Thursday, December 31, 2009

Professional resolutions: Wave, connect and streamline

As television and store advertisements are shifting from "buy this, eat this, drink this" mode to "lose weight, organize this, exercise more" mode, I've been thinking of various resolutions for many categories of my life as well. Here are my professional resolutions for 2010, which I will write about and hope you will help keep me accountable on:
  • Figuring out Google Wave: I've had an invitation for about three months, and I've visited the site about four times. I'm connected to a handful of waves, but I find them about as easy to follow as an e-mail thread with 15+ messages. Is it because I don't have enough daily contact with the site? Is it because I don't know enough people on it? Is it because the people who use it are as lost as me? Is it because Wave is trying to do too many things at once? These are the questions I hope to resolve in 2010. (And if anyone wants to include me on Waves or have one of my invitations, I can be found at

  • Connect with other graduate and professional school marketing professionals: I've had the pleasure of connecting with many higher ed communicators on Twitter and a few who work specifically with law schools and business schools, but I'd love to connect with more of you out there. I'm especially interested in learning more from those in the health sciences—my law school has a few dual-degree programs and I'd love to find out more about what makes prospective medicine, nursing, or public health students tick. Suggestions on connecting with peers in every category (business, law, health, liberal arts) are welcome!

  • Get more done in less time: I know, this resolution is hardly original, and as a working mom, it certainly isn't limited to my professional life. But with so many new online resources for streamlining activities and managing priorities, I'm bound and determined to find new applications for accomplishing this goal.
What are your professional resolutions for 2010? Any suggestions for helping me with mine? Best wishes to all for a wonderful new year!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Web development languages are colleges using?

Earlier this year, I surveyed the University Web Developers listserv about Web development languages. Here are the long-overdue results:

What Web development languages do you use at your college or university?
  1. PHP (77.1%)
  2. JScript (38.6%)
  3. Perl (31.3%)
  4. Cold Fusion (25.3%)
  5. ASP Classic/VBScript (22.9%)
  6. Java (21.7%)
  7. (18.1%)
  8. Python (16.9%)
  9. Ruby on Rails (14.5%)
  10. (9.6%)
  11. JSP (9.6%)
  12. Other (6.0%)
What Web development languages do you think will be mainstream five years from now?
  1. PHP (81.9%)
  2. Java (43.4%)
  3. Ruby on Rails (38.6%)
  4. (36.1%)
  5. JScript (34.9%)
  6. (25.3%)
  7. Python (24.1%)
  8. Perl (18.1%)
  9. JSP (14.5%)
  10. Cold Fusion (13.3%)
  11. Other (8.4%)
  12. ASP Classic/VBScript (3.6%)
The survey was completed in July 2009 by 83 university Web developers. Yes, we recognize that we can't really foresee what might be around in five years, but for the purposes of planning now, this survey was extremely helpful. Thanks to my trusty Web developer Russ Wright and to all who participated!

P.S. To the Web developers reading you agree with these five-year projections, and if so, what factors keep the language around?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday gift guide for your favorite creative coworkers

Since many of us are still recovering from long weekends filled with food and shopping, I thought I'd continue with another light-hearted post. Here is your Cyber Monday list of quirky gift ideas for your favorite colleagues:
Or, if you prefer to shop based on office personalities:
Disclaimer: I have not personally ordered items from most of these sites, so I cannot vouch for their service or reliability. None of my actual coworkers will be receiving items from this list (or at least not this year), otherwise I'd be spoiling their surprises.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Need a laugh?

I'm not a big fan of e-mail forwards, but marketing-related spoofs always make me smile. Here are a few chuckles for your holiday weekend!
  • Name that Campaign: Ever get the feeling that fundraising campaigns seem formulaic? Save some trouble when branding your next campaign and visit the North Charles Street Design Organization's "Name that Campaign" tool to mix and match classic clichés.

  • Make My Logo Bigger Cream: Who needs designers? This infomercial advertises "a clinically proven logo-enhancing formula, now in an easy-to-apply cream." But wait! There's more! Find out all of the design tools YOU can get for only three easy payments of $29.99!

