Last week, the University of Rochester homepage was overrun by thousands of LEGO bricks and mini-figs? Why? For April Fools Day, of course.
We’ve done homepage pranks on April Fools for a few years now. These have evolved from simple things like running our large homepage photos upside down, to more full-blown site takeovers like 2012′s kitten homepage and now this year’s LEGO extravaganza. With these last two efforts, we’ve shifted focus a bit from simply playing a prank to using the day as an opportunity to say something real about the University to a new audience in a fun (and hopefully funny) way. We’re a geek school; we have a lot of engineers, builders, and creators amongst our student body; and the nature of our curriculum allows for many of our students to have these crazy “mash-up” lives where they really do major in both chemistry and music while playing on the Quidditch team. So LEGOs — in addition to having a bit of a moment right now — seemed like a natural fit for having some fun.
From planning to execution, the project took about 40 hours of staff time from five different team members (a writer, a photographer, a graphic designer, a videographer, and me, getting stuff in shape for the web). The “Piece of Resistance” — the LEGO construction of our iconic Rush Rhees Library — had been made last summer by a videographer in University IT.
So how did we do? We did kinda awesome! We quadrupled the typical weekday traffic to the homepage on April 1st, with about 75% of that traffic coming from external users. On a typical weekday, just over 50% of our traffic comes from an internal, University of Rochester audience. So we did expand the number of eyeballs on the site, and especially so among that new, external audience we were hoping to reach.
The landing/story page we created — with a photo gallery of mini-figs representing real and made up majors and student organizations — received 18,000 views. I added a bit.ly link from that page to our real majors and programs, saying “Learn more about our real majors and degree programs: And that’s no April Fool.” That link received 760 clicks, for a clickthough rate of about 4.5% One thing I would like to do differently next year is to create a very simple intake form with a name and email address to see how many visitors would chuckle at the April Fools gag, and THEN go on to raise their hand and request more information about the school.
Everything was awesome on the social front, too. On Facebook, the initial April Fools post had an organic reach of nearly twice that of our total fan base. That’s never happened before. Subsequent posts for the video, for a photo gallery of Facebook cover photos for fans to download and use, and for a wrap-up piece on other April Fools jokes each reached more than half of our fan base, receiving hundreds of likes, comments, and shares. The aforementioned video received nearly 10,000 views in 8 hours.
And the conversation was really hopping on Twitter, where we apparently made a lot of people’s day.