By Collette O’Neal
“It was just such a neat experience there in real life that I knew our audience on our social media accounts would like it,” said Maguire. “It was something that happened that was out of the ordinary, and so we posted it.”
Based on the viral music video “Gangnam Style” released on YouTube July 2012 by Korean pop artist PSY, UD is among many well-known colleges and universities across the country that have posted parody videos of the world famous song and choreography. This trend is the latest social media strategy used by higher education to show off school spirit and attract new audiences.
When a fellow student approached UD’s philanthropic student-run dance team UDance with the idea to do a flash mob, dance member and coordinator of the event Joseph Zarraga said they planned the entire event around social media.
Facebook groups were used to invite students outside of the organization to dance with them and notify them of practices. Arrangements were also made to have the event recorded by a local business and put on YouTube as well as a behind the scenes video. So far, the official videos posted by UDance and the one posted by the university have received over 30,000 views combined.
“I think that kind of shows you the grasp of how big social media is today. And that’s why we’re using it to our advantage,” said Zarraga.
Zarraga said it was important to the team to share the videos on YouTube because not everyone on campus would get the chance to see it. What they didn’t count on was that someone from the OCM would be there watching the event, and were surprised when it was publicized by the university.
“I think they wanted to show that even serious students can have fun and do something meaningful, and I think this video encapsulates that,” Zarraga said. “The idea that our organization, which raises money for childhood cancer, would put in the time and effort to do something fun.”
Zarraga hopes that the videos help students realize that although UDance has a serious mission, they are still a fun and friendly organization.
While UDance wanted to get a vital message across, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology joined in on the parody action to kick off the college’s annual Korean Student Association (KSA) culture week.
Director and film editor of the video and KSA member Edward Ha said as a native of Korea he was shocked how immensely popular the song had become in America.
Hoping to inform students more about Korean culture, referencing a music video that has over 1.5 billion views and critiques the fashion and lavish lifestyle of those who live in Seoul’s Gangnam district, the wealthiest area in South Korea, seemed like the best way to start off the culture week. After viewing other parody videos on YouTube and noticing how popular they were, Ha said he was inspired to create the best video yet.
“It really gives me goose bumps to hear people sing the words in Korean, regardless of whether they understand the lyrics,” said Ha. “It was a fascinating phenomenon and I thought it would be perfect for our purpose of the culture show introduction.”
Replicating the style and several of the scenes from the original video, the MIT parody features many sites on campus including the sailing pavilion and pistol range. The video also highlights an appearance from mascot Tim the Beaver, and a cameo role from renowned linguist and professor Noam Chomsky, who has taught at the college for 58 years.
Several of the dancers also wear horse masks throughout the video and several other student groups such as the swim team and acapella group are included.
“We ended up with the goal of creating a video that can represent the unique and quirky culture that the MIT community has,” Ha said. “And we wanted to represent our school in a way that we never have before.”
Since posting it to YouTube and official MIT Gangnam Style Facebook page in October 2012 the video has received over 4.5 million views, becoming one of the most watched parody videos on the site.
Ha said he believes the success of the video is due to the positive energy it displays and that it helps break stereotypes associated with the college. As a result, Ha believes that the video is also a good way to draw in prospective students, although that was not the original intent during production.
“This could be an effective way of attracting new applicants seeing that this video represents the MIT culture not as it’s stereotypical ‘geeks and nerds,’ but as a community full of energy.”
When UD posted its video of the flash mob to social media, Maguire said like MIT they didn’t have a goal in mind for the video, other than to inform students and alumni about what was going on at the university. Yet, 20,000 people viewed the video that day and the site has gained a large number of new users, most of which Maguire said were prospective students.
Part of what makes the parodies such a successful tool for higher education according to Maguire, is that PSY’s music video has a global fan base. That allows colleges and universities to use something that is popular and students can easily recognize to reach a wider audience, which is crucial for attracting a diverse student body.
“The video came out at the right time and was funny enough that a lot of people got into it. And of course when schools are referencing it, then that is going to get them a reaction,” said Maguire.
Another person that saw the video’s potential to attract a wider audience was University of Maryland (UMD) student and video editor Drew Blais, who was attempting to increase social media interaction between students and the university library where he works.
Surprised by the fact that a music video had gone viral, he thought it would be a great project to do since so many other universities were posting them. Blais also said that he related to the song because it was fun and had unique choreography, and thought other students would enjoy doing it.
To help spread the word and get students involved, a Facebook page and Twitter account were created to announce the project and provide updates. A dance tutorial video was also posted on YouTube to teach students the choreography and invite them to the filming site.
Students were also asked to like, respond, and share the video with their friends. Between 50 and 100 people were invited to the event via their Facebook event page, and by the end of the day Blais said approximately 700 students confirmed they were attending.
“When we were posting things on our Facebook event wall, the idea was to have people share the material with their friends without us having to do it for them,” said Blais. “We did that by having content that was stimulating enough to make people excited about it.”
On the day of filming a grand total of 2,500 students arrived for the flash mob portion of the video. Blais said he believes the success of the project was mainly due to the role social media played in the pre-production phase since the medium allows for instant communication and feedback.
“People really responded to it and I don’t think we would have been able to have that immediate spread if it were something that was emailed, or in print, because people are so active on social media now,” said Blais.
One of the reasons Blais believes the UMD library and so many other colleges and universities are doing the video is because they are looking for new ways to interact with students, and recognize that their target audience is online on social media sites.
He also said they are becoming more aware of what students are interested in watching, which is important since even a perfectly crafted promotional message cannot be effective unless it has an entertaining element to it. Otherwise, Blais said, it will lose traction with the audience.
Although the flash mob video posted by UD was just one of many videos on the university’s YouTube channel, it has become one of the most watched on the channel to date. Part of the reason the video was able to reach such a wide audience, according to Maguire, is that social media allows their followers and subscribers to like and comment on their posts, and share it with other friends.
“The thing about social media is that it’s not one way messaging,” said Maguire. “We can talk to them, they can talk to us, and they can talk to each other, and that’s something no other medium has allowed universities to do in the past.”
While the ability to reach a wider audience and communicate with them is important, Zarraga said he believes the true success of these parody and flash mob videos is that it’s new and unique, and allows students to get in tune with their fun side by being part of a larger movement.
“I think everyone secretly inside wants to be part of something bigger than themselves, like a mass movement, and the easiest way to do that is to do it with a dance that people know.”
With the immense popularity of the song, Zarraga said he believes the video helps attract prospective students to well-known institutions because it presents the school not just academically rigorous, but as a place where they can enjoy their experience.
He said it also gives current students who were involved in the creation process of the video and those that watched something to reminisce about as alumni. But above all, it gave them the chance to take part in something unique in pop culture that won’t happen on a global scale again for some time.
“This is something funny that just took the world by storm and that’s why I think all these college students wanted to do it,” said Zarraga. “Because it was fun, it was different, and it gets the reaction of the crowd.”
Collette O’Neal is a freelance reporter studying at the University of Delaware and can be found on LinkedIn.