This month’s “Best Practices” article is inspired by two growing trends in higher ed marketing and recruitment.
Trend #1: Student-to-student marketing
Nobody likes talking to a brand, digital natives can see right through typical precision messaging that uses warm campus images with ethnically diverse groups of students studying, engaging in a civic duty, or having a one-on-one with a faculty member that rearranges their schedule to accommodate every student. If you don’t think digital natives can see right through your scripted sales pitch, then you need to attend more industry meetings.
Trend #2: Less is best marketing
Admissions offices implementing a specialized programs and activities marketing strategy have seen an increases in qualified applicants. They are achieving this by making it easy for students to find the information they want and they are ensuring an early connection by giving their strongest opportunities prominent placement online and in social networks.
What we know
- Research shows that 40% of prospective students say the first link they look for on a college website it academic programs and majors.
- Students loathe perfect messaging and communications from brands.
- 92% of people trust brand recommendations from people they know.
- Finally, 70 percent of prospective students would like to hear from current students during the college search process.
What readMedia users are doing
Colleges and universities are using readMedia to promote unique programs, clubs, and activities. By doing this, they are able to target, inspire, and drive prospective students to action. Here are some great examples of your peers using readMedia to market their institution’s valuable and unique opportunities:
Space the Final Frontier
Budding astronauts, physicists, engineers, and astronomers, can’t do better than landing an internship at NASA. Clemson University granted Molly Townsend of San Diego an achievement for participating in NASA’s Glenn Academy Space Exploration program at the Glenn Research Center.
Pop Quiz: What would be more valuable to Misericordia University, posting a description about Intro to Astronomy on their Facebook Fan Page or having students share their participation in Intro to Astronomy with hundreds of family members and friends on Facebook and Twitter?
Real life Indiana Jones
Did you know that Mesalands Community College offers a week long Paleontology Field Discovery class, excavating fossils and processing them at an actual Dinosaur Museum? Until this Achievement came through, neither did we. Gary shared his Mesalands branded achievement with his 1,061 Facebook friends, and received great engagement through likes and encouraging comments.
Mesalands effectively used readMedia to market one of their unique and highly valuable hands-on courses.
A student and a sorcerer
Marquette University granted Chelsea Greco an achievement for participating in the inaugural club quiddich team. Chelsea’s achievement was awarded a institutionally verified sports badge.
Marketing upper lip hair
A word of advice for all of our new readMedia users. Look to your unique clubs like Carleton College’s official Mustache Club for inspiration. Granting the members of the Mustache Club an achievement for participation or holding a fundraiser, is a great way to make current students feel important and connected. It also gives students, institute branded, content to share with their family and friends on Facebook and Twitter.
readMedia equips you with a social media strategy that leverages your student’s Facebook wall to promote your institution. Rejuvenate your content and social media strategy with powerful testimonial, word-of-mouth marketing that is scalable, predictable and measurable.
Are you using readMedia to promote unique programs, course, clubs, or activities? If so, send us a link to one of your achievements and we’ll feature it in our November newsletter!
If you found this post useful, check out our article on how to “Attract Students With Provocative Programs and Student Stories.”
The pinstripe-power-suit invasion is descending on university marketing and comms departments. If your higher ed institution doesn’t have a Chief Marketing Officer yet, thought leaders and the latest buzz from esteemed publications like the Wall Street Journal are beating the drum for one, stating, “the arrival of the CMO is the biggest shift in higher-ed administration in the past decade.” In an attempt to strengthen brand communications, harness communications expenditures, and ensure the outcomes outweigh investment, higher ed decision makers are opening the doors of academia to corporate CMOs.
Budget cuts and spending scrutiny are forcing many higher education institutions to think and function like a business – whether the groves of academe accommodate it or not. Today’s higher ed CMO demands that communications teams replace legacy, low-value spending with measurable, higher-ROI tactics where possible. And let’s put the strife aside between traditional public relations and marketing offices; the truth is, both offices are discovering that “big business” accountability doesn’t care what role or function you serve so long as you meet institutional goals with quantifiable outcomes.
Marketing metrics level the playing field for all campus communicators, threatening expensive and hard to measure legacy tactics like billboards and print ads (and hard to justify ones like Yellow Pages buys). Communications offices have to justify their spending. Being under the thumb of the campus CMO means there is no room for inadequate metrics to report performance and in/effectiveness. You want to earn your keep, work together and show the ROI. Three sound marketing tactics that campus PR and marketing offices can use to drive down spending, increase ROI, build brand identity, engage key audiences, and legitimize communications efforts are:
- Adopt new tools and methods
- Develop an integrated content strategy
- Track outcomes and measuring performance
Paid, earned, and owned media are the three channels to promote institutional goals and establish brand affinity. As multi-channel communications become an important part of the marketing-mix, communications offices must transform qualitative tactics into measurable results. To accomplish this, universities such as Vanderbilt and James Madison implement content strategies that elevate their institutions through the highest valued brand endorsement, earned media.
