Media Relations uses social media to raise UAB’s profile

When UAB began delving into social media websites to spread its message, it had one goal in mind: To build a larger audience for UAB news around the country, says Andrea Reiber, manager of Electronic Media.

"Research-wise, we're well known," Reiber says. "But we're doing so much with undergraduate and graduate education and the medical school. We wanted to do more to reach reporters who might want to cover something that's off the beaten path."

Perhaps no story illustrates that better than the one about the biomedical engineering students who developed a computer program that teaches CPR using hand-held remote controls from the Nintendo® Wii video game console.

UAB's Department of Media Relations used standard procedures to promote the story, including a news release sent to media organizations. But it also used Twitter, and the story caught the eye of blogger Jacqui Chang from the website ArsTechnica.com.

Chang blogged about the biomedical engineering student's exploits and the story was picked up on by Popular Science, Newsweek, Discovery Science, MetaGadget and NPR.org.

"The story caught the interest of a blogger, we hooked up on Twitter, and she wrote a story and blogged about it," Reiber says. "Then Newsweek picked it up and CNN and NBC. That's an example of how you don't have to start at the top to hit the big guys. We started at the bottom, and it kind of bubbled up by working it through blogs and Twitter."

UAB Public Relations & Marketing, which consists of the departments of Media Relations (including Electronic Media, Marketing/Web Communications, Creative, Periodicals, and Internal Communications and Relations), has made a concerted effort to use social media to promote all of UAB's success stories.

Clinton Colmenares, director of Media Relations, says the media specialists are doing more through Twitter and other social media outlets to develop one-on-one relationships with bloggers, reporters and news outlets.

"How people consume news has changed dramatically the past few years," Colmenares says. "Social media are mainstream, and they're both a destination for niche audiences and a conduit to global ones. Tweeting is more than telling people what you ate for breakfast. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and other major news outlets all Tweet and blog. Our use of these tools just adds to our repertoire. Conversely, anyone who's not using these methods gets left behind, so we really appreciate the support UAB faculty, staff and students have shown Media Relations for being out front."

Our audience is everybody
The struggles of media outlets from print to broadcast have resulted in smaller staffs and, therefore, fewer reporters available to track down stories. In turn, Media Relations works more like a newsroom. Media specialists mine for stories on campus and use a variety of platforms to spread what they uncover, including YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo and Tube Mogul.

Media Relations regularly posts video stories to its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/uabnews, and it has built a large following on Twitter @UABNews with more than 2,700 followers. UAB's retweet rank is in the 98th percentile. All media specialists can tweet from that account and are followed by reporters and journalists who are interested in specific items regarding science, education or medical news. All specialists also have Facebook accounts they use to promote UAB news.

"Ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, our audience was the traditional news media," Reiber says. "Today - right now - our audience is everybody and we're trying to get quality information featuring the UAB name in front of as many people as possible."

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