The President of Macalester College in Minnesota, Brian Rosenberg, was not particularly aware of social media until he agreed to take part in a light-hearted video aimed at college alumni and recorded as part of President's Day at the college. The video was then released on YouTube and became an instant hit with 39,000 views in the first month and the college president suddenly had a cult following on the net. The video made the college known to a vast number of people (writing this post adds to that number!) who would never otherwise have shown any interest in the place. Furthermore the video became an unintentional fund-raising tool with donations spiking in the period after the video's release.
More on this story can be found in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, What I learned from YouTube. The main lesson to be learned here is the power of social media in that you can reach audiences you wouldn't reach by more conventional marketing methods. The cost of this video was very low compared to its impact and reach. Not all such initiatives pay off of course but Rosenberg draws the conclusion that you have to be innovative to get noticed. Breaking the traditional, well-polished academic mould now and again can have a liberating effect.
"Yet it is precisely that meticulous cultivation of image that can make the occasional moment of self-parody so powerful and so liberating for both the community and the president. While our primary audience was alumni, I have been moved by the number of faculty and staff members who have expressed pride in working at an institution that was willing to risk, even in this seemingly casual way, being both authentic and distinctive."