Innovation for the NYT and Higher Ed?

This morning I stumbled upon the Neiman Lab’s article on the Leaked New York Times Innovation Report. Which, you NEED to read. Many of the key take aways are no brainers but a few ring very true to the way we’ve seen digital trending and may even be trying to get our own properties bended towards. 

Some of my favorite highlights for higher ed:

The importance of packaging content: we often create content with no plan on how it will be used, promoted or measured. Also, we think of content as only being something new, not something old. We need to find better ways to use the content we have in innovative, fun and user focused ways. 

The relevance of social media strategy: social media plays a vital role in not only creating news, but spreading it and finding it in real time. We need to be better about creating a strong, integrated, multi-platform strategies that build on each other and reach greater audience depth. 

Taxonomy in all of its glory: we have a ton of data and stories. We need to find better ways to categorize it and serve it up in meaningful, interactive and creative ways that get user attention and make our content work for us longer term. 

User generated content wins: we don’t know it all and could benefit from outsider perspective. Using content from our audience helps extend our knowledge base as well as show our human side. We need to trust and provide more opportunities for this to happen on its own. 

Calculated risk taking: being creative and using new technology is often a risk. Most times, we do not think of ways to include various outlets until someone else takes our content and does it on their own, with all the glory that comes with. We need to try new things more often and learn from what works and what doesn’t. 

Being user focused, not ego focused: this may be the hardest for some well established brands in higher ed (and beyond) to take. People may not be coming to you for specific information. We need to make it easier for them to find, be served it and to share and build upon our own content. 

What take aways did you find the most supportive for your current dream list in your gig?

How #LonelyAlex Had the Best Worst Week Ever

During Spring Break, the campus is not the only place that becomes a ghost town. Usually during this time our social media channels also end up taking a breather. At Hamilton, we’ve seen less of that because of The Scroll: students are able to share their alternative spring break, choir tour, spring training and travel photos in one easy to find place. But beyond that, how do we spur social activity especially the weeks before our admission notifications are released?

While walking across campus the first day of break, I noticed how eerily still and quiet the much traveled path to the fitness center was. I snapped a pic and posted it on our social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) and did not expect much. Much to my surprise, the response was overwhelming. Which brought up another idea: with our Al Ham bobble head becoming a more and more visual piece of our identity (he’s currently the star of our annual giving campaign ‘What’s Your Number’), I decided to turn up the fun a notch and get him involved. So, Alex went around campus snapping selfies lamenting at the empty campus. #LonelyAlex was born.


It did not take long for alumni, current students and prospective students to respond. They loved watching Alex as he sadly travelled around campus hotspots missing students and alums alike as he tried to get a chai latte, took a swim, thought about climbing the rock wall and even landed a double selfie. He was a hit!

What started as a fun way to pass the break ended up a grand experiment. I found out that we gained several followers and the most engagement from Instagram. Facebook was a close second and Twitter was a distant third. On Facebook, even though the likes were extremely high, there were no off-campus shares. This was important because we had been testing the sharing aspect for information campaigns. Because of this, we will probably not be doing that type of campaign moving forward. This information reinforced what we had already been seeing. 

Engagement on our Facebook page for the 2 weeks of spring break was up over 100%. We gained 20 new followers and tripled our likes on Instagram. All in all, what was a simple, fun, quirky campaign yielded our biggest social media engagement and a lot of email, calls and tweets from alumni, prospects and current students talking about poor #LonelyAlex and where he should go next. 

This one’s definitely a keeper. :)


Why a Little ‘Ooooh, Shiny!’ Is OK

ImageLately, I’ve come to realize my wardrobe is extremely lacking. In building it up, I’ve been letting anything that speaks to me in some way end up in my closet. Hence: these shoes. At first, I thought they were ‘too much’. Then, I decide to just give ’em a shot and see how I felt about them. So far, I’ve only warn them once, but it’s still an experiment. One that I’m giddy with anticipation over: I’m finding my THING.

As communication practitioners we’ve come to loathe the shiny. The new. The next thing. Maybe not due to their specific purposes, but because of the disdain they cause us in the office. The desire by others to jump on to the next thing before we’ve even sorted out the old one. The ‘but so and so is using it’. The ‘here’s a vendor that emailed me about using it’. The ‘let’s just do it’. Sigh.

We need to make sure that we balance the ‘WANT’ with the practical need in a way that serves us in all that we do. Little experiments can make all the difference in deciding if a new initiative is a right fit for us. A way to ensure that is to:

1. Make sure it can fit into our current strategy. As long as it does not compete with what we’re trying to do with other tactics go ahead and try that new thing, be it snapchat or letting go of your viewbook.