Vanderbilt using tools, content, outcomes
Melanie Moran, associate director of University News and Communications at Vanderbilt University, admits that writing press releases is still important, but PR needs to take advantage of the plethora of channels designed for sharing news and information. Vanderbilt is repurposing content to gain earned media, engage stakeholders, and create two-way conversations using the foundational elements of PR:
- strengthening connections to your organization,
- building a community, and
- get media attention.
Vanderbilt made “research enterprise” the focus of their communications, from brand identity to PR. After developing a content strategy around research, university news and communications adopted a new, narrow set of social media tools, and essentially create multiple doors to the same repository of content.
In doing this, university news and communications has the ability to find, publish, promote, and more importantly track the impact of sharing great stories. News and communications continues to demonstrate its value with measurable outcomes. In one year, news and communications drove 2.5M visitors to their website, increased Facebook engagement by nearly 19%, and upped twitter interactions by 35%.
James Madison using tools, content, outcomes
Enrollment selectivity and student fit is a key goal of JMU’s strategic plan. Instead of creating marketing collateral that pitched the strength of its incoming fall class, JMU uses a platform that creates individual stories for each of their 4,200 freshmen and publishes these stories online. Each student is emailed a URL to their story, where they can read and easily share their unique stories on Facebook and other social networks.
By using readMedia, a software that validates and promotes accomplishments and then measures the audience and engagement with them, the communications office at JMU took generic content that lacked traction with audiences, and repurposed it to generate thousands of personalized stories that are relevant and engaging for each individual student. This personalization allows each student’s family, friends, and social networks to become an audience for each story.
In just three months, JMU promoted 10 achievements, generating 15,516 individual student stories that were published online and distributed to more than 36,000 students and parents. Students and parents shared these institutionally branded accomplishments on Facebook, reaching an audience of approximately 2.1M, driving 40,693 friends and family members to the original story. JMU’s news and communications department continues to demonstrate their impact by creating strong, authentic brand affiliation that supports the institution’s enrollment goals – outcomes that make senior administrators very happy.
Vanderbilt and JMU rely on the content and relationship management of PR and the measurable social media tactics of marketing to build brand awareness and fill the admission funnel. Replacing traditional, low value spending with higher-ROI earned and owned media will bring more attention to your institution, strengthen your brand, and turn engaged brand ambassadors into measurable marketing assets, further demonstrating your value and satisfying your CMO.
You’re the center of communication for your institution. The University employs you to create connections with the academic community and all of its stakeholders, and you’re successful in doing so. You have a communications strategy in place, you engage the community, and you present a consistent message at all points of contact. You rock!
So, why is it so damn hard to communicate with departments within your institution?
We understand that it can be hard to communicate with other departments. For this reason, we’re revamping our readMedia guide, and the new resource/help center will have a section dedicated to outreach and onboarding departments. In the meantime, I will give you what we have, some best practices to help you create relationships between departments, so you can get the information you need to crank out institution branded content.
- Create an Achievement Calendar. Once you’ve done this, you can identify the departments you need to contact to get the student information for a particular story or achievement. We just published an article that talks about creating an Achievement Calendar.
- Once you have identified the achievements you’ll be sending and the departments you need to reach out to, you can do to things. 1) Create an email to let other offices and departments know what readMedia is, how you plan to use it, and what you need from them and why. 2) Create a mini presentation and get members of a single office or department together to meet and discuss why publishing student achievements is beneficial to their departments and supports the institutions strategic plan and mission.
- Provide each department with a spreadsheet that includes the column headings necessary to create and post their students’ stories. Here is an example of what to ask departments to include in your spreadsheet.
We understand that departments do not always have easy access to student information; here are some suggestions:
- You can always ask for a master list of all students from your institution’s registrar office. A master list will allow you to create smaller spreadsheets for activities and achievements outside of graduation and dean’s list.
- Finally, seek out your “student database guru,” they can create a readMedia query (directory information on), enabling you to pull student information as needed. An example of when this would come in handy, when your study abroad coordinator sends you a spreadsheet half populated, you can refer to the master list to fill in the blanks.
If the suggestions outlined above still don’t produce fruit, call us, we’ll help you create a strategy and assist you in reaching these departments.
