We recently spoke with Thomas Listerman, director of e-communications at University of San Francisco, about the private university's #USFCA -- a user-generated project to reach Millennials. "This project called #USFCA gives the community an easy way to share and contribute their content to tell the ongoing story about the University of San Francisco - just add the hashtag to any post in any platform and we'll pick it up, select the best content, publish and share the content with the community, and then acknowledge the contributor," Listerman says. In nine months since launch, the project has generated 130,000 web views and more than 900 unique contributing sources. [caption id="attachment_1610" align="alignright" width="150"]Thomas Listerman Thomas Listerman[/caption]
  • How did the #USFCA program come about?
The #USFCA program was a result of the digital communications team rethinking the less effective social media aggregator project that was built on a mashup of RSS feeds from a small group of vetted contributors and had generated around 30,000 views over three years. I was introduced to the curation platform scoop.it in 2011 and immediately saw the potential of using the curation platform to give my team the editorial control without diluting the community's collective expression. For one year, we ran the scoop.it topic parallel to the existing platform to test the functionality and figure out the right concept. In 2012, the trends of using hashtags took off along with the explosion of visual content through platforms like Instagram, Vine, and Tumblr. We were able to benefit from those strong trends to get the attention of our target group of technically savvy 17-20 year old USF students. After the launch, we achieved 30,000 views in less than three months.
  • Are you able to curate quality content?
Anyone can submit content by simply adding the hashtag #USFCA to their content on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, or all over the Web. My team curates the content that we pick up through monitoring every morning and early afternoon in scoop.it as well as radian6. We are able to optimize the selected content by changing the headline, choosing the image to display, and changing the content description, but the published item always links back to the original content, and we always give credit to the contributor. This way, every time we publish content the extra attention encourages the contributor to tag another post.
  • What's your criteria for selecting content?
We base the selection criteria on our branding and messaging concepts, so that every item we publish supports what the university stands for: The advantage of studying in San Francisco, our passion for justice, the value of engaged learning in the Jesuit tradition, the excellent preparation of students to go out and lead and succeed and change the world. The selection of #USFCA content gives these claims an authentic voice. Every day, the project helps frame and encourage the online conversation in our online community to focus around the values that we have in common.
  • Do you ever select content that is critical of USF?  
As a part of the #USFCA project, we constantly monitor the conversation mentioning the university and respond to questions or critical posts that require a response. We focus on bringing attention to the solutions and responses to issues instead of to the problems.
  • How involved is USF? 
In nine months, we have been able to generate 130,000 views and garner over 960 unique contributors, which is not bad considering that we have a total student population of 10,000. The project is featured on the home page of the university site and has proven to be a great asset for prospective students looking for insights into what campus life is like.
  • Any lessons/takeaways for brands looking to implement a similar approach? 
All brands wrestle with limited resources and the need to generate content for marketing purposes. This model is an effective way to use community-generated content, encourage engagement and involvement from customers, but still be in control with a curation/editing process based on your brand values. With this model, instead of marketing through social media, you actually tell the story of your community to reflect the story of your brand.