Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recognizing your bias in social media

As university communicators, we're paid to love and promote our institutions. We not only read our own press; we write it. Even though we all know that our colleges and universities aren't perfect, we wouldn't thrive in our positions if we didn't believe in the mission and leadership of our organizations.

This professional bias leads us to tread a difficult line when it comes to social media. If we're doing a good job of monitoring our brand online, we will inevitably see something negative at some point. Jessica Krywosa at the .eduGuru blog authored a post on her recent experience with negative Facebook comments, which also includes helpful comments on handling such issues.

But beyond our official social media channels also lies a wide range of forums, blogs and other social resources in which our institutions have no voice. Yes, we could respond as individuals to negative attacks when we see them on discussion forums or blogs, but we need to resist the urge to do so lightheartedly or in the heat of the moment. Most readers will immediately discredit comments that smell like they've been authored by a company representative. Some social media sources specifically ban biased responses (i.e., Wikipedia). At bare minimum, PR-sounding responses will be unwelcome in most any online community.

Most professional communicators know to pause and think before responding publicly to negative press. But while marketing professionals may know these protocols, we must remember that everyone in our organizations has the same publishing access to social media that we do. Not only do we need to be disciplined and not act prematurely, we must educate our internal audiences about these issues as well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Have you hugged your university PR office today?

I *heart* my university marketing and advancement colleagues.

This weekend, we celebrated the inauguration of our ninth president at the main university campus. A month ago, we met up at the CASE III regional conference. Both events provided a great opportunity to reunite in person, to catch up on office happenings and each others' lives.

My law school campus resides across the state from our main university campus. It's a 2-3 hour drive to see colleagues who do our same jobs, for our same institution. We may e-mail each other periodically, we may virtually collaborate on projects, and we may even follow each other on Twitter. But it's no replacement for seeing your counterparts in person, especially if you've never met in the physical world.

When working in a decentralized environment, it's easy for some to adopt an "us" and "them" mentality, even if the feeling is not adversarial. An over-dependence on online communications doesn't help, removing the context and personality required to build interpersonal relationships. While I have a long history with my parent university, other colleagues haven't had the benefit of studying and working on our main campus or on university-wide committees.

These relationships are important not only for project collaboration, but also for less tangible reasons: cameraderie, shared perspectives and institutional knowledge, to name a few. We have great things to learn from each other. Find opportunities to meet in person, whether you work across a campus, city or state. It's one of your most important networks, and it's always worth developing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Have you heard about the census?

In case you missed the billboards, television, radio, print, online or direct mail advertising, there's a census going on! Many are growing tired of the $133-million campaign designed to increase survey return rates. It's a consistently branded message with high saturation, and for heavy media consumers, those messages can be hard to escape.

Those of us who work in higher ed, particularly in marketing communications, can experience similar saturation with our own brand messages. The same color palettes, the same typeface families, the same look on brochures and print collateral, the same Web design. Even if there is latitude in the brand's application among different audiences and demographics, the consistency of a well-managed brand can feel boring for those who live it every day.

For some, the temptation to revamp brand guidelines every 2-3 years can be great. But right around the time we want to abandon the design ship, that's when our outside audiences are just beginning to identify and recognize our look. This impact is magnified in Web site designs, where it takes time for users to grow accustomed to the placement and organization of links and content.

No, we shouldn't let our designs to become dull and dated. The key is to take a balanced approach in adding fresh elements while staying true to the core brand imagery. Sophisticated designers and strong creative directors can maintain this balance; we just need to keep reminding ourselves and our internal counterparts that we are not our own target audience.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Looking for easy ROI? Keep in touch with the front lines

Everyone is looking for ways to increase their returns on investment, to find the next big thing in cost-effective communications tools to achieve institutional goals. As marketers, we're usually (and rightfully) looking to the revenue side, giving top priority our admissions, fundraising or continuing education offices.

But beyond the income-generating areas of our institutions are important service-providing offices as well, and sometimes our smallest efforts can support another aspect of ROI: cost savings. Keeping in touch with front-line staff, be it the registrar's office, admissions support staff, or other service departments can yield results that not only saves trouble for them, but also better serves our students and other audiences.

What questions do they get the most calls or e-mails about? What information is hard for their audiences to find? What can be done to streamline communications? Often the tools that we take for granted can provide greater service to many, if only we knew where the support is needed. Sometimes the solutions can be as simple as adding frequently asked questions to a Web page, increasing the profile of important facts, or posting a "did you know" update on one of your social media sites.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Alumni class notes: print or online?

In January, I sent a quick-and-dirty, unscientific survey on alumni class notes to college and university editors to find out more about their use online. Thanks to the 32 editors who responded. Here are the results:
  • Do you post your alumni class notes online?
    • 71.9% Yes
    • 28.1% No

  • If you post your notes online, how do you post them?
    • 43.5% PDF of entire print magazine
    • 30.4% Special Web page devoted to notes
    • 17.4% Magazine Web site
    • 13.0% Searchable database of class notes
    • 4.3% News section of online alumni community/network

  • For those who post their notes online, have you reduced or removed them from your printed magazines or newsletters?
    • 66.7% No, we post complete class notes in print and online
    • 13.3% Removed from print publications entirely
    • 13.3% Other
    • 6.7% Yes, we have reduced the number of class notes published in print

  • Are your class notes publicly accessible online?
    • 45.5% Yes, anyone can view and search our class notes
    • 36.4% Yes, but the class notes can't be easily searched
    • 18.2% No, they are in a password-protected site for alumni

  • How often do you update your class notes online?
    • 52.2% Every time magazine is published
    • 4.3% Twice annually
    • 17.4% Quarterly
    • 4.3% Every two months
    • 21.7% As submitted

  • What are the sources of your notes? (Check all that apply.)
    • 90.3% Alumni submissions
    • 74.2% News clippings
    • 25.8% Class representatives
    • 16.1% Other: development office research, campus sources, obits only from news clippings, other alumni (but double-checked)

  • For how long do you post individual class notes online?
    • 86.4% Permanently, as part of the magazine issue
    • 9.1% Six months
    • 4.5% Two years

  • Who updates the online notes?
    • 28.6% Alumni relations staff
    • 38.1% Alumni magazine staff
    • 33.3% Communications/PR staff
    • 23.8% Other (student workers/interns, magazine designers)
As educational institutions everywhere try to find ways to save costs, many are choosing to move their class notes online from print publications. Pros: the move lowers printing costs and can drive traffic to your alumni Web sites. Cons: security concerns from alumni, potentially reduced interest in the print publications, and issues of information permanence.