May 2012 Commencement Wrap-up

In years past I’ve done wrap-up posts about Commencement communication and the live stream (OK, I guess only one made it public). I wanted to start this tradition to ensure we have a historical record of statistics and lessons learned.

Below was our homepage and live streaming page on commencement day. We decided not to take over the entire homepage but instead use the standard banner area to promote the event. The homepage typically drives the most traffic to our live events page, but this year it was different, 95 percent of visitors came directly to the live streaming page. Let’s dive in to why this was the case this year.

A few differences this year

Typically we do everything in-house, this year we decided to move commencement off campus to Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. We also decided that instead of using Ustream we would use a vendor to provide streaming services. With that came the need to find an interactive chat system that met our needs. We decided to use Chatroll because it offers the open ability for guests to participate and allows people to log in with their Twitter or Facebook information. Plus it offers the ability to moderate the chat if needed.

Physical Event

The May commencement was a single ceremony, 2,600+ graduates with ~20,000 total guests. This was a big event so we knew the live stream would be popular. The event also took place from 7-10 pm on a Monday. Typically the event is smaller and takes place during the day on a weekend.

Total Viewers & Chat

On commencent day we had 5,579 page views and 3,087 total users watch the stream. This made the live stream page the third most popular page on that day. We were able to put up an archive of the stream right away, which continued to make the page popular for days after the event. In total we had 4,239 unique pageviews from 100+ countries. 1/3 of all the viewers were from outside of the US. We knew having the stream available was important to international students since that feedback has been consistent year after year.

Above is a standard screenshot for each of our moderators who were checking the live stream from a remote location to make sure the video and audio were up at all times. They were tasked with reading through the entire public chat looking for anything suspicious. Then there was the additional monitoring of email, Twitter, Instagram and of course, a backchannel on Campfire so we could discuss all the strings we were pulling in real time.

Chatroll made it really easy, actually much easier than Ustream’s IRC client, to mix in promotional messages, links for users to share on their social networks, ability to paste links in the chat for all to see, and even ban certain words. I’ll say the interface and features of Chatroll is far superior to Ustream but at the same time there is a cost associated with it. We estimated around 500 chatters based on previous years, apparently we hit that 500 in the first 20 minutes. What we didn’t know was even if someone is viewing the chat they are considered “online”. Obviously we had more that 500 people viewing the live page at a time which basically closed up the chat to those first 500.

In the end we had 289 active users who posted a total of 3,281 messages. 74 signed in through Facebook, 12 through Twitter. 24 percent of users who signed in with Facebook “recommended” the event to their friends. 92 percent of signed-in Twitter users tweeted about the event through the chat. Although not a lot of people used their existing social accounts, it was nice to see the ones who did take action to spread the event.

Traffic Sources

This year we had a lot more people promoting and pushing commencement material out (because it was a combined ceremony) so we were not able to get a fine grained picture of which medium drove the most traffic.

By looking at our traffic sources the one thing that struck me as interesting was the number of people who landed on the page by searching some variation of “”. Apparently it was the most distributed URL for offline material which caused a lot of direct and search traffic (not to mention direct traffic).


Social & Photos

Surprisingly our students decided that Instagram was the place to post photos this year. Of all the photo sharing services it was by far the most popular. We ended up favoriting all the commencement shots we could find, 65+ in total. A lot less than we were expecting but it seemed like most people were just tweeting instead of sharing photos. In total we saw 600+ twitter mentions during commencement. That is in line with the percent of our followers vs the total number of students we have 8,000 (twitter followers) / 33,000 (enrollment) = 25 percent. 600 (mentions) / 2,200 (graduates) = 27 percent. Facebook on the other hand saw far less activity during the event.

Here is a snapshot of some of our Instagram favorites:

Commencement in 2 minutes – timelapse

Lessons Learned

From the Web communications perspective we learned a lot this year. The first is that we should have mandated that everyone use a single URL for promotion. That URL should have been The reason is two-fold, the first is we would have been able to customize the page for the event and include “extra” context that may have enticed an outsider to learn more about the university. The second is it would have reduced the number of searches for “”. It’s an unnatural URL that most students and family members are not use to visiting.

Secondly, chat is crucial, especially the ability to sign in as a guest. If we would have known the 500 chatter limit was including people who were simply viewing the chat window and not signed in we would have handled it differently. We probably would have had a screenshot of the chat window with a button to chat. Once clicked it would have loaded the chat window in its place. This would have given the more interested chatters the ability to join in.

Lastly, we learned that knowing the program beforehand is crucial. We knew a little about who was speaking and the general format but when the event started late then started to run long the online audience started to get a little antsy. In total we only had to ban six people from the chat for causing a disruption and continuously swearing.  But it’s the little details that matter, which schools will be walking across the stage at what approximate time, who is talking at any given time and some of the history of the event and why it’s such a structured event.

Overall the event went really well and the live stream gave friends and family who couldn’t make it the ability to be part of the ceremony.

An archive of the event is currently up at