Using Social Media to Build a Brand

The Birla Institute of Management Technology adopts a social media strategy that turns likes, follows, shares, and downloads into expanded reach for its case journal and conference—and stronger engagement with a global network of scholars.
Using Social Media to Build a Brand

MANY BUSINESS SCHOOLS reinforce their role as disseminators of knowledge by hosting international management conferences and publishing in-house journals. But while high-profile business schools can easily attract conference delegates and strong journal submissions, schools still aspiring to achieve global recognition can find it significantly more challenging—and expensive—to draw the attention of large audiences.

That’s where we stood at the Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH) in Greater Noida, India. We wanted to bring more global attention to our International Conference on Management Cases (ICMC), a seven-year-old conference accepting peer-reviewed cases, and our South Asian Journal of Business and Management Cases (SAJBMC), published by Sage Publications. Before June of 2017, we had primarily promoted the ICMC and SAJBMC by word of mouth and emails to existing members in our network. On the one hand, these approaches were easy and inexpensive. On the other, the two strategies did not reinforce each other well due to minimal overlap between the two audiences. Moreover, the cases that we received through these promotions were often late and of inconsistent quality.

Last year, we decided to explore a new possibility: Could a deliberate social media strategy help us achieve better results, at a reasonable cost? A good portion of our target audience used social media, so meeting them where they already were made sense. Using the most popular platforms—LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook—we adopted a coordinated strategy to send more consistent and frequent messages to the management research community, in formats that would inspire greater interest. We wanted to go beyond isolated promotions to expand our networks, cultivate relationships, and attract stronger cases to our conference and journal.

BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF SCHOLARS

We began to integrate LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook into our communications strategy. Luckily, as the chairperson for BIMTECH’s Centre for Management Case Development, I had been using all three platforms since 2012 and had a large number of connections. It made sense, as our first step, to leverage my social media presence to cross-promote posts. We began by tweaking my profile descriptions to emphasize my teaching and research achievements, rather than my corporate background, and we created a similarly designed profile for ICMC. We filled its profile page with ideas related to its vision and mission, as well as photographs of past events.

We launched our first social media campaign in June of 2017, through our Centre for Management Case Development. We started slowly, with only a few posts at time. We gradually increased the intensity of the campaign through December, as the community acquired a critical mass. From June to December, we spent our time mainly organizing our social media pages, expanding our networks, and testing our ICMC and SAJBMC websites. We refined our database of email and postal addresses as we made new connections.

To avoid overlap and reduce confusion, we focused our social media messaging on SAJBMC through December 2017, posting just enough through ICMC’s profiles to maintain a presence. Then, from January to April in 2018, we intensified our promotion of ICMC, reaching a crescendo on April 30, the last date for abstract submission. After April, we once again turned our attention to SAJBMC.

Because each platform serves different purposes, we created a focused strategy for each network:

LinkedIn. We viewed LinkedIn as the place where we would build a network of management professors and scholars, share news about the conference and the journal, and connect with serious users of social media who share professional content. We began inviting people who were familiar with either ICMC or SAJBMC to connect with my profile and the ICMC LinkedIn page.

Next, we searched the LinkedIn user base for management professors and scholars working in different countries, universities, and accredited institutes and invited them to connect. These included a handful of iconic business professors, who all accepted our invitation. We also targeted professors in organizational behavior and human resources, strategy, finance, accounting, marketing, innovation, sustainability, ethics, governance, and operations, because we believed that professors in these disciplines would have a higher propensity to write cases.

By the end of December 2017, my page had 3,100 connections, and the ICMC Conference’s page had 2,100. What pleased us most about these numbers was that these were not random connections. We had selected each one with utmost care.

Twitter. We viewed Twitter as the place to broadcast messages that would create buzz in the media and among our followers, connect to other business schools and academic institutions, and drive traffic to our LinkedIn pages. We identified and followed the handles of other business schools, universities, and professors, paying particular attention to the platform’s suggestions of management institutes and other relevant professional bodies. In particular, we followed individuals and firms that had high numbers of followers and that frequently posted content that we thought might appeal to an audience interested in management, case writing, and teaching.

Facebook. We used our most focused approach for Facebook, where we wanted to create a space for scholars to share personal experiences and connect with each other professionally. We initially invited just 20 known management scholars with large communities of friends on either Facebook or WhatsApp. Once they connected with us and their posts started appearing on our feed, other users were attracted to our page. Soon, our Facebook network for ICMC was up and running with minimum oversight from us. We also promote the conference through BIMTECH’s primary Facebook page.

WE NOW ENGAGE WITH A COMMUNITY OF MORE THAN 5,000 MANAGEMENT SCHOLARS.

TELLING A CONSISTENT STORY

Starting and sustaining conversations on any social media platform poses a tough challenge, because social media users are coping with an overload of information. Recognizing this difficulty, we make sure to use similar profiles and background photographs across all three platform pages. We realize that most users will spend only seconds at a time engaging with our content, so we want to maintain consistency as a way to trigger quicker associations with our brand.

