How Harvard Medical School Does Visual Social – Podcast Ep. 128

How Harvard Medical School Does Visual Social - Podcast Ep. 128

Today I’m mixing it up with an interview as I get ready to hit the road again in the next couple of months. I’m talking to someone who I’m excited to meet at the upcoming Social Tools Summit in Boston, Jay Shemenski, who is the Digital Manager of the Harvard Medical School. Listen in to hear him talk about how he got to Harvard Medical School, what his goals are in managing their social, and what he’s looking forward to talking to at the Social Tools Summit.

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In This Episode:

  • Jay’s first job with AARP, working with legislative issues, direct lobbying, and the Massachusetts members of congress and state legislature gave him opportunities to engage with constituents and get people involved with their work
  • At the time they were using an email advocacy program called Conveo, which made him realize they could use a soft touch to engage with people, bring them up to speed on the issues, and encourage their involvement
  • He decided to move more towards the digital side, which meant adding in social, and SEO and search engine marketing
  • He switched jobs and got more involved in Google Adwords, search engine marketing, SEO, and social, and really gravitated toward social: he felt it had the most potential and was growing the fastest and on the frontier of the digital realm
  • Jay then moved over to Harvard Medical School to focus on social and using it to enhance brand reputation and to help foster engagement with the brand
  • His advice for moving toward doing more social: take advantage of your opportunities to pick up knowledge along the way and study your analytics, you need to know how all of the different pieces work together
  • What’s important to Harvard Medical School in terms of their use of social: focusing on their industry and building their brand within the industry so they’re synonymous with pioneering discoveries, medical education, and creating a community of leadership
  • The focus is on the brand recognition and reputation and what they’re contributing to the world of medicine and science
  • Their target is people that are interested in going into the medical field and people that are already in the medical field
  • How his management determines success: they’re not aiming for sales or things like that, instead they take more of a competitive analysis look, examining voice, engagement, the attention they’re getting within their field and also in science media
  • Why he’s interested in visual social and how people can use images and video to tell their story in a more emotional, connected way
  • Tips for organizations looking to develop visual content: you have to take a step back and think about your brand identity and visual identity, you have to differentiate your story from your competitors, you want to be relatable and accessible

Resources & Links:


Neal: Hi everybody. This is Neal Schaffer. Welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Social. To those of you that has been listening to all of my podcasts know that I prefer to talk about those subjects, those experiences dear to my heart and I’m passionate about my experience when I speak, when I get questions from some clients or what have you but some of the times, especially when I’m on the road, I’d like to mix it up with interviews of the social leaders that I meet. Today I’m coming to you from my home office here in Orange County, California, Irvine and I’m talking to someone from the other side United States and who I’m really excited to meet for the first time at the upcoming Social Tools Summit in Boston on April 12th, Jay Shemenski from Harvard Medical School. Hey Jay! Welcome to Maximize Your Social.

Jay: Hey Neal, thanks for having me.

Neal: Everybody knows about me. No one knows about you. So, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about you, your journey and social media

Jay: My journey actually started about five or six years ago and it was really through email marketing that I got started in kind of the digital marketing field then, moving into social. When I was an undergrad, I studied government history, a typical lower Arts Poli Sci major and when I left school, I took a job with AARP where I was working with State legislative issues and National legislative issues federal legislative issues and direct lobbying and working with the Massachusetts member the Congress and State legislature. At that time we were very much a direct lobbying organization and still are, I would assume. I saw an opportunity to engage with our constituents and start getting people that we’re advocating for involved with our work and our lobbying and legislative work.

We, at the time, we’re working with Convio, an email program. That was an opportunity that I noticed that we could start engaging people and kind of with a soft touch have them be brought up to speed with what we were working on, potentially contact their legislators, and support the work we’re doing. The more I got into that, the more it just almost kind of became like an addiction. I really enjoyed the number side of things, seeing how you can segment groups, you can start to see how people engaged with your messages, what messages they were engaging with and to what extent, what issues they were interested in and being able to really be hyper targeted with our email program to then drive greater results and I know we haven’t gotten your.

Neal: I just wanted to comment on that, I think it’s really interesting those that come from digital background, as you know from the emails, you might get a 60-70% open rate and 20% click rate. But in general and you know I think you did read the numbers are going down you know 10-20% open rate to 3% click through rate. So when people are are angry Facebook Edge Rank changes and Twitter algorithm changes, only 1 out of every 100 see my posts on Facebook. It reminds me of the normal email marketing doesn’t it?

