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Higher Ed Marketing Memos by Kristin Maffei

Feeling the love: building community through #DartmouthLoveStory

And the rest is history - Dartmouth Alumni StoryIn the depths of a cold New England winter, there’s nothing better than cuddling up with a good love story. It was on this premise — and in the long tradition across many campuses of celebrating alumni couples on Valentine’s Day — that #DartmouthLoveStory was born.

The premise is simple: this annual article, along with its partnering social media campaign, features couples where both spouses are Dartmouth alumni and asks them three questions designed to capture a bit about their relationship—and their relationship to the College:

  • How did you meet?
  • What’s your favorite Dartmouth memory?
  • What are you up to today?

We also ask them to share a photo of themselves from early in their relationship and a more recent one. Frequently, the couple met while they were on campus, but every now and again we find a couple who met many years after graduation, at Reunion, through a regional alumni event, or just through sheer happenstance. We do our best to feature couples from across generations and include graduates of our professional schools, as well as our undergraduate alumni.

We’ve been thrilled at how open our alumni have been, telling us about good times and struggles, sharing fun photos from their teenage years, and suggesting friends who have their own Dartmouth love story for future iterations of the project. Through this campaign, we’ve managed to capture not only delightful individual love stories between couples, but also an overarching story about the connections that Dartmouth fosters between its students and alumni.

The mission of Dartmouth Alumni Relations is to provide meaningful engagement opportunities for alumni to be involved with the institution and connected to each other, and Dartmouth Love Stories help further this mission by asking alumni to remember and share some of the most meaningful relationships they made through the College. Since not all our alumni can come back to campus for events like Homecoming and Reunion, online community-building campaigns like this help alumni maintain their connection to the College, no matter what their location

#DartmouthLoveStory: a little history

The #DartmouthLoveStory began in 2011 as a humble Facebook post.

Dartmouth Love Story first facebook psot

Featuring a modest (and low-resolution) graphic of a green heart, the post asked our followers to share their stories in the comments. We heard from two alumni and received four likes.

Not exactly a huge impact, but it was a start! Two years later, we shared just one love story on our account with a photo of the happy couple, and of their own accord, 14 people shared their story, and the post garnered 106 likes and six shares.

For my first Valentine’s Day at Dartmouth, in 2017, we decided to take the concept and turn it into an article for our alumni news site.

We followed up with some of those commenters from 2013, and contacted some of our alumni who are most active on social media to find suggestions for new couples to feature. Once all the content was secured, our senior web producer, Courtney Cania, created a visually appealing accordion format that allowed the photos of each couple to take center-stage, and readers to click through to read each story. The result was a lovely photographic article featuring nearly two dozen alumni couples. We shared the post on social media and it quickly became our most visited news story of the year.

What changed in 2018

Given how popular the story had been in 2017, we knew we wanted to ramp things up. We gathered content in much the same way, and further involved our campus partners by asking colleagues across the College for suggestions of any Dartmouth couples they knew who might enjoy being featured.

To amplify our message this year, we also included a larger-scale social media component, pushing the #DartmouthLoveStory hashtag even further on Twitter and Instagram. Whereas in 2017, we asked our followers to share their own stories with the hashtag, in 2018, we made a concerted effort to share excerpts from the article on our feeds. On Twitter, mini-stories with quotes or a quick factoid both linked to our news site and stood on their own, ready to be read and shared across social media.

We’d noticed that several of the 2017 featured couples shared more than two photos. These extra photos often captured something they spoke about in their interview or showed the couple with their children.

So, we decided to use those extra photos this year to create a value-added feature on our Instagram account.

Modeled off a previous Instagram campaign we’d worked on during Reunion, #WhyIComeHome (portraits of returning alumni and a quote from them about why they came to campus for Reunion) the #DartmouthLoveStory Instagram campaign included a story about the couple along with one of their photos. We were able to reference this value-added feature in both the original news story and on the main Dartmouth College Instagram account, where my colleague Erin Supinka shared some of our images as an Instagram Story, linking back to our news site and our account.

The 2018 story became a big hit on our website, but we were even more impressed with how well it did on social media.

Our Facebook post reached more than 18,000 people, with more than 200 likes, 15 shares, and 30 comments from alumni sharing their own love stories. The campaign was also a tremendous hit on Instagram, where the 18 images we shared garnered more than 6800 likes and almost 90 comments.

One of my favorite moments actually came after the campaign ended, when we moved on to more regular content. On a picturesque image of blue skies over campus, one of our alumni commented, “Bring back #DartmouthLoveStory plz”

Next for #DartmouthLoveStory: will the rest be history?

We’re thrilled with how well our ramped up social media efforts were received in 2018.

Knowing that this is one of our most popular features of the year makes the prospect of covering the topic again in 2019 very exciting and also begs the question: how can we top the 2018 article?

We can’t be sure what next year will bring, but we have a few ideas for things we’d like to feature: Instagram Stories and video content. We’ve used Instagram Stories successfully to cover on-campus events, but have done less experimenting with produced stories. This could be an opportunity to try storyboarding and creating a compelling narrative on one of our fastest-growing platforms.

Video is also a crowd pleaser for our alumni and creating video content to go along with the 2019 story is something we’re considering. It could involve interviewing couples ahead of time and creating a narrative video about falling in love at Dartmouth from those interviews. Alternatively, we could do something that ties into the idea of love at Dartmouth by asking alumni to shoot their own video love letters to the College and compiling our favorites.

#DartmouthLoveStory has been a strong piece of content for us over the past two years, and we intend to continue to build on that strength into the future.

The popularity of this Valentine’s Day feature is a reminder of the power of storytelling—and of love!

Meet the Author: Kristin Maffei

Kristin Maffei is the Social Media and Digital Content Manager for Alumni Relations at Dartmouth College. She is also a graduate of Higher Ed Experts’ professional certificate program in Search Engine Optimization for Higher Ed.

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