing customer service, user-friendly interface, and budget-friendly design options!

Once we had moved forward with the company and decided on our hashtag, we promoted the hashtag through social media and through small postcards on the morning of the ceremony. We also mobilized our Social@UMW user’s group so that all of the UMW sub-accounts would help us promote the hashtag.

We moderated the TweetWall from inside the Jumbtron control center.  Photo from @shelleykeith

We moderated the TweetWall from inside the Jumbtron control center.
Photo from @shelleykeith

What we learned:

  • We had a few issues with the screen resolution of the Jumbotron. Thankfully we tested the system the day before, and TweetWall helped us adjust our settings to make the tweets show in the best way possible.
  • We had so many tweets come in during the two hours before Commencement that moderation was a full-time task for a University Relations staff member (huge shout-out to Shelley Keith for being a moderating rock star)
  • We had to make the distinction for some of our administrators between general Twitter content over which we had no control and what was being moderated on the screens.


  • More than 1,100 tweets and Instagram posts

    tweetwall stats

    Our stats from the TweetWall user interface.

  • Unique reach of 144,683 and a total reach of 353, 533
  • Our top 10 users of the hashtag included several faculty members, the President of the university, the local newspaper, and students
  • #UMW2014 was trending on Twitter in the Washington, D.C. area during the ceremony

Anecdotally, we heard from faculty members, parents and students who said the “live tweeting” was one of their favorite parts of the day. We also were able to capture the content into Storify posts to give the content new life, and add a social media component to the UMW Commencement website.

Thanks to the help of so many people, we pulled off our first stab at a social Commencement. We are already planning for next year!

If you attended the UMW Commencement ceremony, we’d love your feedback. If you are a higher ed social media guru, we’d love to hear about your experience with live tweeting!

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.

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