  • Fake AP Stylebook: This Twitter feed provides all kinds of politically incorrect advice for journalists. One "useful" tweet for us grad school editors:
    When referring to someone with a Ph.D. as "doctor" immediately follow it with "but, you know, not a REAL doctor.
  • Web Site Story: For those of you who often ponder the degree of how heavily the Web has infiltrated our lives (or those of our target audiences), watch this College Humor video to see it lived as a Broadway musical.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Marketing gems from #amahighered

There are many great conferences I'd like to attend, but personal responsibilities have kept me from traveling the past few years. Thankfully, I can live vicariously through colleagues tweeting with conference hashtags. Here are some gems from today's American Marketing Association Higher Education Conference:
  • @Zehno: If you offer your alumni mag for sale, would anyone buy it? It's about audience, not institution.
  • @lynseystruthers: "Kids on Facebook live below the fold. The fold is dead." -- Fritz McDonald
  • @admmlr: Don't be a social media butterfly. Pick a couple of providers that work with your audience and do them well.
  • @amahighered: 68% never go beyond page one of a website - SCARY
  • @admmlr: Don't hide your blog behind a portal - Google can't find it! Lost SEO opp.
  • @davidpoteet Can't forget that the 'social' in social media means audience particip. Seek influence, not control." -- @melissarichards
  • @donschindler: press release you write today and push out can still be working for you a decade from now
  • @ideasemerge If you're afraid to let people speak about your brand, you must not be fulfilling your brand promise.
  • @francisrizzo3 Unless they simplify it, Google Wave will never be the new anything.
  • @johntlawlor #10: Online is everyone's job. [Make sure you at least have an internal content strategy & a reaffirmation of core values]
Hopefully I'll be tweeting from one of these conferences in the next year!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thinking practically about social media

Who says you need a full-time professional staffer dedicated solely to social media before you can build an institutional presence?

If you follow many Web marketing blogs, you might get the impression that implementing a social media strategy is a time-consuming commitment of staff and/or funding. However like most graduate and professional schools, my law school has a fairly small communications staff. We are generalists by necessity, and we work hard to make the most of our limited resources.

Two recent higher ed blog posts feature a more practical perspective on integrating social media into an existing communications workflow. Michael Stoner's "Small staff, smart choices yield social media success for Baylor School" shares the story of an independent school communications director's foray into social media, one that closely mirrors my own. Andrew Careaga's "I, (not) Robot: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Borg," discusses the advantages of using technology to distribute official communications into social networks.

Here are other factors my office considers before adding to our social media mix:
  • Audience involvement: Are active prospective students or alumni already using the social media site? How would an institutional voice fit into the conversation?
  • Channel credibility: Is the site mainstream (yet)? What is the culture of the channel? Are other graduate or professional schools establishing an official presence there?
  • Office utility: Can we tweak or repurpose existing content for the site? Can the site help us streamline our current processes? Can we save institutional resources by shifting to a social media site?
Sure, it would be nice to be on the leading edge of every development in the social media revolution. But even a small daily investment in social media, when done strategically, can yield great rewards.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Low-cost creative productivity tool #2: Mind-mapping software

Problem: High volume of disorganized information and thoughts.
Solution: Mind-mapping software.

Once upon a time (18 months ago), our site architecture needed a complete overhaul. Hundreds of links had to be sorted out into new categories, some needed to be deleted, and other pages needed to be researched and created. Papers, charts and lists were spread over my desk.

If only I knew then about mind-mapping software (thanks to a Get-It-Done Guy podcast). By creating an organizational tree with branches and nodes that can be opened and collapsed, moved, color-coded and deleted, it is much easier to visually identify themes and eliminate weak or redundant ideas.

I first tried it out a few months ago when re-organizing our H1N1 site from a chronological series of lengthy e-mail messages to a more sensible resource site with sections on our institution's response, what to do if H1N1 affects you personally, and information on the virus itself from other organizations. Mind-mapping software allowed me to simplify the content and present it in a more complete, user-friendly manner.