Jay: Yeah, it’s the same. I mean even now, looking at social media, and looking at how you can search work with native ads and paid ads and targeting to certain audiences, it’s really the same principle. It’s just know how much you know about particular users and how you can engage with them and and increase engagement.

So, that’s where I got my start on the digital side. I was very focused with email and my job was still split between the direct lobbying and going up to the state house or going down to Washington DC in the email side.

I decided really want to move more on the digital realm and that meant folding social into it, seo and search engine marketing and so on. So, I moved on from AARP and took a job with a small non-profit in the Boston area and that allowed me to bring in much more of the other digital properties.

I started to get experience with Google adwords, PPC, search engine marketing, seo and in the social side. As I became more involved in all of those different pieces, I gained those experiences, I really started gravitate much more towards the social. I thought that, it was kind of the area that had the most potential and it was also the area that to me seems like it was growing the fastest and the most kind of out on the frontier of what what we’re doing.

I started integrating social much more into what we were doing, into our fundraising and in trying to move people you know through kind of a buyer journey for growing an engagement with our advocacy but then ultimately pushing that through to a fundraising goal and really build out a social program through the non-profit and then after doing that, I zeroed in on the social element and moved over to Harvard Medical School where I’m at now really focusing in on the social side and using social to build or enhance brand reputation and to help foster engagement with the brand and maintain the brand.So, that’s the short end of how I got to where I’m at.

Neal: That’s awesome Jay! There’s a lot of people listening to this podcast, that are social media practitioners. Some are really passionate about social but perhaps their job is not fully social and maybe they want to move in the same direction that you’ve been able to move in and do more social as part of their work, do you have any advice for them as to how you were successful in doing that?

Jay: You know everything that you work with, you’re going to pick up bits and pieces that enhance that singular focus. So, for instance being successful on social or using social, you need to know Google analytics, you need to know what you’re doing on social is tracking to a business call or to a bottom line. Also, how you can follow the leads, traffic and the sentiment that you’re creating and really what that means and what you’re able to achieve through that. I think getting that broad base is very important because nothing happens in a vacuum. You’re going to need to know how all the different pieces work together in order for you to be able to demonstrate the ROI of social and the impact that social is having and how it influences all the other pieces. Having a strong social program is important for brand recognition, top of mind awareness – those types of things which is also going to boost your seo and search engine marketing. It can contribute in other ways and being able to have the whole picture and have experience with all those other things, I think it’s very important. It did work for me and I think as well for most people. You gravitate towards what you like working with and it kind of happens naturally and organically as well.

Neal: As you say that it’s funny, because last night I just launched an Instagram account for Maximize Social Business. With my own Instagram account, I’m not really looking for ROI. With Maximize Social Business, I thought you know, let’s see how much web traffic we can generate for Instagram and then I go into Google Analytics and realize that Google Analytics does not properly measure that. There’s a way of actually measuring that, which I’m sure you know create a special url and they redirect and you can figure that out but I’m sure you’re sure if you’re an expert at doing that. But it’s so true, we do get back to the analytics and especially Google Analytics so I think that’s really awesome advice.

Before we get into what you will be talking about at the Social Tools Summit, we want to understand and obviously you know, we don’t have an MBA in place and I don’t want you to talk about things that are going to get you in trouble. But can you give the listeners an idea about the different business objectives that every company’s going to have in their social media. What is important to Harvard Medical School in terms of their use of social media?

Jay: Are use of social is kind of an interesting case because it’s really focused in on (we are a school we’re not the university) an industry (for lack of a better term). That gives us a little bit of value proposition and then we’re really working at building our brand within the industry so that we are synonymous with pioneering discoveries within the medical field and medical education and really creating community of leadership in the best and brightest within the field. We’re a little bit different from what universities or colleges as a whole are trying to drive when you’re looking at potentially admissions are creating revenue streams or let’s say promoting sporting events or those types of things. There’s a few more elements that come into play there but with us, it’s really the brand recognition, reputation and what were contributing to the world of medicine and science.

Neal: It’s almost it’s really about thought leadership and it sounds like the people that you’re trying to impress that thought leadership on our other medical expert other institutions. Is that the community that you’re targeting?

Jay: We’re looking at two communities. We look at the people that are interested in going into the medical field and then also the people that are in the medical field. From an age demographic, 15 to 21 year old and 21 to adult professionals. Those are the two buckets that we’re looking at.

