Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Five steps for navigating your school's Wikipedia entry

Have you checked your institution's Wikipedia entry lately?

It's no secret that Wikipedia entries are one of the highest-ranking items for any search engine, and since they are edited by an independent party, many outside your institution may consider the information more credible than what's published on your college or university website.

Last fall, many law school Wikipedia entries were edited by a crowd-sourced effort to highlight employment and cost information as interpreted by an advocacy group. One individual replaced my institution's actual tuition/fees with a "debt-financed cost" that projected the largest possible expense for a student financing the maximum student budget (including all living expenses) compounded with long-term student loan interest and inflation. This cost information was also moved to the top of our Wikipedia entry.

Even though Wikipedia's conflict of interest (COI) rules restrict PR and marketing professionals from editing their organization's entries, there are systems in place that can help you quickly correct biased or inaccurate information. Here are five steps for handling issues on your school's Wikipedia page:
  1. Know thy Wikipedia entry. At the top of every Wikipedia entry are tabs for "Article" and "Talk" on the left, and "Read," "Edit," and "View history" tabs on the right. The "talk" tab allows you and other Wikipedia users and editors to talk about the content of the entry outside of the article, and the history tab to see who has been editing your page, with links to their editing history on Wikipedia. To receive email notifications of changes to your institution's Wikipedia article, I recommend using a service like
  2. Pick your battles. Since you should work through another editor, it's good to have a measured response in choosing which changes to request. As a general rule, I only address changes for accuracy or for something that's biased against my organization.
  3. Cite your sources, preferably independent ones. Wikipedia editors already have a distrust for paid advocates of organizations working on their own entries, so it's very important to attribute your submitted changes. When you can cite an objective third party (such as an accrediting organization or ranking website), your recommendations will be given more credibility.
  4. DO NOT directly edit the live article. Whether you submit your changes anonymously (which will appear with your IP address) or as a registered Wikipedia user, respect the COI rules and submit your recommendations via the Talk page. To highlight your edit request, add the code "{{request edit|A}}" at the top of your recommendations. You can also explain the reasoning behind your changes on this page, which is useful if you're dealing with a potentially controversial subject.
  5. Find a fair-minded Wikipedia editor to consider your recommendations. To find another editor, you can check out the "View history" section of your page to find others who have made helpful changes to your site in the past. If they're not still actively editing Wikipedia content, you can visit the Wikiproject Universities community to find participants interested in higher education entries. Since Wikipedia submissions are trackable, it's easy to see how active and fair an editor has been when making editorial judgments on other pages. 
By following the steps listed above, my law school's Wikipedia entry was fairly corrected within 48 hours of the biased editing.

(Edited to add Wikipedia "request edit" code in bullet 4.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Marketing new programs: Shaping your plan

One of the most exciting projects for any marketing professional would be the opportunity to build a new brand from scratch. While few of us will get to do this for an entire organization, new institutional programs create a unique opportunity to stretch our creative muscles with a fresh challenge.

Once you've done the preliminary research on your new initiative, it's time to build the plan to get the word out and cultivate interest in your product. A textbook marketing plan is typically broken down into Goals, Objectives, Strategies and Tactics (or GOST). It's easy to get caught up in the strategies and tactics, applying the techniques that have been successful for other projects. But for your best chance for a successful launch, you'll want to start first by establishing the ultimate goals and objectives for the program.

Goals. Typically a new program will be designed with one long-term, primary outcome in mind. It's even possible that the program might be a part of a larger organizational goal. For example, if your law school's strategic plan included the goal of becoming "the nation's leading program for intellectual property," the new LL.M. in Intellectual Property program you've been asked to promote might be a part of that bigger plan. When building your marketing plan, one way to help define this goal is to ask the program director what success looks like five years from now. In the case of a new LL.M. program, it might to be to become a "high-demand, elite program that distinguishes University Law School in the field of intellectual property."