Leaving the K-12ers out of this, higher education institutions work all year-long, and no, they don’t get out at 3 o’clock either. In fact, with all of the writing, media monitoring, event planning and attending, crisis communications, and addressing breaking news, many college and university communicators work well over 40 hours per week.
Admittedly, summertime tends to be less eventful, but thoughtful experimentation and strategic planning have campus communicators plugging away. To support this humble opinion, I quickly Googled, “Higher ed gets summer off,” and surprise, surprise, I came across a number of recent articles that address the old platitudes:
- Dr. Ray Pastore, blogs about teaching, researching, and preparing this summer.
- Kristine M. Khire, identifies the stereotypes and misconceptions about higher ed PR in a PRSA article.
- Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason, braces herself whenever someone asks her what she does for a living. Her recent blog post addresses what she does each summer, and provides a laundry list of summertime faculty development opportunities for schools on a budget.
What all three authors have in common, they use the summer interval to improve what they do, so they can make higher education better! While I wish I could shield the cogs of higher ed from these stereotypes, I come armed with only two tools, 1) this newsletter and 2) this blog.
Our June newsletter is dedicated to all the summer time workers in higher ed; may you continue to take this time to make higher ed better for your institution and its stakeholders, and may we have the privilege of giving you the resources you need to succeed.
My boss shot me a link to this great article by TechCrunch guest writer Roger Warner, titled “Social Media Gurus Push Conversations Over Kudos, And Fail.”
In his post, Warner writes about the proper and improper use of corporate social media marketing to engage audiences. Warner’s tidings can be applied to any industry, and certainly to higher education.
If I had to delineate and apply Warner’s wisdom to a higher-ed institutional marketing and brand communications plan, it would boil down to these key Do’s and Don’ts:
Social Media Marketing Do’s
- Give students a stage to tell and share their story
- Use social media to create conversations between people (not with your brand)
- Create stories to share by giving students great content and experiences that make them the hero, i.e., smarter, cooler, motivated, and generous
Social Media Marketing Don’ts
- Create social media experiments that simply invite people to participate
- Use everyday college-based information to promote discussion, i.e. brand to fan conversations
- Enhance your institution’s brand over your students personal brand
In the end, we all want the same thing: schools want students to increase performance, graduate, get a job, and give back; students want to have their achievements recognized, publicized, and shared; and, campus communications and public relations offices want to share their students’ achievements, bring big attention to their institution, and create a brand that represents the ultimate academic community. Let’s not forget, parents. Parents want, well…they want it all: school reputation, child’s success, and the proper recognition of their child’s achievements.
At readMedia, we see the big picture and our readMedia application allows you to successfully create social media content, based on the activities and achievements of your students.
Stop wasting time trying to engage your academic community and let it happen naturally by showcasing your stakeholder’s Achievements. Getting them noticed, will get you noticed.
readMedia customers who’ve watched our platform evolve over the last 18 months know that publicizing student achievements in social media is an authentic, powerful way to reach audiences online with positive brand messaging. Turning students (and parents!) into advocates by getting them to share stories of their own accomplishments at an institution is an engaging content strategy that gets results. These personalized stories, and the visual badges that accompany them, are a way to create “micro-virality” about the success of your students and expose all of their connections to the great opportunities available at your institution.
We love the standard set of readabout.me badges that accompany student achievement stories. Designed by Pepco Studios’ Phil Pascuzzo, designer of the original Twitter bird logo, these badges are colorful, engaging and look great in the Facebook newsfeed (plus they generate a ton of likes and comments — four times the average!). But, we also know that many institutions have worked hard to develop strict visual identity systems that incorporate elements of their brand — school colors, mascots, taglines. As a result, we’ve rolled out a new product: readMedia clients now have the opportunity to brand the achievement badges, and even design completely custom badges!
Dozens of our current clients — like Clemson University, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Marist College, Clarkson University, Union College in Kentucky, and Hudson Valley Community College — have all upgraded their readMedia subscriptions to include custom branding on readabout.me. By adding their institution’s name and colors to the existing readabout.me badges, or by having their internal graphics team design custom badges, these institutions and many more are ensuring that when students and parents share achievements online, the badges and the achievement are instantly recognizable and affiliated with the college.
In addition to badges that more closely match an institution’s visual identity, branding packages on readabout.me also include a landing page that aggregates and highlights achievements from that institution’s students. Colleges can design this landing page and link to its other social media properties and its web site.
