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.
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.