eduWeb: A Love Story

by Jon McBride, Brigham Young University

This year at the eduWeb Digital Summit in Philadelphia, I had the absolute honor (not to mention the total shock) of receiving  the Summit Award for Industry Excellence.

Having attended nine eduWeb conferences/summits in the past ten years, I have gained a deep appreciation for the profound sense of camaraderie and collaboration we have in this world of higher education digital communications. It’s easy to say that this community has given me so much over the years, but instead of just telling you that, why don’t I show you?

I have loved my eduWeb experience, and here’s proof:

2009: Chicago


A fresh-faced, brand-new to the ranks of full-time employment Jon McBride showed up to his first professional conference of any kind. Working in a small shop at Weber State University at the time, this experience was eye-opening to me. There was a whole community of professionals and colleagues in higher ed that I never knew existed. I felt empowered, energized, and inspired.

2010 : Not at eduWeb


My boss mandated a different, non-higher-ed conference for me to attend. It was good to experience a contrast of professional development opportunities that exist. Through this, I realized that the value from attending eduWeb the year before far surpassed what I gained from this other, non-industry-specific communications conference.

2011: San Antonio


In 2011 I sat in a session from the Oklahoma University web communications team. Coming from a small shop, I was blown away at the resources they had. They had an entire department just dedicated to digital and social … in 2011. They were doing such entertaining and innovative things. They would eventually end up running a fun, official school Tumblr that was fun to keep an eye on.

Seeing the possibilities like this that existed in the industry gave me hope. Even though I was in a small department with limited resources at the moment, there was room in this industry for robust, full-fledged teams pumping out cool content.

2012: Boston


Now, 2012 was a fascinating year for me. Having worked at Weber State for a few years and not seeing much of an opportunity for promotion in that office, a few months before eduWeb, I made the decision to start looking for other opportunities. One of those opportunities was at Brigham Young University. I went in for my interview in July and happened to mention that I would be attending eduWeb a few weeks later. To my surprise, one member of that hiring committee at BYU would also be attending eduWeb in Boston. 

Being at that conference together with Joe Hadfield, who is now one of my closest friends in the world, was incredible. It gave us a perfect opportunity to talk more shop, gleaning insights and takeaways from the sessions we attended as springboards for our conversations. We also got to spend time together in the city, outside of a work environment.

EduWeb offers opportunities for career advancement in a variety of ways, especially as it equips you with so many tools to better do your job, but no experience for me has been as directly impactful to my personal career advancement as this was.

2013: Boston


In 2013 Santa Ono, then at the University of Cincinnati, gave an opening keynote; hearing from a university president who was so completely invested in social media made everyone jealous. Seeing the impact he was able to make from his own social media presence was eye-opening.

Santa is now at the University of British Columbia, and he’s continuing to do incredible stuff on Twitter from his president’s office.

Also in 2013:

  • I was introduced to the “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign for the first time– an incredibly funny social video ultimately centered around important education.


  • I saw my first Red Sox game at Fenway via scalped tickets I got for a massive discount three rows behind the visitor’s dugout, and it was incredible.

2014: Baltimore


The infamous year that eduWeb was at the same time and in the same city as Brony-con. Those who were there will never forget.

Allison Matherly from Texas Tech talked about what she was doing with newly-admitted students in an #IAmARedRaider campaign, leveraging that excitement in a very impactful session. This directly informed what we would how we would build out our #BYUBound campaign.

Also in 2014:

  • I learned some great silo-busting techniques from Gene Begin and Vanessa Theoharis. With so many silos in higher ed, it’s such an important topic. I’ve always respected Gene and Vanessa and the great work they were doing at Babson, as well as what they’ve done since moving on to other organizations. They’re two consummate professionals in the industry.
  • On the morning of Day 3, Instagram stories launched … as I was in a session about Snapchat takeovers. We were days away from launching a university account on Snapchat but instead decided to immediately pivot, and run our snapchat takeover series through Instagram stories instead. As a result, our #MyViewFromBYU takeover series was one of the first takeover series on Instagram and is now the shining star of our social media content types. (We never did hop onto Snapchat.)

2015: Chicago

Street Teams

This is the year I presented for the first time (after pestering conference organizers about the need for more sessions about leveraging student social influence). I talked about a BYU student in the Olympics, her pre-race dance routine and landing a pitch to Beyoncé’s publicist that resulted in a Facebook post to her 63 million followers.

I attended a related session about student influence from Bryan Cain and Colleen Campbell, who were then at Oakland University. This was the first time I had ever heard about a “Social Media Street Team.” Oakland was doing incredible things with theirs and inspired me to move forward, creating one at BYU. Looking back, this was definitely one of the most impactful sessions I ever attended at eduWeb, considering how it impacted the work that I do today.

Also in 2015:

  • I saw a university with a GIPHY channel for the first time … it was from Harvard. Many universities have added GIPHY channels since, and it’s still something we’re looking to integrate at BYU.
  • I heard the term “thumb-stopping content” for the first time– a game-changer in the way we think about grabbing people’s attention. (This term would’ve made zero sense before we had news feeds on our phones, unless you were talking about using your thumb to browse channels on a TV remote.)
  • I saw my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field with my best little buddy, and it was amazing.