Objectives. These are the measurable steps you plan to take to achieve your goal. If you will excuse another textbook reference, many professionals like to use a "SMART" approach to writing their objectives:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable/Action-Oriented
  • Results-Oriented
  • Time-specific
Unlike goals, you may have more than one objective that will guide your communications plan, however it's still best to narrow your objectives to two or three major priorities. For our hypothetical LL.M. program, one marketing objective could be to "Enroll 25 qualified students by year three."

Strategies. Once you've outlined your goals and objectives, you can begin defining the strategies to accomplish your objectives. For our same LL.M. example, strategies for enrolling 25 qualified students could include reaching out to professional organizations for intellectual property lawyers or engaging J.D. alumni who are in the field of intellectual property or took significant coursework in the area.

In my next post, I'll cover tactics and implementation of your marketing plan, including building timelines for you and your campus clients.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Marketing new programs: A 5-W checklist to get started

If you've worked in higher education for more than six months, it's likely you've also been approached to help market a new program. Whether it's a new event, course, student service or even a degree program, you'll first want to answer these fundamental questions to help define your product before you start building your marketing campaign.

What is it? This is usually the easiest question to answer initially, but go deeper:
  • Has everything been approved by the necessary individuals or departments? 
  • Can changes be made for the program or project to be more marketable? 
  • Should any information remain private?
Who is involved, and who will benefit?
  • Who are the target audiences for the program?
  • Are there strategic partners who can help promote or sponsor the effort?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Who can help reach these audiences (media outlets, professional organizations)?
  • Who are the key individuals who can provide insight in reaching your target audience?
  • Will your program create opportunities for participants to build their networks? 
When? To build your campaign timeline, it often helps to work backward from when the program will launch or the date of the event. Here are a few other things to consider:
  • How much time will your target audience need to decide to participate? apply? RSVP?
  • How much time is available to get the word out to your audience? Is this realistic?
  • Do you need an early incentive (for example, early registration discounts) to gauge interest?
  • How late can people respond and still participate?
  • What scheduling obstacles might your audience experience? These could range from general family or work obligations to incidental conflicts such as competing events, weather or traffic.
  • Is your location obvious or easy to find?
  • Does your location have a built-in target audience?
  • Are there nearby competitors for your program or event?
  • For new events, is the space conducive to achieving your communication goals (such as audience engagement or interaction)?
And most importantly, why? The success of your new program will often depend on your answers to these questions. 
  • Why should your audience participate in this program?
  • What distinguishes your program from others of its kind?
  • Can your new initiative help solve a developing or unique problem?
Working through these questions with your campus clients will help define your market, the messages and approaches to resonate with your target audience, and anticipate potential problems.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Free photo resources for campus clients

It's not uncommon for our office to get requests for stock photography, both of our campus and for more general or random topics. Others won't ask--you might just discover photos of unknown origin when you least expect it. Here are some resources to keep you in the clear with copyright:
  • Refer campus users to your own feed of stock photography for your university or school, and let them check out the Creative Commons-licensed images for other topics. Remind users to assume that all photographs are protected unless they see a license that says otherwise.
  • Stock.Xchange: This site includes thousands of free stock photographs of varying quality, but a discerning eye will find some great images. A free account is required to access the high-resolution download pages.
  • CVBs/Chambers: If you're promoting your campus location, check out your state or local convention and visitors bureau, or perhaps even your chamber of commerce. Large metropolitan areas or tourist regions will often have a photo gallery that's open to local businesses to use, but again, make sure to follow their licensing procedures.
  • Wikimedia Commons: Most Wikipedia pages include images that are a part of their Wikimedia Commons collection. Wikipedia doesn't own these images, but most can be freely reused outside of Wikipedia so long as you follow the restrictions stated by the owner.
  • Government agencies: The public information departments of many federal and state agencies include photo galleries with free high-resolution images in the press room sections of their websites. Usually, attribution is all that's required to use these images.
 Do you have other favorite photo websites? If so, please share them in the comment section.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