Now I'm hooked—there is potential for organizing lengthy articles, presentations, publication design and other creative materials. I use FreeMind, which is available Mac and Windows versions, but there are many of free and low-cost options out there.

Previously in this series: Low-cost creative productivity tool #1: Google Docs

Monday, November 2, 2009

Twitter lists for higher ed

Coming soon to a Twitter feed near you...lists!

I was slow to get into social media, but quick to get into Twitter. The editor in me loves how the 140-character limit forces people to get to the point. My PR side loves the networking value. The journalist in me loves having a place to broadcast. My inner information hound loves the sheer volume of content.

The folks at Twitter are now in the process of adding the simple, but valuable functionality of lists, which can be made public or private. Here are a few basic ideas for higher ed institution accounts:
  • Alumni list - help alumni followers of your list identify and find each other through an alumni list.
  • Profession list - separate those you follow who are leaders or employers in the profession.
  • Peer list - connect with fellow institutional Twitterers from other colleges and universities.
  • University list - highlight other accounts from your institution, possibly including faculty or top administrators.
How are you considering on using Twitter lists for your institutional accounts? Are there any drawbacks we should watch out for?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween in Higher Ed

Every year, our faculty support office holds a Halloween party complete with costume and pumpkin decorating contests. It's a blast to observe, though it usually appears that there is only 10-15% participation in the costume contest (and I'm not in that group).

In a law school where professionalism is paramount, it's easy to see why the holiday isn't widely observed during office hours. Our dean has been known to visit offices with treats (God bless her!), but our communications office has remained firmly in the no-costume camp. One year, I tried to go as our events coordinator since people frequently mixed us up, but alas, our campus was hosting a moot court competition that day and she wouldn't let me borrow her name tag.

For those of you who are considering dressing up for work (or perhaps managing the fall-out by others who do), here are some interesting resources:
  • What costumes might breed fear in the hearts of faculty? Check out what the staff at Inside Higher Ed compiled a few years ago from academics across the nation.

  • The Society for Human Resource Management recommends that organizations set costume guidelines, enforce dress codes and discipline when necessary for costumes that are too revealing or offensive.

  • What better way to celebrate Halloween at work than by using it as an excuse to preach your brand? Last year, D.W. of the Old College Try blog dressed as her school's official color, Pantone 281. I'm considering printing sandwich-board-sized versions of our incorrect inverse logo (aka "Halloween tower") to educate the campus on what not to do.

  • Author/blogger Michael Stelzner offers three simple marketing lessons from Halloween:
    1) if you want someone knocking on your door, turn on the light, 2) be prepared to give something away, and 3) engage visitors and they will love you. His readers offer some other great takeaways in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Social Media and Faculty Publicity

Faculty stars. You know who they are, and so do they. They may be prolific authors, influential activists, professional leaders or international speakers. Their achievements are frequent and important within their spheres of influence.

And these stars want you to magnify their shine through publicity.

Not too long ago, there weren't many options for handling stellar, PR-happy faculty. You could give into their requests for publicity in the few channels available (namely news releases or institutional publications), featuring them with such frequency that other quieter professors become obscured. The other option was to draw a line in the sand and say no, offending the well-regarded faculty member. Needless to say, both options had significant drawbacks.

Enter the social Web to the rescue!

With a flexible and well-designed Web site and social media presence, higher ed communicators now have a broad range of tools at their disposal for promoting faculty achievements. Instead of saying "no, we can't write another news release about you" to a prestigious professor, we can now respond with "congratulations, we've already posted your news to your department Web page and our college's Twitter feed." Here is our new range of options:
  • College/university magazine article
  • News release
  • Home page spotlight
  • Lower-level Web site features (i.e., departmental home pages)
  • Facebook update (reserved for accomplishments that reflect more widely on the institution)
  • Twitter update
  • Flickr/YouTube (if media available)
  • "Faculty applause" or "Faculty in the news" Web pages
  • Testimonial quotes/features in marketing materials
  • E-newsletter profile