2. Implement it in a way that’s true to our brand. How would our brand act as a person? This is how we should consider applying new communication strategies.

3. Find a way to add value for our audience. Will this just be a repeat of other channels? How will it give the consumer more?

4. Learn something. About ourselves. About our audience. Use this experiment to find out more and deliver better, in any way.

If we can do these four things, a little ‘Oooh, Shiny’ can be a fantastic thing, instead of the two dirtiest words in our office vocabulary.

How have you balanced the old and the new in your current communications strategy?

Curation over Aggregation – Easier Than You Think

ImageWhen launching The Scroll last year, I was met with a lot of confusion. ‘What does it do?’ and ‘How much time does THAT take?’ became ones I was very used to – and happy to! – answer (Scroll is my baby, of course!). The secret is: it really doesn’t take that much more work.

What makes The Scroll unique is more than the fact that it is not an aggregate of institutional accounts or hashtags. It’s curated content – a mix of institutional accounts, hashtags (across platforms), and found content from student, alumni or staff experiences.

Another step further? It’s segmented by target audience – prospective students/families, current students/staff/local community members, alumni and sports enthusiasts. By doing this, we allow units on campus to deepen engagement by highlighting their own segment – like admissions does with a touch screen in their lobby, allowing visitors to scroll through content specific to them. Social media win!

You’d think that this was either some magical script or a ton of time. But it’s neither. Just like real sentiment analysis, real curation cannot be scripted. It requires a human touch. 

That being said, if your social media person (coordinator, strategist, specialist, director, whatever!) is worth their salt, the first thing they have in place is a strong social media listening strategy. This includes not only your institutional accounts and tags, but also what’s being said about you out on the web in other formats. Those nitty gritty places. Is what you’re promoting on your social aggregator/accounts what students/alums REALLY feel/think/say? You need to know the worst to be the best.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 3.48.47 PMCuration is just one step further. You see all this great content. This #realtalk. But does anyone else? Only you are stringing together conversations, sentiment and a bigger picture of the brand based on authentic experiences. What if others could also see that? For Scroll, I’ve already seen 90% of the content before I see it in my admin screen for Scroll. I know it exists and it is not a surprise. Because I’m already curating content for use on other networks, clicking a link to the admin screen and checking off two boxes (a segmented tab designation and publish) is one extra, simple step. I can even do it via my iPhone.

Social media is not a silo. It’s an integrated part of communication with our audience, for and about us. It is content. Taking an extra minute to put content in context goes a very long way in helping showcase a conversation that we’re not only a part of but a contributor to. How are you curating content? Do you do this in more than just social ‘asks’ via unsolicited curation? How about other formats beyond social?

‘Social Marketing’ is NOT Social Media Marketing

Social-Marketing-Kotler-Philip-9780761924340Social. SoMe. SocMed. Whatever you shorten it to, as professionals in its application, we know what you’re talking about: social media. But how often do we see in posts, articles and titles ‘Social Marketing’? For me the answer is: too often.

Social Marketing is a communications discipline rooted in consumer behavior change for the common good. Think the Verb or Truth campaigns. It is the reason I decided to attend graduate school at Emerson College in Boston. Most often, social marketing is utilized in health communication, but more recently, has been applied to college access campaigns, which is where I got my start in its application, along with the Know How 2 Go campaign.

Social Marketing is very reliant on great, integrated communication and seeks to move the consumer from awareness to action. This action is seen as something that will benefit the consumer – or the common good – even if they have to ‘give something up’ in order to receive it. What better an application than higher education? Showing the value in the outcome – not a purchase, but a behavior change that benefits the consumer and society, not the provider –  in order to justify the cost as well as the time invested is what social marketing is all about.

But, social media marketing, obviously is very different. It is only the use of social media to achieve marketing goals. When we label social media marketing as ‘social marketing’ we’re very much in the wrong and risk looking like we’re ignorant to key concepts in marketing communication. It’s hard enough to be taken seriously as practitioners of best use of such ever-changing media without the added issue of lack of marketing terminology. We as social media strategy developers need to be seen as more than just hyper users. We need to clearly define our worth as integrated marketers. That we can build a brand identity and messaging consistency and strength by integrating across media – not only within our silo of social media.

Social Media Awareness Campaigns – Did It Work?

ImageIn building a great integrated social media public awareness campaign, we afford a lot of time, effort and research to writing great email/web/poster/direct mail copy, designing images we wish to ‘go viral’ and developing landing pages we hope engage our reader. Like me, I’m sure you’re often asked after any social media endeavor, ‘Did it work?’ This can be particularly challenging for social media campaigns geared towards public awareness instead of solid goal conversions, like registration, donations or providing content. So how do we quantify success for awareness?