We also make generous use of graphs, still pictures, and videos. In my own use of social media, I have found that, while posts with video are often more engaging than posts with text or still photos, social media distribution engines tend to circulate text-only messages more often and to a wider audience. We try to strike a balance between messages with images and messages in plain text.

On all three platforms, we seek out people and organizations that frequently post content relevant to our audience. These include management consulting firms such as Cognizant and McKinsey & Company, global organizations such as the World Economic Forum, and business media platforms such as Business Insider, Tech Insider, TED, and Futurism. Additionally, we follow media platforms that share content of broader interest, such as Now This, Born Realist, Goal Cast, Nerdist, Cheddar, National Geographic, attn:, and Mashable. Our goal is to select and share fresh stories that connect to current events, offer new knowledge, and preferably show a video or a picture.

Last year, as we built credibility for the ICMC, we used our social media accounts to share our attendees list; post video of prominent delegates from last year’s event; announce keynote speakers, sponsored awards, and publication opportunities; and post excerpts from chapters in previous ICMC publications. We also posted the first three pages of 20 cases that won awards last year.

In addition, we ran a webinar, “How to Improve the Quality of Teaching Cases,” organized in collaboration with The Case Centre in the United Kingdom. Promoted on our social media channels, the streamed event was attended by more than 400 academics throughout the world. To reinforce the idea that we are part of a scholarly community, we encouraged people to view the webinar in groups—at BIMTECH alone, 30 professors watched on a wide screen.

We used our social media platforms to promote our “quick desk review” and “review and improve” approach to peer review processes. We shared abstracts and images of the first page of published cases, as well as a publisher’s report of download statistics, including number of paid downloads, downloads by country, and year-over-year improvements.

EVIDENCE OF SUCCESS

Our social media strategy has had the effect that we had hoped for. We’ve seen improvement in several areas, according to our year-over-year comparisons:

■In 2018, we received 143 submissions to ICMC, versus 130 in 2017.

■We’ve seen substantial improvement in the quality of submissions. This year, we selected 111 out of 143 submissions. In 2017, we selected only 66 out of 130 submissions.

■Our accepted submissions for ICMC 2018 came from 46 foreign authors, 49 Indian authors, and 16 internal faculty, representing 14 countries. Among this group, 37 of the authors and eight of the countries had not been represented at the conference the previous year. In 2017, authors from only six countries (excluding India) participated. This year, we also connected with 18 new institutes.

■During our 2017 campaign, SAJBMC had more than 12,500 downloads, a 24 percent increase over the previous year. More than 50 percent of those downloads took place in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe.

■In 2017, paid downloads of cases from SAJBMC increased by 66 percent.

■In July 2017, the number of views of content posted to our LinkedIn page was low, between 20 and 50. By April 2018, that figure reached as high as 300.

■I saw my number of tweet impressions rise from 1,765 in July 2017 to more than 23,000 in April 2018. In addition, Twitter Analytics shows that views of my profile jumped from 113 to 850 during the same period.

Our social media campaign also has produced intangible assets. These include a list of more than 600 Twitter accounts to which we can broadcast targeted messages; a collection of more than 9,000 email addresses of management professors, practitioners, and scholars, which we refine with every promotion; and a verified list of willing reviewers with a range of expertise.

THE WAY FORWARD

Now that the flow and quality of submitted cases has improved, we have made the submission process to ICMC more rigorous, increasing the minimum length of abstracts and requiring authors to cite their recent works on similar issues or with similar constructs published in top-ranked journals within three years. We also have established a new diverse, international editorial board for the SAJBMC, broadening our pool of reviewers.

Finally, we have implemented a two-stage screening process so that promising cases can be improved with expert guidance. We’ve formed a new board of case writing mentors who provide constructive feedback to authors who express the desire to improve. Our mentors have created a slide presentation on writing effective teaching and research cases, which we posted online through SlideShare.

We now are engaging with a vibrant worldwide community of more than 5,000 management professors and scholars, who provide a pool of case writers, reviewers, and conference delegates. We will continue to nurture our social media presence with care, sharing interesting and relevant content with reasonable frequency, so that we can grow this community each year at negligible cost.

With this innovative approach, we have successfully built global brands for our conference and journal. Such a coordinated social media campaign must be systematic, but it also can be a simple and accessible way for any business school to raise its visibility and build a brand for its events and publications. Would you like to try?

Ajoy K. Dey is a professor in the supply chain and operations management area at the Birla Institute of Management Technology in Greater Noida, India. He is the chairperson for the Centre for Management Case Development and editor of the South Asian Journal of Business & Management Cases, guest editor of three journals of Inderscience, member of five editorial advisory boards, and a regular reviewer of many international research journals.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's September/October 2018 isssue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to bized.editors@aacsb.edu.