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Environmentally Friendly Marketing

In honor of Blog Action Day 2009, here are my tips for reducing your marketing department's environmental impact:
  • Integrate print and online communications. Print and online media each have their own strengths and weaknesses. By blending both through integrated campaigns, you not only increase your effectiveness; you can reduce publication page counts and the economic and environmental costs associated with them. One of our favorite tactics: instead of using larger direct-mail pieces, we prefer designing oversized postcards directing audiences to the Web.
  • Take another look at your print vendors. The printing industry has discovered that the market demands more environmentally conscious alternatives, and many companies have responded with cost-effective means of meeting the need. Even if there isn't an FSC-certified printer in your area, find out what your vendors (and their competitors) are doing to reduce their environmental impact.
  • Examine paper choices throughout your college. There is a wide variety of green-certified papers available. Think beyond publication printing, and also consider your institution's choices in letterhead and copier paper stock.
  • Don't forget everyday decisions. Print electronic documents only when absolutely necessary. Keep a recycle bin next to your office trash can. Reuse office supplies when possible. Optimize your computer's energy settings.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How many higher ed rankings can you name?

A member of the CASE Communications listserv asked an interesting question this week: how many organizations are ranking IHEs? Here is the list so far:

Overall higher-ed rankings
Best Value
Green Schools/Sustainability
And my personal favorite...rankings of college rankings
I'm sure there are more...please comment to share!
Edited 10/13/09 to add Fiske and Leiter.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Five Surefire Ways to Lose a Higher Ed Client

There are lots of ways that consultants, printers and other vendors can lose a client (or a prospective one). Many are understandable–differences in philosophy, budget changes, etc. Other reasons for losing a client should be obvious. Here are the top five gaffes that companies have made in trying to get—or keep—my institution's business:
  • #5: Botch the first project. While all companies should give their all to every client, no project is more important than the first one. Screw that one up, and you won't get repeat business.
  • #4: Unnecessary gifts. It's one thing to give a branded set of pens or notepads to a client; it's another thing to offer them a $100 gift card. Most institutions have policies against it, and you're putting the recipient in the annoying and awkward position of sending it back. Let your work speak for itself, and if it can't, don't expect me or my colleagues to discard ethics and standards because of a gift.
  • #3: Insist that the client is wrong. An owner of a printing company once made an unauthorized change on press that altered the design from the approved proof. When I complained to the rep, she relayed my frustrations to the owner, who then—not once, but twice—tried to "improve" the situation by telling me I was wrong despite all documented evidence to the contrary. The owner's attempt at saving his ego (in addition to other errors on the same project) ultimately cost the company a client of six years.
  • #2: Go behind the decision maker's back to their boss. I've seen both advertising reps and high-priced consultants make this mistake. They don't get the answers they want from their main liaison, so they go over their head without consultation. Do these people not realize that the supervisor will immediately speak to their employee who has the everyday responsibility for working with that vendor? (Just to be clear—I'm not referring to specific project problems or unprofessional conduct—I'm referring to appeals for more business.)
  • #1: Try to start an incident. The incident that inspired this post happened yesterday. A vendor who violated #5 a few years ago sent a letter to one of our student environmentalists, telling her that my institution should be using environmentally responsible printers and papers (even though we already do—just not with that vendor). Thankfully, I was able to clear the record with the student, but I'm still shocked that any sales rep could possibly think that they could try to use political pressure to gain business.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Got no respect? Get research!

One of the pleasures of working in a university is the intellectual atmosphere, knowledgeable professors and talented administrators. Education is valued (obviously), and experts abound. Communication professionals without terminal degrees can face a challenge in getting their voices heard, even when it comes to our own areas of expertise.

While it's widely accepted that research is a marketing best practice, research takes a special place in higher education. Just as research informs teaching, it also informs good marketing—and academics respect it. Relevant research will instantly add credibility to any recommendation. Many people, academics or not, think that marketing is just good common sense, so research is particularly important if you're going against the prevailing opinion of someone with more academic credentials (even if those credentials aren't related to marketing).