Neal: I love this conversation because I’ve worked with nonprofits and with other organizations where it’s not just the bottom line there’s a lot of things they look at to determine success like what your kpi’s are. What are the things that your management looks at in terms of deciding whether or not your program is

Jay: That is very interesting because we’re not tied into sales or something along those lines where you have that bottom line and you’re saying alright we’re doing this work and it needs to ultimately somewhere down the road contribute to sales, costs of acquisition and those types of elements. With us, we take more of a competitive analysis look and say what’s our share of voice? What’s our share of engagement. Are are we driving more attention than our competitors within the field?

Then, even keeping an eye outside the medical education field and really just find some media as a whole and are we driving a conversation the same way that some publications are – scientific american, popular science wired publications like that.

Neal: Awesome! So. it’s a combination of benchmarking your own efforts with direct comparative with other some other institutions with share voice in a broader comparison with without that industry. That’s all really great advice.

I was impressed with your background and your experience. As you know the Social Tools Summit is divided into 7 sessions. We really try to bring out some subjects that are top of mind with CMOs, VPs of Social, VPs of Digital in terms of their pain points with social media in 2016. I’ll let you tell everybody what you’re responsible at in terms of the session that you wanted to be on.

Jay: What I’m excited about is the visual social and how people in organizations can be using images and videos to really tell their story and I’m much more emotional way, in a much more connected way so that is something that I’m really keyed in on. I think one thing that was really lacking within our field is visually connecting the stories and the change that institutions or organizations are driving through scientific discovery and through medicine and that was an area where we could really develop a different differentiated story about what we’re doing here and potentially connect to audiences in a deeper way and also reach some new audiences and outside of the norms of what our competitors were reaching.

We are focusing in on the visual elements of what we’re doing and incorporating visuals with everything – all the news that’s coming out of the school, the types of events that are happening at the school, our leadership, our faculty or staff in our community.

Then, beyond just visual, starting to think about how we can incorporate video and live streaming into events, replacing maybe Twitter chat with live streaming, replacing AMAs and those types of things with live streaming to really drive that deeper connection.

Neal: Wow! That’s great. It sounds like you’re trying to impress thought leadership in the industry. I think a lot of social media marketers immediately so think long form post and long form content and and that’s what it comes to mind, not the visual. So, I’m really curious (and obviously well you’ll have to go to the Social Tools Summit to hear the whole story but) if you can give organizations maybe B to B organizations or institutions, some of what the Harvard Med School that do not have, what I’d like to call that visual voice, what would be you 2 or 3 tips that you can provide them on how to develop that and develop visual content that helps to meet their objectives as well as will be engaging with their audience?

Jay: When we started, it was really like stepping back to square one and thinking holistically about what our objectives are or where and what we’re really trying to get across, we had to think about even the simplest things. What is our visual identity? What’s our brand identity? What’s art with her tone what are the types of images that we want to show and messages that we want to be showing to our audiences?

I think really the first step is take is taking a step back and assessing where you are, the field that you’re working within and where you can create a value and differentiated story from your competitors through images.

Even for us, off the top your head it kind of seems like a nebula concept.What can a medical school really show? What is there to show and and what story comes out of that? I’ve been looking at what we had available to us and types of stories and news that was coming out of the school, I think we were really able to come up with compelling visuals that aren’t just compelling because they’re nice to look at but there’s also relatability and a story behind them that either has real world implications or is something that people can relate to and that makes us the harp on the same word – relatable and but also much more accessible than I think a lot of people, off the bat , think of Harvard Medical School.

Neal: That’s awesome. I love to it. To move forward, you first need to take a step back down, don’t you? This has been really awesome Jay. I think we could go on for an hour with this conversation and share all your experiences. But as you all know I’d i do like to keep these podcast short and sweet.

If you enjoy this conversation, these are the types of conversations that the Social Tools Summit is all about. I hope you’ll join me in Boston in April 12th. Go to

Jay, I want to thank you for being my guest. I look forward to meeting you in Boston. How can others find you in social media?

Neal: On Twitter, my handle is jshemenski. On Linked in – Jay Shemenski. My website is I think that should cover it.

Neal: That’s awesome, Jay. Thank you so much and I know lot of you enjoy my podcast where I’m in a foreign country. I’ve been getting my battery ready for these travels that I’ll be doing in March, April, May. Stay tuned for my coming podcasts for more exciting destinations other than my home office when the time comes but until then, Jay, thanks again and wherever you are in the world and make it a great social day. Bye bye everybody.

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