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Tony Hawk shakes hands in Columbia, MO

Why Higher Ed Should Follow @tonyhawk’s Lead

Published on by univaffairs-admin | Posts by This Author

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I was part of something truly monumental this last weekend. After a week of hide and seek, Tony Hawk ended his Twitter Hunt extravaganza (#THTH) with a surprise demo here in Columbia, MO. Why was this monumental (besides having the Michael Jordan of skateboarding here in the home of the University of Missouri), and more importantly, how is this relevant to us in Higher Education? Because it was one of the most successful uses of Social Networking/Media I have seen to date.


Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) joined Twitter in February of this year. By March, with over 200,000 followers, he began hiding boards in various locations in what he called “Twitter Hunts.” Throughout the summer, he gave away complete boards, t-shirts, etc. By October, Tony’s followers had ballooned to 1.8 million. On October 5th, Tony announced:

“One week to #THTH (T Hawk Twitter Hunt). Hidden treasures, cryptic clues, one big event. Follow the fun here in Twittopia.”

As promised, starting the next week, multiple times throughout the day, tweets from Tony would come out naming the city, and a cryptic clue about where the hidden package could be found. As the week moved closer towards Friday, tony tweeted several videos with more clues as to where the #THTH demo would be. On Thursday afternoon, he posted a final twitvid:

Over 1500 people were at Cosmo Skatepark on Saturday. Considering that Columbia has a modest population of 100,000, that the demo location was not announced until Thursday afternoon, AND that it was only announced on twitter, that is a sizable turnout. And while getting to see my childhood hero up close was certainly memorable by itself, the part that really caught my attention was this tweet from Tony:

Tweet from Tony Hawk: Please watch this short vid about Watts Skatepark project & consider donating $5

Tony repeated this same message throughout the demo. Even more interesting is that he set up a very easy system to donate: simply text ‘RIDE’ to the number 90999. How amazing is that?! Engage a population of almost 2 million followers, lead them on a cryptic scavenger hunt for a week, and at the end, ask them to very easily donate a small amount of money to a worthy cause. Unfortunately, I do not know how much of a spike the Tony Hawk Foundation saw on that Saturday (I’m trying to find out and will update this post when I do), but I know it convinced me to donate.

Asked why he decided to sponsor these Twitter Hunts, he replied that he felt it gave him “…direct, real-time, access to fans,” “…way more intimate and interactive” and that he “…simply wanted to give something back to the fans and create an exciting event, even if you were only a spectator.” Judging by the number of responses on twitter, during the event, it was hugely successful.

Now what can we, as higher ed, learn from Tony’s experiment? Fans want to be engaged. They want to feel as if they are a part of something. Sure, we don’t necessarily have the clout or following that Tony Hawk has (I don’t think any of us has anywhere close to 2 million followers), but we all have dedicated fans of our schools. People that feel that they are a part of something, have more dedication and loyalty. If we can create intimate interactions with them, and make them feel as if they are a part of our school, there is a good chance that we can create armies of evangelist for our institutions.

Banner photo by Josh Nichols

1 Comment

  • Anita Clark

    The power of social media cannot be overlooked and your Tony Hawke example is a prime example. Earlier this year a man dying of Cancer used his Facebook presence to get Lance Armstrong to send him a 30 second YouTube clip.

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