Personally, I like to look at two things: engagement – defined as taking some type of step within the platform, and action – going outside of the platform, most likely, to our website. You can take this a step further to how long they stay on your content (assuming, they are reading it if they are there longer) with, say, time on site, or how deep their visit goes into your other content with depth of visit. Obviously, if you have goals set up, you can see if these actions lead to goal conversion, repeat visits, or social shares. If someone is engaging with the content, I feel good about the effort, but if they take an action, I feel like the effort ‘worked.’ Remember that the effort compounds over time: getting out there in social channels with polished, well thought out content also elevates the channel as a means of communication in the eyes of your audience. The hope is that you’re building your reputation and that people will pay attention going forward. This is why we should be measuring organic social media traffic and how it aids in maintaining a high level of return visitors to our site as well as completed goals over time. One campaign does not a social media strategy make. 


Then there’s the testing capability. Where did your audience engage the most? Where did they take the most action? You can research what worked for other institutions and guesstimate what could work, but until you begin creating for and utilizing integrated social media public awareness campaigns, you’ll not know what your audience will truly do. Then there are the tougher questions: did it not resonate because it was not ‘cool’ enough? Was the topic not clearly expressed? Was it just expensive noise? These questions are probably best answered over time through the above measurements as well as anecdotal evidence from key constituencies.

Awareness building takes time and is quantifiable but more than this it needs to be diligently and clearly expressed to all stakeholders. We need to be sure we set expectations of the outcome and report true measurements that reflect the campaign’s influence. Best practice would dictate that, as we create more content and more integrated campaigns, awareness will build. As long as our campaigns stay true to the overall brand positioning, we’ll be able to elevate them in a way that makes the most sense in the minds of our consumer.

Doing Social Media ‘Well’

By now, most of us have been able to achieve some level of institutional buy in required to either test or use social media at some level within our universities. The issue we are now struggling with is how do we begin to use it ‘well’. While we are all still testing – and while it changes daily – there are no hard and fast rules to ‘doing it well’ no matter what some people may tell you. This is because ‘well’ is extremely subjective. Let’s discuss.

Every social media professional, it seems, subscribes to their own ‘best practices’. It’s very hard to tell people that there are a certain set of ‘must dos’ because we all tackle social media in different ways. Some swear by Facebook. Some love to use social media advertising. Some go all organic. Which ever your choice, of course, a certain mix and test of everything should be what we use to find how we can best achieve our goals with one major caveat: there is no best practice without strategy.

It’s not as easy as attending a conference or webinar on what xyz institution did. It’s great to learn from others – both mistakes and wins – but we all need to do our own individual research to find out what’s best for our institutional goals. What can we achieve with what we have? Where do we need the most help in perception? It’s not as simple as getting code from someone or doing the same creative challenge.

Which backs us up even further. What is your strategy for using social media in your communication mix? This is a question that most do not seem to ask. Many move forward with social media in a silo, asking how to sustain it – usually via creative campaigns or contests – rather than how to integrate it. Positions like ‘Director of Social Media’ pop up and dissolve as it becomes apparent that social media is not something that can be segregated to one person, but rather needs to be included into the overall communications plan. What it always comes back to is content – that which resonates with our audience, enforces our brand positioning, is creative and that we use across multiple platforms, including social media.

Because we do not fully integrate, we try to get by in gaming the system. We pay to boost posts, create ‘like gates’, rest on vanity metrics and struggle to truly define ‘engagement’ when our goals for using social were never created. We cannot just say we want to ‘build a community’ or ‘engagement’ but rather we need to tie back our efforts to our marketing and branding goals. This does not mean to say that everything needs a KPI or dollar goal conversion. We need to finally do the hard work to clearly state what our goals for social are in tangible, trackable data. 

Also, social media is not just our accounts. It is conversations that people are having about us – without us – anywhere on the web. We need to think of social media more broadly than just that which we create and cultivate via our own tags. It is sharing of content from our site, other sites, forums, comments, reviews – anything. Our social media strategy – our integrated marketing strategy – should encompass these outlets as well.

Instead of thinking as social media, email, the web site, events, advertising and print as separate vehicles, we really need to work hard to weave them together in a way that makes sense to our audience. Even if this means more work and including people we may not usually include in our content planning. We may see them as separate products but our audience does not. Instead of creating new content for every medium, let’s think about multi-use of content in ways that build conversation and reiterate our points. To me, this is how social exists: as an extension of everything that we do, not an additional silo for a director to ‘keep going’.

How are you integrating social media into your communications plan? What data do you track for social media overall?