2016: Denver


I presented for the second time, this time doing a deeper dive into identifying, approaching, and cultivating digital influencers in higher education. I was honored to receive the best of track award.

Bill Zimmerman from Penn State presented a session called “Zen and the Social Media Manager.” While the climate of internet outrage wasn’t quite at the overall level it is now, it was certainly trending in that direction in the summer of 2016. Having Bill help us step back, evaluate our well being and mental health, and equip ourselves with strategies to handle the stresses or our jobs was important and impactful to me.

Also in 2016:

  • I learned about Matt Hames and the centralized model he was operating at Colgate. There were only two Facebook pages at the university: the institutional page and the athletics page. Everyone else on the institutional side pitched Matt to have their admissions, student life, and alumni content go out through him, and he would strategically get that content out with a nice Facebook ads and boosts budget.
  • It was my first time hearing from Seth Odell and the incredibly creative and inspiring stuff he did in his higher ed career at Southern New Hampshire University.
  • We had some good discussion about the fact that just because your audience is on the platform, it doesn’t mean that they want you there as well. (Current-day application to Tik Tok perhaps?) Otherwise, you can come across as the old guy in the room trying to look cool.

2017: Boston


I presented for the third time. This session was on how we were using Instagram stories, doing a deep dive into our takeover model at BYU.

Nikki Sunstrum provided the Day 2 keynote. Joe and I had a front row seat and ended up coming away from that hour with a whole new perspective. Nikki’s empowering words about leading out on our campus, using our social influence for good, and adding value by speaking to tough topics prompted a campaign of Instagram stories at BYU that have been game-changers for us. We’ve presented on those projects six times at different conferences now, each time giving props to Nikki for inspiring us to move forward with her eduWeb keynote.

Also in 2017:

  • Emily Truax showed us some incredible things Boston University was doing with social video. This session was the first time that I heard the research stated that by using text/captions in your videos, more people actually end up turning the sound on.
  • Jeff Brown provided a session on 20 Ways to Punch Up Your Posts, showcasing his incredible work at Baylor. There were a ton of great, applicable takeaways.

2018: San Diego

Coming Full Circle

I presented for the fourth time. This presentation was great because I was able to present along with Joe, and we were also able to bring our student employee who was instrumental in the project we were talking about. It was a great way to show how integral the student workforce in our office is to what we do. This was our first time presenting on our Instagram story to help sexual assault providers, the project that was inspired by Nikki the year before.

I loved Justin Laing’s presentation, from the University of Queensland. His strategies in maximizing content pieces from time spent with faculty was especially insightful. Also seeing a truly international perspective all the way from Australia was fascinating and valuable.

Also in 2018:

  • I met Krista Boniface from the University of Toronto and was introduced to some incredible work they’re doing there.
  • Jackie Vetrano and Lougan Bishop, then-hosts of Higher Ed Social, talked about podcasting in higher ed … something we’re seeing more and more institutions hopping into now.
  • My colleague from BYU, Natalie Tripp Ipsom, presented on how she gets a 73 (yes, seventy-three) percent open rate on the monthly email she sends out to all current students.
  • Amanda Savercool from UCLA showed off her incredible work on Instagram and added a ton of value with some interactive activities in her session.
  • Amma Marfo gave an incredible keynote on creativity, and I’ve been trying to bring her out to Utah to speak at various events ever since.

2019: Philadelphia


I ran my first pre-conference workshop. It was an hour and a half deep dive into all-things Instagram. From broad conversations about how we use the platform to specific explanations of how to create individual content pieces, this was a fun, new way for me to kick off the event.

And I somehow was honored with this award I was totally not expecting.

Chris Young and Jeremy Tiers’s session on what West Virginia is doing with student vlogging answered some burning questions I was coming to eduWeb with and gave me some much-needed inspiration in the area. We’re looking at launching a student vlogging project soon. I fully admit that sitting down to watch these 14-minute vlogs of people doing the most mundane things is a baffling Gen Z user behavior to me, but I totally get that this is a major area to leverage.

Also in 2019:

  • There were multiple, great sessions that touched on accessibility, with the master, Erika Boltz, doing a wonderful deep dive.
  • Vanessa Cook shared a ton of great insights into training and utilizing a student workforce.
  • E-Expectations is always an incredible session with so much value. This year, Stephanie Geyer and Lance Merker shared a surprising trend showing a considerable jump in high school seniors this year vs. last year preferring to use Facebook in their college search process. Those students continue to use Facebook less and less overall, but for college searches, they’re seeing value in it.
  • Katy Spencer Johnson and Daniela Huynh shared a fascinating crisis comms case study from Quincy College.
  • Andrew Meyers and Megan Miller taught about time, focus, and project management. I still have the refrain of “your e-mail is not your to-do list” embedded in my brain.
  • Sofia Tokar from the University of Rochester demonstrated the value of microcontent, microinfluencers, and being succinct. (Something I haven’t excelled in here in this blog post. But I’ll try to do better on this very final bullet point and wrap things up here.)
  • Joe and I went to a Phillies game, and it was awesome.

Jon McBride serves as Media Relations and Social Media Manager at Brigham Young University. He is the recipient of eduWeb’s 2019 Summit Award for Industry Excellence.

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