10 cringe-worthy things #highered marketing professionals hear

One of my favorite PR news sites recently offered a list of 14 cringe-worthy things PR clients say. As a light-hearted first post for 2013 (following my extended maternity-leave blogging hiatus), I bring to you a version for those of us in higher ed marketing:
  • "Can you make our logo, phone number and web address fit on this pen?"
  • "I don't do social media. Can I have my student assistant run my Facebook page instead?"
  • "I need a link on the home page."
  • "This important official is visiting campus today at noon, and we need publicity. Just don't release his/her name for security reasons."
  • "Only five people have RSVPed for tonight's event downtown. Can you help us get a crowd?"
  • "I heard an ad for your college on the radio. Can we meet for 30 minutes to discuss how stadium bathroom stall advertising can help you reach your target market?"
  • "Can we use these photos from my flip phone in the brochure?"
  • "For some reason, that reporter at [national news outlet] seemed irritated when I called him the next day."
  • "Your design is OK, but we're tired of the school colors so we had our research assistant design something new in Publisher."
  • "Real writers use the serial comma."
Disclaimer: This blogger has worked in higher ed communications for more than 15 years and has heard many stories from many professional peers at many institutions. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Monday, April 16, 2012

How social media hasn't changed #highered PR

There's no question that the social media revolution has radically altered the way we communicate in our professional and personal lives, particularly for those of us who work in higher ed marketing and public relations. But though technology has introduced amazing new tools for accomplishing our goals and objectives, many of the fundamental rules of how we work haven't changed:
  1. Strong communication skills still matter. Core to any professional communicator's craft is the ability to write, edit and verbalize concise, cogent messages in a way that's relevant to their target audience. Whether you're writing a news release or posting a social media update, the classic adage of BLUF ("Bottom Line Up Front") remains true regardless of the medium.
  2. Good relationships still matter. While the academic theory regarding organization-public relationships primarily developed in the 1990s, many of the core public relations principles developed by AT&T's Arthur W. Page in the 1930s–40s would make a good foundation for any communications strategy involving social or traditional media today. Social media makes it easier to establish relationships for a longer period, and the comments shared about us will have a more-lasting impact as well.
  3. High ethical standards still matter. As an extension of point #2, the ability to establish trust is key in maintaining good long-term relationships in our interpersonal interactions (on- and off-line) and in our mass communications. Organizations have always been expected to have good customer service — to be authentic, transparent and responsive in their communications — and social media only highlights the actions of those institutions who don't value the people they serve.
What other core skills and abilities do you consider to be timeless in higher ed communications?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day tips for breaking out of a work rut

No matter how awesome your job may be, anyone can find themselves in a rut at work. Though I've been at the same institution for more than 10 years now, I've been blessed to have a job that has evolved over time. Here are a few tips on keeping things fresh in your professional life over the long haul:
  • Aspire to greatness. In the Bill Murray's classic movie Groundhog Day, his character finds his way out of an endless rut by making his world a better place. While most higher ed jobs don't lead to saving lives, setting a high goal that inspires us can make every day more interesting. Consider pursuing a new credential, learning a new skill, or even earning a graduate degree.
  • Serve others. Apply your professional expertise in a volunteer capacity for a nonprofit organization or community group. You'll get a fresh environment with people who appreciate your service, and you may even pick up a few ideas to bring back to your day job.
  • Find new ways to expedite routine tasks. Do you spend too much time sifting through email, looking for files, or dealing with interruptions? Check out the myriad productivity blogs out there for new ways of getting through the monotonous tasks so you can focus on big-picture projects that can take your work to the next level.
  • Connect with peers outside your institution. Expand your network and meet others who do similar work to you. Social networks, local professional organizations and national conferences can all expose you to people and ideas outside your normal sphere.
What do you do to keep things interesting in your work?