Viral marketing means taking risks and reaping unexpected rewards

In February 2010, Macalester College, a small private liberal arts college in Minnesota, published a YouTube video titled President’s Day at Macalester College “to entertain and engage people and capture something of the spirit of the college” (Rosenburg, 2010).  This hilarious video shows the President performing various tasks around the campus, including chasing a squirrel, directing a choral group in a rendition of Jay Sean’s Down, and wearing a sandwich sign to try to solicit donations for the college. The video, currently up to 52,000 views, went viral quickly, with 10,000 views within the first 72 hours, reposts on a wide variety of blogs (Rosenburg, 2010), and a nod from the Chronicle of Higher Education in a Tweed titled, We Love These College Videos. Later, the President of Macalester, Brian Rosenburg, wrote an article about the experience on the Chronicle of Higher Education, discussing how the experience truly made him a believer in the power of social media. According to the article, not only did the video entertain, engage, and capture the spirit of the college, but it heightened awareness, resulted in contacts from fans and alumni from across the world, and spiked contributions to the college.
The video engaged its audience through an unexpected sense of humor. Traditionally private liberal colleges are, well, traditional; there is little room for humor and poking fun at the college or the president would never be tolerated. There is a misconception in academe, and I dare say in most organizations, that community leaders and esteemed donors don’t have a sense of humor like the rest of the population. Therefore, any sort of comedy should be avoided. Macalester, however, took the opposite approach and challenged us all, no matter who we are, to have a laugh with them and it paid off through increased alumni contacts and donations. Perhaps this will inspire other higher education institutions to do the same. Perhaps its time we joined the students in being able to poke fun at our college and ourselves.

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