Finding the Story: #oberlinWT 2016

The Setup

Since 2010, the Office of Communications has collected photographs from students completing winter term projects on campus and beyond, with a selection of photo galleries featured on Oberlin OnCampus. Previously, photographs were collected via email and/or a submission form, but after we noted that submissions have tapered in the past few years, Lisa (our assistant director for internal communications at the time) and I developed a collection process using the photo-sharing platform Instagram to showcase the stories of winter term 2016.

Using the hashtag #oberlinWT on Instagram and the motivation of the chance to win a gift card to Slow Train Cafe, we spent the month of January highlighting previous projects while prompting students to share their current winter term activities.

Why Instagram? With winter term in particular, there’s a built-in need to share what you’re doing with others because students are spread out all over the world. By submitting photographs via a hashtag, Oberlin could see those photos, but the networks of the students who posted were seeing these images, too. It was a mutually beneficial project that served both Oberlin students and the Office of Communications well.

The Execution

Lisa marketed everywhere she could, starting with announcements on Oberlin OnCampus (which was also distributed via the weekly email newsletter), a targeted student email list email, and a banner on our digital signs around campus.

Beyond this written marketing, the only other marketing we did was via Instagram itself. Our graphic designer Ryan designed a series of written prompt as images, which we posted weekly on Instagram. We supplemented the prompt images with archival images that exemplified the prompts and pulled a submission or two each week as our favorites to repost to the Oberlin College Instagram account.

Our hope was that through photo submissions to each prompt, we could see the complete story of a student’s winter term project, however, each of these questions stand alone as the story of a students’ winter term project. Either way, we were excited to see the results.

We started with location, since it sets the stage for the photos we would see next from these students.

Location: Our first photo contest prompt is about where your project is taking place. How do you get to your project location? What does your workspace look like? Where are you staying? Where else do you spend your time outside of your project?

Winter term projects are powered by people, both the students themselves but also the folks they interact with, either as a part of their project or a part of living their lives while working independently.

People: Our second contest prompt is about who you’re seeing during your winter-term project. Who are you working with? Who are you staying with? Who did you meet? Who do you spend time with?

Since we only had three prompts but there are four weeks in January, we added a bonus prompt specifically for alumni (plus we wanted to give students as much time as possible to finish their winter term creations).

Bonus prompt! We didn’t want to leave out our Oberlin alumni with scores of winter-term experiences of the past and present. Alumni, we’d love to see: Who are you hosting at home or at work this winter term? What was the most helpful past winter term project you did?

Lastly, we wanted to see what our students accomplished over winter term.

Creation: Our third and final contest prompt is about what you created this winter term: What did you make? What was the process to make it? What does it do? Who helped you make it?

As with any contest, there were some rules:

  • This promotion is offered by the Oberlin College and Conservatory Office of Communications. It is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with Instagram, though Instagram Terms of Use apply.
  • Participants must follow @oberlincollege.
  • Participants must be current Oberlin College and Conservatory students completing winter-term projects. Submissions from alumni and/or past winter-term projects will not be considered. Submissions from current or former Oberlin College faculty or staff will not be considered.
  • Participants with private Instagram accounts can participate in the contest. To be eligible, they must send @oberlincollege a screenshot of their photo and caption as a direct message.
  • Participants may submit as many more than one photo and caption per prompt, and they can answer as many or as few prompts as they like.
  • All submissions must be original content belonging to the submitting student.
  • All submissions must use the hashtag #OberlinWT.
  • Photos depicting individuals other than the student submitting the photo must first be approved by those individuals. If those individuals object, the student should not submit the photo.
  • Photo submissions may be reposted by @oberlincollege throughout the month of January. Reposting of photos does not indicate the photo’s owner has been selected as a contest winner or will be selected as a contest winner.
  • Winners will be chosen by Office of Communications staff in early February. Winners will be announced on Instagram and contacted directly by a member of the communications staff by email shortly thereafter. Winners will have one week from the date of email send to claim their prize or another winner will be chosen.
  • By participating in this contest, participants give the Oberlin College Office of Communications and other college offices the right to use their content in Oberlin College publications, including but not limited to the Source, the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, and Oberlin College social media accounts.

The Winners

Internally, we had a goal of collecting 25 photos via this contest. After the first few days, we had surpassed this goal of 25 photographs so we adjusted our internal goal to collect photographs from 25 distinct users. We ended up seeing 170 posts with the @oberlincollege hashtag (including the private submissions - of which there were 19 sent via direct message), not including the 18 posts @oberlincollege made. We had 131 first submissions from 64 people, 21 second submissions, and 17 third submissions (plus an additional 39 submissions that went above and beyond the requested three).

We selected one winner per prompt:

Origami-folding @elanakbell is our winner for our #OberlinWT photo contest prompt Creations. Congratulations, Elana!

A photo posted by Oberlin College (@oberlincollege) on

The Roundup

We featured selections from each prompt (People, Locations, and Creations on Oberlin OnCampus.

One of the winning photos was featured in the spring 2016 Oberlin Alumni Magazine.

Darby, our web designer/developer, used many of our collected photos for a winter term inspiration webpage he developed in February.

Final Reflections

Once we figured out the logistics of collecting the images from students, this campaign almost ran itself and we deemed it an overwhelming success. A few challenges to note for a future implementation:

  • Some (re)thinking of how we collect from private accounts. Screenshots were an okay start, but we had a lot of back-and-forth for collecting them.
  • User names change and/or user names don’t necessarily reflect the names of the students involved. We did figure out the names of most of the students who submitted to us, and luckily, we did have the direct message option on hand if we needed to use it.
  • Pulling the original photographs from Instagram was… a bit of a pain. This site clearly wants to keep the photos within their platform, but eventually we figured out how to grab the images from the site and use them elsewhere.
  • Where are our alumni? To be fair, this wasn’t a project aimed at alumni, but it would have been nice to see some alums pop in with past projects (or current students working with them this year).

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