When students don a college sweatshirt or affix a university window sticker to the back of their car, they’re showcasing their pride and affiliation with an institution. Customized branding on readabout.me allows institutions to ensure that type of affiliation is happening online, too. When a Clemson student shares an achievement that proudly bears a purple-and-orange Clemson badge, complete with the tiger paw, all of his or her Facebook friends connect that student and his or her achievement — be it making the president’s list, studying abroad, or earning a scholarship — with the institution where it occurred. And since the average achievement shared to Facebook generates 7 click-throughs back to the original story on readabout.me, colleges have an even stronger opportunity to drive prospects to their other social properties and web site via the readabout.me story.
If you’re interested in learning about how to add branding and custom badges to your institution’s readabout.me presence, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every story you send out on the readMedia platform automatically creates a personalized achievement online for your students – this achievement is created from the single format template you create in your account. The personalized achievements live on readabout.me [see example]. At readabout.me students can share their achievements on Facebook and Twitter [see example]. Students can even claim their achievement and attach a photo [see example].
The students’ individual achievements are then rolled up into a professional, powerful online profile on readabout.me that shows the great things their involved in on campus. Each time you send out an achievement for a particular student, it will automatically attach to their readabout.me profile [See example].
All achievements on readabout.me are awarded a unique “badge of approval” by readMedia to show that they’ve been verified by your institution. The badges are a visual representation of the achievement.
Students can’t find their achievements online if you don’t notify them!
Student emails: the most important piece of the puzzle
To notify students that you’re acknowledging their achievement, you must include their email addresses in the spreadsheet you upload to the readMedia platform. Your students will automatically receive an email that directs them to their achievement on readabout.me.
The notification comes from your email address and it contains a list of the newspapers the achievement was sent to [see example]. You can even notify mom and dad by simply putting each email address in a separate column.
All you have to do is press send and readMedia takes care of the rest!
Why is readabout.me important for my college or university?
readabout.me is a powerful strategic marketing tool for your institution and your brand. It unites social media, earned media and reputation management to create meaningful results in brand awareness, engagement and key institutional outcomes.
See how colleges and universities are promoting readabout.me on campus.
Why is readabout.me important for students?
readabout.me creates a positive online identity for students. It helps people who make decisions about internships, grad school, and jobs find the “good stuff” about them.
Your readMedia subscription is not just a media relations tool. Contact us to learn how other colleges and universities are positioning readMedia and readabout.me in their overall communication plan and how your subscription supports marketing and branding objectives, enrollment, and student outcomes.
This is the third post in a series aimed at showing you how our best clients are using readMedia for maximum results.
Strategic Tip #3: Turn recurring student achievements into automatic hometowners each semester.
While each college or university has their own unique student activities and achievements happening on campus, there are certain activities that will occur every semester, year after year.
Mapping out a content strategy of student activities and achievements to the school year will help you identify the hometowners you should be sending every semester. To get started, take a look what goes on during every month of the semester and pick out the recurring events.
Here are a few examples of activities that you should acknowledge every semester:
After you’ve mapped out your content strategy, you should reach out to the activity coordinators to inform them of readabout.me. The goal is to create a procedure so you can quickly obtain your information every semester. All you need is a list of the students involved and generic content about the activity.
Now a quick email to the coordinators at the beginning of each semester will serve as a reminder. And since your templates are saved in your Hometown Newsmaker Account, you can simply reuse your templates every semester.
To help you get started, we’ve created a calendar of recurring student achievements.
Hometown Newsmaker started as a product to make it easy for colleges to send group announcements like dean’s list to local newspapers. But over the past few years, it’s eclipsed this tactical purpose and is becoming a strategic grassroots marketing tool and a way to build the online reputation of your students — on the web at readabout.me, via social networks like Facebook, and in local, hometown media.
Working with readMedia clients over the past few months, I’ve realized that those who are most successful are the colleges who have made a conscious switch from using Hometown Newsmaker as a tactical tool to embracing it as a strategic one.
In the next series of blog posts, I’ll share how some of our best clients are using the platform for maximum results.
Strategic tip #1: You Need to Re-think the Concept of Hometown News
Hometown news is moving away from press releases. Sure, the traditional function of hometown news is still important, but what it has really turned into is a content strategy with the opportunity to create a grassroots marketing cycle.
Hometown News is all about recognizing all kinds of achievements in a personalized way, and providing each student with a link to their achievement online at readabout.me (where your students’ personalized online achievements live) to share via Facebook, Twitter or email – this gets positive stories about your institution into the social graphs of your students.
Beyond Dean’s List and Graduation
Using Hometown Newsmaker to only publish achievements like dean’s list and graduation is a missed opportunity. Our most successful clients are those who treat all kinds of student accomplishments and activities as a chance to recognize and promote their students and the opportunities available at their institution.
Today’s millennial-generation students are used to receiving praise and recognition for everything they do — any many of their college activities are indeed praise-worthy.
