Campus characters join community

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March 28, 2011

10:13 PM

See that squirrel climbing up the statue of Lord Botetourt? It has a Facebook account. The statue does as well.

Sept. 2010 marked the launch of College of William and Mary-oriented social networking characters: the WM Squirrel and Lord Botetourt statue.

Both characters were created by the College’s Creative Services department. Founded in Jan. 2010, the department merges teams from the Information Technology department and the Publications Office.

“Originally we were all split up between publication and web,” Rachel Follis ’11, Creative Services student intern, said. “And now we’re all linked together, which I think is nice because now we can collaborate on projects.”

The teams were merged as a way of combining the College’s various forms of communication, and the characters are a direct result of this inventive way of thinking.

“We wanted to engage students and alumni with characters who clearly know and love William and Mary, but aren’t official mouth pieces,” Susan Evans, Director of Creative Services, said. “We try to have them say things that imply truth without being too factual.”

The idea behind the characters is to include students in College happenings without involving authority figures. According to Evans, the Squirrel and Lord Botetourt are designed to be genuine College figures with a goal of invoking school pride.

“We didn’t want to make them too official because that’s not what they’re about,” Evans said. “Occasionally they will say something about things that are going on, but they’re supposed to be casual figures that students see every day as a part of their campus.”

Both characters have developed substantial followings, especially the WM Squirrel, who has almost 900 Facebook fans.

“Everybody loves the squirrel because what’s more classic than a squirrel running around on campus?” Evans said. “I’m rather surprised that Lord Botetourt hasn’t taken off quite as strongly. He has a really unique character.”

Creative Services rotates responsibility for posting regular updates on the squirrel’s page. There is only one voice, however, behind the Lord Botetourt statue, which, according to Evans, gives him a very strong personality.

Jesse Windley ’97, Creative Services Consultant, is responsible for coming up with Facebook updates for Lord Botetourt. Windley says that keeping up with posts for the statue extends past general campus happenings.

“We came up with some ideas of the things he would say when we initially created him,” Windley said. “But other than that I try to think of things he would say in response to what’s going on with students or what’s going on in Colonial Williamsburg.”

The historical figure of Lord Botetourt comes into play for Windley’s Facebook updates as well.

“For some things I’ll do research on what was going on in a timely way for him,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll make a comment that will put his foot in the past, and we try to use vocabulary that was relevant to his time period.”

According to Evans, the historical research is particularly important, since she says that a lot of students at the College would recognize a statement that was historically inaccurate.

Though Creative Services is only behind two of the College Facebook and Twitter accounts, others accounts exsist as well that allow people like Windley to add even more depth to their respective personalities.

“Whether it’s his best friend [Pierre L’Enfant] or his rival, Lord Norborne B, there’s always a lot of fun with the conversation that goes on between them,” Windley said. “They especially like to argue over who the real Botetourt is.”

In general, the response to the characters has been positive, especially considering how long their accounts have been active.

“I knew we were on to something good when the squirrel was quiet for a few days because we were so busy and then someone posted asking where he was,” Evans said. “That was really great to see.”

While the following that has grown around characters such as Lord Botetourt and the Squirrel includes a substantial amount of current students, Evans is looking forward to gaining interest from other members of the College community.

“We’ve had a very positive response from alums, which is very exciting,” she said. “I definitely want a stronger following for them, and even from prospective students, so we can engage everyone involved in campus life.”

Although the department is relatively new, Creative Services has been responsible for creating many of the visual aspects of college life that most students interact with almost every day, such as the College website, the Mascot search, and the brand new “Dress the Griffin” application. The department’s next big project will be making the College website and Banner cell phone friendly.

One of the aspects of the department that both Evans and Windley find particularly efficient is student involvement. The ideas they develop regarding their work is driven by student opinions. They hold focus groups devoted to gaining that perspective, and provide some students with internships.

Follis has been an intern for Creative Services for three years, although she started initially with the Publications Office. She finds that her work with the department has benefited her in a lot of ways, and thinks students should take the opportunity to work with them as well.

“We’re definitely growing, more and more people are finding out about us,” Follis said. “We try to communicate with students and appeal to the things they would like, so students should try to take advantage of us in every way they can.”

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