Here are some low-cost ways to do your own marketing research:
  • Online surveys: Gone are the days of expensive paper mailings with time-intensive data entry. There are a number of free and low-cost online survey programs (SurveyMonkey is my tool of choice) that make survey research a cinch. For quick questions, Twtpoll is another helpful resource that you can post on Twitter or forward to e-mail lists.
  • In-house focus groups: For more in-depth information on a topic, focus groups are the way to go. There are many resources online about how to conduct them, and aside from staff time and refreshments, they're pretty inexpensive to conduct if you're not outsourcing it. (Not knocking professional research firms, who provide a great independent service if your institution can afford it.) The key is to have someone who is not invested in the project leading the group, so that your results aren't biased.
  • Peer research/consultation: Discussion forums or professional e-mail lists can provide a great place to poll your peers about their experiences and best practices in a given situation. CASE coordinates lists for a number of higher ed specialties (my favorites are the College/University Editors group University Web Developer groups).
  • Award competition Web sites: Check these out to get a quick overview of best practices in a variety of communications categories. While it's helpful to see examples of the best tactics out there, the real gold can be found in judges reports. These reports can provide an overview of the best—and sometimes worst—strategies.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What distinguishes grad/professional school marketing?

So far as I can tell, there aren't many higher ed marketing resources out there that specifically target graduate and professional schools. Which led me to ask, what really distinguishes us from colleges or university-wide operations?
  • Prospective student base. This seems obvious, but the point must be made. Even though there are many breeds of graduate-level students, they are—by definition—older and more educated than the competitive teen market that undergraduate IHEs target. Simply put, the same rules don't apply.
  • Organizational structure. Whereas general higher ed communicators often report to another communications professional or someone with related experience, graduate/professional school specialists often work more closely with academic deans who may have their own ideas about marketing. Some of us dual-report to university-wide PR operations, and others play a liaison role between academics and marketing firms.
  • More focused alumni interests. Beyond their alma mater, our alumni usually share a common profession. This creates the potential for more in-depth discussion of professional topics in alumni magazine articles, social media sites, etc.
  • The end goal. Most graduate/professional students have a defined reason for continuing their study. Sure, there are those who are stalling for time while they figure out what they want to be when they grow up, but I would suspect that isn't the norm. For professional schools, alumni achievements and employment stats take on greater meaning than our undergraduate counterparts.
What other aspects of higher ed marketing differ for those who work past the undergraduate level?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Twitter for Fun and Professional Development

Twitter has a bad rap as a wasteland of useless babble, where individuals broadcast the bland minutiae of their daily lives.

I beg to differ.

Perhaps it's because my interest in social media began for professional—rather than personal— reasons, but this has not been my experience. Sure, there are people who post only updates a stalker could love, but then I don't follow them.

I have found Twitter to be a great resource for finding topical updates on a variety of professional issues (not the least of which is social media), networking with peers, and gaining an interesting perspective on the lives of community leaders (be it my dean, political representatives or megachurch pastor). The updates of those you follow are posted to your Twitter home page, making it easy to scan a variety of information at a glance.

And with a 140-character limit, who doesn't love a medium that forces writers to get right to the point?

Here are my tips on how to make the most of Twitter for professional development:
  • Good news sources: Start by searching for professional organizations, publications, consulting firms and bloggers (find me @davinagould) in your field.
  • Find leading personalities: Look for your boss, your boss' boss, and on up the chain. If someone has locked their updates, only ask for access if you're a personal friend or if they're following you first.
  • Curious what other IHEs are doing on Twitter? Follow them, too.
  • Follow people who follow you. Unless they keep tweeting about waiting in line for coffee, or don't tweet at all.
  • Check out who your favorite Twitterers are also following—it's another great way to find interesting feeds.
  • Network by retweeting updates you like (giving credit to the source) and by commenting on updates by others.
  • Attending a conference...or wish you could? Many conferences use hashtags (#) to develop a conversation through Twitter's live search function. (If hashtags aren't showing up as clickable links, make sure you're following username "hashtag.")
  • Monitor the buzz on your organization, industry and favorite subjects by saving relevant terms (including those with hashtags) to visit again.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's that time of year again...