Stories that in the aggregate seem trivial to include in your online newsroom or pitch to national reporters (like 300 students being inducted into an honor society) are all important achievements to individual students and their family. When these stories become personalized, they’re more meaningful and more likely to be shared.
If you’re a student or a parent, are you more like to share a story from the university newsroom about a groundbreaking on a new wing of the science building, or a story about you or your daughter winning a scholarship?
Colleges who make the most out of Hometown Newsmaker are constantly taking stories about large groups of students and their activities or achievements and creating personalized, hometown news stories from them. You can probably take a look at your current newsroom and find you have dozens of stories you already write in the aggregate that could easily be broken down into personalized hometowners. Here are some great examples:
- UNL students making Cornhusker Marching Band (260 individual stories)
- Washington College welcoming all incoming Freshmen (534 individual stories)
- Georgia Tech students earn Faculty Honors (451 individual stories)
- Malone University students spend summer abroad (77 individual stories)
Hometown News 2.0
Hometown news is classic refrigerator journalism. Local newspapers still love and value this type of content from colleges about local residents. People clip out these stories, pass them around, stick them up on the refrigerator. But today, Facebook is the online refrigerator door. Make sure that your hometown news strategy involves lots of opportunities for students and parents to post their achievements to their wall and share their success with their friends and family.
What type of content can you give students and parents that they will want to share and brag about?
I’ve been working in higher education for nearly seven years, all at Tufts University. Before that, I worked in the online newsroom for The Boston Globe / Boston.com for three years right out of college at Boston University, where I studied journalism. One of the reasons I sought a job in higher ed communications was because of my experience as a student employee in the Alumni Publications office at BU. It seemed like such a smart, collegial work environment. I also sought the opportunity to feel that a closer connection to the mission and purpose behind the work I did everyday, and working in higher ed has provided that in spades. It’s a great feeling.
I’m still a bit of a newshound, and I confess to missing the high-adrenaline atmosphere of a newsroom, but I have really embraced the challenge of bringing a mainstream media mindset to higher ed web communications.
Can you tell me a little bit about your blog, Meet Content, and what motivated you to start it?
I co-founded Meet Content with Rick Allen in March of this year, but the idea formed at the end of last October. We had both presented on content-related topics at HighEdWeb and Stamats SIMTech, and we were energized by all the great conversations we had about content development and strategy at those conferences. It seemed to us that people in higher ed wanted to talk and learn about content-specific topics, and while we saw these topics get covered occasionally in other higher ed blogs, we felt there was a niche that we could fill.
Rick and I live in the same town outside of Boston, so literally on the cab ride home from the airport on the way back from SIMTech, we began cooking up the idea of what eventually became Meet Content. The response has been tremendous. From the feedback we’re getting, it seems like people have been hungry for a chance to focus on how to make better content in higher ed.
What would you recommend to someone in Higher Education that is just developing his or her content marketing and/or social media marketing strategy?
Listen, listen, listen. That includes listening to your constituents, your stakeholders, your colleagues, your industry peers. Listen and learn to find out what works, what doesn’t, what’s necessary, what’s possible, what’s not possible. Relatedly, make it a big tent. Find the other social media and/or content practitioners at your institution and creating a learning community. Help each other out, share resources and information, create efficiencies, learn from each other’s successes and failures.
My other bit of advice would be to think holistically. Don’t flesh out your big Twitter/Facebook/Foursquare strategy without thinking about how it impacts your website, how you promote it via your newsletter, and so on. We can’t think about these things in separate buckets anymore. Every channel, whether it’s a magazine or a Twitter account, is a spoke off of the common hub of getting out message out there. They’ve all got to work together to get the wheel turning.
What is the one misconception about content marketing and/or social media marketing in Higher Education that you would like people to understand?
This stuff is harder than it looks! It may not take long to actually craft a 140-character tweet (or 120-character if you want to leave room for retweeting :-)) but what does take time is thinking about how social media fits into your broader online communications strategy, how Twitter specifically helps execute those goals, building your editorial calendar, determining what resources are committed to maintaining that presence, monitoring and engaging and all the accordant responsibilities of community management… the list goes on!
It also takes a while for our efforts to pay dividends. A community isn’t built overnight. We can’t measure the effectiveness of our engagement on Twitter after a few weeks (and the whole question of measurement is another sticky wicket — my Reader’s Digest answer is that we need to identify the key stats we want to track, have a sense of why they’re important, track them over time and contextualize the numbers with exemplary anecdotes). We need to be patient, and implore our superiors to be patient. It’s not magic, despite what some may believe. But you know what? When it all comes together, it does add up to something pretty darned special.