Daily doses of World War II history deliver huge audiences for social-media entrepreneur

Posted on Jul 18, 2017 in Alumni News and News

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Judging simply by what page he was on, Kip Reiserer knew what his major should have been. Every time he came to the “Hitler and Nazi Germany” class led by Instructor Sam Newland, g’81, PhD’83, Reiserer drilled further into the textbook—and further away from his classmates.

“I had friends in the class, and nobody else read it,” Reiserer says. “I read really, really close to the whole thing.”

Kip Reiserer Reiserer, j’10, now combines the degree he did earn (broadcast journalism) with the interest he could not leave (World War II) for a social media following that has reached more than 150,000. On most days, Reiserer post two to four World War II photos and captions to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, illustrating for the young minds of the 21st Century the conflict that ripped humanity in half 75 years ago.

He has yet to monetize any of his accounts, but he posts at a heavy volume because what he broadcasts feels crucial to him, especially at a moment in history like the present.

“I do it because I think it’s important,” he says. “I don’t fully understand how the majority of an entire country could be swept by madness and change the world that much.”

Reiserer operates WorldWar2HistoryPics on Instagram, @WW2Facts on Twitter  and Facebook.com/WW2Facts.

A native of the Dallas suburb of Copell, Reiserer has long been enthralled by what may have been the most significant conflict in history. Although he did not want to make a career out of teaching its history, Reiserer found he had talent in the field of social media advertising and used his online feeds to merge the two.

In all three of his accounts, Reiserer posts a single photo or short video, accompanied by matter-of-fact captions. He never inserts an opinion and does not engage in political banter. His followers supported both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last fall, and Reiserer’s posts leave room for readers to make their own comparisons between past and present leaders.

Reiserer’s interest in WWII began when he watched “Saving Private Ryan” as a young teenager. His appetite grew after viewing other films about the conflict and his mother started buying documentaries on VHS tape.

“There was a running joke in high school, that it was all I would watch on TV,” he says. “It was so foreign to me, and I didn’t know anything about Europe or the Pacific.”

img_reiserer_wwiihistory_bomberShortly after graduating from KU, Reiserer moved to Kansas City. Needing a job, he put his broadcast degree to use in an unexpected way by starting a Twitter account for other journalists seeking employment; @KCJournalismJobs grew to 1,349 followers, and he quickly found that part of the key to social media success is specificity. He would put that lesson to use for his next online hobby.

Reiserer says he never read much, until his mother gave him a copy of a 655-page tome of WWII trivia. He started devouring Don McCombs and Fred Worth’s World War II: 4,139 Strange and Fascinating Facts, and was so excited about what he was learning that he wanted to share his findings. In summer 2012, after moving to Chicago, where he works in social media advertising, he realized that he could.

“What if I just created a Twitter account, and just started tweeting facts and photos?”

So he tweeted his way through most of the Strange and Fascinating Facts, then began looking for new sources. No problem: The internet is overflowing with people who want to talk about World War II.

“I had a seemingly unlimited amount of content that appealed to people all over the world,” he says.

Much of what he published came from other World War II-themed sites, but his journalism education reminded him that plenty of the material floating along the bitstream is dubious. The list of followers was growing, and fact-checking before tweeting became a boring but rewarding task.

“You can go down rabbit holes on Wikipedia,” Reiserer says. “Or, I’m looking at somebody’s crappy WordPress blog, but it’s got one great photo—but where did it come from?”

Maintaining a healthy tweet rate, keeping his facts reliable and declining to rant have made Reiserer’s internet identity valuable to promoters. The film company Lionsgate gave him tickets to Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” to disperse to followers; a book publisher in New York, Simon & Schuster, handed him five copies of its latest WWII publication to give away (plus one for him to keep and tweet from).

What about promoting some product that’s not related to World War II? In the modern world of advertising, marketers are vying for relationships with influencers like Reiserer.

“I’m not going to be retweeting cosmetics just to be making money,” he says, and thus, his accounts have yet to realize any profit.

WW2Facts and WorldWar2HistoryPics are hobbies, but Reiserer would love to turn it into a career. The dream job: Sponsors would pay him to visit historic sites and tweet about what they hold. A professional World War Twourist.

Reiserer hopes to repeat for others the experience he felt in Newland’s History 341 class and help someone an answer to the question that drives him as he digs up another online rabbit hole: “How could it happen?”

—Ronnie Wachter, j’00, is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a freelance writer in Chicago.

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Tips for social media success

One of the crucial rules of building a social media following is an ironic juxtaposition against the entire concept of social media: “You have to be patient,” Kip Reiserer says. “I’ve seen the process and the patience it takes to actually build a following.”

img_reiserer_wwiihist_railroadWorking in Kansas City in 2010—a time when many journalists were early Twitter adopters—Reiserer earned more than 1,000 followers and strong interaction with a feed devoted strictly to media job opportunities in that area. After moving to Chicago, he began a far more successful run in 2012 with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts that drill into a completely different subject: World War II. For those trying to elbow out some room in the “Look at me!” mosh pit, Reiserer offers a few tips:

  • Stick to one, narrow subject. Although his subject spans the globe, affecting nearly every culture on earth at the time, and involved countless facets of life (economics, sports, entertainment, religion and more), all of Reiserer’s photos and captions connect directly to the subject’s core: armed conflict between two sets of nations.
  • It helps tremendously if your subject has deep emotional appeal, even if that appeal is to a small group of people. Even today, WWII arouses a potent mix of responses; with his Kansas City account, the hunt for a job is the hunt for money and status.
  • If you can find a niche, grab hold of whoever visits it. Reiserer says he monitors his feeds’ comments, watching as readers reply to each other and new conversations branch out. “If you’re going to do it organically, it’s the same concept, which is …”
  • “… You have to have a bottomless pit of content.” Reiserer stresses the importance of regular posting, which keeps an audience from drifting away to other attention-grabbers.
  • And keep working when the fans do not show up. “I’ve known several people who tried to create this account, or something like it,” he says. “It didn’t happen in a month and they gave up.”

—R.W.

Images courtesy of Kip Reiserer

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