It's law school caring and sharing season! That wonderful time of year when all of the law schools tell all of the other law schools how wonderful they are. The smell of freshly printed publications, the gifts of faculty appointment postcards from across the country, the anticipation of what exciting announcements might come from your peer institutions...

Many of the deans and professors at my institution forward this assorted marketing collateral to my desk, and over the years I have gathered quite the collection. Most of the publications are quite reserved (as is expected when marketing one's academic prestige to an audience of professional academics), but there is always one or two unusual tactics that strive to distinguish themselves in the volume of mail.

From a design perspective, my favorite mailpiece of all time came last year:

This clever piece featured a hospital gown on the cover. Recipients were invited to untie the lace in the center to "peek" at what was inside: a list of health law lectures and programs. A bit risky considering the audience, but if the goal was to stand out from the pack, they succeeded. (However if their goal was to break into the Health Law category rankings in U.S. News, it didn't work.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Low-cost creative productivity tool #1: Google Docs

Problem: Collaborative editing and file access.
Solution: Google Docs
Tired of tracking versions of Word files when working with multiple editors? Hate transferring Office files via jump drive or e-mail so you can access them from another computer? Then it's time to discover cloud computing via Google Docs. Requiring only a free Google account and a working internet browser, users can save and share a variety of file types: word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and forms that can be exported into Office (.doc, .xls, .ppt), PDF, RTF, HTML and other formats. Files can be shared with other Google account holders, and version tracking makes this an ideal environment for collaboration. I have also found it to be any extremely handy place to keep my contacts...especially in the rare occasion that work servers are down.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Community Grief

It's a task no communications professional wants to do: informing their university of the death of a beloved leader. I wish I could say that I didn't have experience working in this situation, but sadly, this week marks the fourth passing of a colleague in six years at my institution. A dean, a chief fundraiser, a library director, and now, the university president who retired two months ago after serving for 21 years in the position.

As hard as it may be, PR offices can play an important role in helping their colleges grieve:
  • Collect and present the images. Cull through your archives and find photographs, news clippings, or videos of the individual through the years. Prepare to make them available to family members and for presentation in an appropriate venue, be it a memorial service, tribute Web site, or alumni magazine article.

  • Go beyond your job description. This is a minor crisis, so be prepared to do anything necessary to help out.

  • Call on your best vendors. You'll probably need your printers to break the rules of time and space to print memorial programs, large mounted photographs, etc., for the upcoming services. Stress the stress of the situation and use only your most reliable vendors.

  • Share the love. Help gather individual memories and stories through a Web site (with comment moderation, just in case) or special notecards available at memorial services or funerals.

  • Consider a silent symbol of appreciation. Following the death of our dean, ribbons and pins were made available across campus to allow students, faculty and staff to wear their appreciation for the late colleague.

  • Support the loved ones. This may seem obvious, but the most important role marketing staff can play is to carefully and efficiently communicate news of the death along with the family's wishes. News travels fast, especially on social media. Getting the word out quickly can preventing the family from getting unwanted calls or messages. Include the "in lieu of flowers" designation in your news release if necessary, and be tactful if the memorial gifts go to your institution (i.e., don't link to your "Make a gift online" page in the online news release).
If your personal grief seems overwhelming, focusing on the work at hand can be therapeutic, if for no other reason than to know that you're doing everything you can for your colleague as a final tribute.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Preaching Beyond the Social Media Choir

I'll admit—I was slow to jump onto the social media bandwagon. I wasn't against the concept, but I didn't feel that I had time to invest in learning it.

Michael Stoner's latest blog post on alumni relations and social media tells the story of an up-and-coming alumni relations leader discovering the professional benefits and promise of social media, a story that mirrors my own (minus the prestigious CAAE research opportunity).

More advancement professionals and college leaders need to hear stories like this, but how many of these leaders follow blogs or see the retweets on Twitter? The most convincing argument for learning the value of social networking tools is follow the Nike idiom to "just do it." But how can PR staff encourage colleagues to take the leap in opening their own accounts, sometimes overcoming smug or even hostile stereotypes against social media?

My plan is to do an intro to social media workshop for faculty and administrators, have them start their own accounts as a part of the training, and allow time for a potentially lengthy Q&A session. Perhaps showing a real-time example of the power of social media (like Brad J. Ward's recent Twitter seminar experiment) might be in order.

What suggestions do you have?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Introducing Social Media to Non-Marketing Colleagues

As higher ed marketing professionals, we are keenly aware of the fact that social media is rapidly transforming the ways we connect with our audiences. While most faculty and administrators have heard of the major social networking tools, there is a significant gap in understanding for those who haven't participated themselves.

To help bridge the gap between the Web 2.0 haves and have-nots, here is a list I created for social media newbies at my institution:
  • Rule #1: Be professional. The ABA recommends the following common-sense rules: Be mature, be ethical, and read it again before posting. Assume that anyone--your boss, the news media, your grandma--can and will read it. When in doubt, don't hit the "publish" button.

  • Learn the channel. The best way to learn how social media sites work is to use them. Join as a member, and if you're nervous, turn on your privacy settings to the highest levels (keeping in mind that you'll lose the benefit of building new connections). As long as you follow Rule #1, it will be hard to get into trouble. Just like any other social environment, the social norms may vary depending on the situation. Here are the major social media tools in use today:

    • LinkedIn: This is the easiest place to get started. Primarily designed to build professional connections, the interactions here are very conservative and tightly controlled.

    • Facebook: With more than 250 million active users, Facebook is the largest social networking site. Privacy settings allow Facebook users to be more personal in their updates, as most only allow "friends" to see most of their content (and these friends must be approved). One caveat—because of the more personal nature of this channel, you may want to think twice before trying to "friend" professional colleagues.

    • Twitter: This popular "microblogging" site allows users to post updates of 140 characters or less. Twitter accounts can be made public or private, and users can "follow" or be followed by other users.

    • Media sites (i.e., YouTube, Flickr, Picasa): These sites focus on sharing videos and photos, which can be tagged and/or commented on (depending on the user's settings).

    • Blogs: Blogs vary widely on their content and levels of interaction and moderation. Some allow for anonymous comments, others allow for moderated comments (approved by the blogger/editor), and others don't allow comments at all.

    • Discussion Forums and Wikis: These sites emphasize user-generated content and discussion around a common topic. They are generally self-moderating, in that participants report inappropriate behavior to the site's management when they see it. The information shared should not be considered authoritative in most circumstances.

  • Consider the source. Discernment is key when following social media sites. Most savvy users can judge the difference between an anonymous opinion and statements made by a known authority. Don't give unattributed comments too much credibility, and if they need to be addressed, do so on the same forum where the comments were made. Try not to let violators of Rule #1 bother you unless they are in your immediate circle of influence (i.e., boss, employee, family member).
  • Remember your e-mail rules. Most of the rules that apply to e-mail communication also apply to other forms of online communication:

    • DON'T WRITE IN ALL CAPS–it is construed as shouting.

    • Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person. (See also Rule #1.)

    • Be concise. If a long discussion is warranted, try to do it off-line.

    • Everything you say is permanent. Your messages can be shared or archived indefinitely.

  • Take advantage of the benefits (off company time, of course). Social media sites offer great opportunities for keeping up with friends and family members, learning new things, and building your professional networks. So long as you use good judgment, participating in social media can be a fun and rewarding activity.

Welcome, Higher Ed Communicators!

Are you an in-house communications professional working for a school of law, medicine, business, or other graduate field? Do you find yourself wearing multiple hats in a small shop? Or do you work as a grad-school liaison for a university-wide communications department?

This blog will focus on the unique challenges and opportunities of marketing graduate and professional schools. Any communications-related topic is game: publications, media relations, advertising, photography, Web, social networking, events, crisis communications, strategic planning, etc.

Let me know what topics you're interested in reading about at Thanks for reading!