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‘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?

“Are We Doing Our F*$%ing Jobs?” – A Love Letter to Negative Social Media

One week ago today I was lucky enough to speak at Higher Ed Open Mic put on by Eduventures during the American Marketing Association’s Higher Education Symposium in Boston. It was a fantastic event with a great crowd, drinks, snacks, prizes and yes, great speakers.

I told myself that I was going to tone down my ‘dirty pirate mouth’, but the vibes, crowd and passion of the week (living vicariously through others at #ConfabEDU as well as taking part in #AMAHigherED it was an epic week for learning and being around likeminded people) got the better of me. In true Jess fashion, a few – OK more than a few – F Bombs were dropped. But, I like to think they were well placed points of exclamation. :)

My brief riff focused on the importance of #RealTalk in social media: from ourselves as brands as well as from our consumers in higher ed. This means negative social media as well. Here’s the list of reasons I gave as to why I feel this way:

It’s Real. If you don’t listen to what your consumers are saying, what’s the point? Listening to negative social media shows you what people may be saying about you, but not really willing to say to your face. Ever have a friend not tell you that an outfit was unflattering until after you realized it? It’s that kind of ‘keeping it real’ that social media can help us achieve as brands. Be willing to listen, especially to the hard stuff.

It’s A Customer Service Opportunity. Social media has come a long way in the minds of institutions. We now know that we can listen to negative comments as a way to continue our personal touches in our service to customers. If you do not respond via social media, yet it is a channel you use to ‘push’ information out? Well, that’s just bad manners. You do not get to choose when and how social media are used if you have them in place. Be aware and respond accordingly. It’s huge for brand perception, and reactions, however small, remain in the minds of the consumer, but beyond this, they may spread like wildfire across the net.

It’s a Chance to Nip it in the Bud. If someone is telling lies about you, you want to set them straight, correct? By having things bubble up via social media, you’re given a chance to put out fires before they’re really smokin’. Lies, inappropriate information and other untruths uncovered early and diffused while small are something to be thankful for. They are opportunities you may never have brought to you in person.

It’s a Chance to FIX IT! If a problem is presented, you can resolve it. Even if you cannot resolve a particular problem – for instance, in financial aid or acceptance decisions – you can at least listen. Sometimes, listening is the ‘fix’ that people seek. You misspelled something? Fix it. Thank the person for caring enough to point it out. Move on.

It’s an Opportunity for Program Development. As mentioned previously, social media become a place where people feel more comfortable speaking their minds. Maybe they think you aren’t listening. Maybe they think you won’t respond. But if you can glean any information from social media about your programs or events, wouldn’t you use that to make them better? Any negative comment about your programs could just be a criticism and something that you can do better. Build better programs with more honest feedback.

Let others Speak Up on Your Behalf. We all know the power of the community in policing itself. Letting others speak up on your behalf is perhaps the holy grail of social media for brands. People believe in what you do enough to come to your defense. When they can feel that type of allegiance and brand affinity, well, you’re doing your job right.

It’s the perfect opportunity to apply the brand. If your brand stands for something and is somehow a voice or entity in social media, how better can you showcase who you are and what you stand for than by dealing with a situation seen as negative? By speaking up, one-on-one, you’re given the opportunity to be the thing you speak of. To show rather than tell. It allows your brand to come to life – this is where we see the majority of big wins in social media. Think Tesco’s Twitter account. In higher ed, if we are doing our jobs well as educators and mentors, why are we so worried about what our students and alumni are saying about us. If our product is as great as we say it is, should we really fear social media? Are we doing our f&*%ing jobs?

To me, negative social media is a grand opportunity: to be better. To be human. To listen. How is your higher ed brand doing this? How can we all do it better?

Authenticity as Opportunity

be-authenticAs it always does, #heweb13 got me thinking. During several presentations questions regarding user generated content arose from the audience:

“What if someone says something negative? Do you post it? Delete it? Respond to it?”


“How do you deal with questionable topics?”

In an industry still primarily stuck in brick and mortar (for now), ‘fit’ is a huge piece of retaining students. Spending thousands of dollars in recruitment is for nothing if we are not true in our advertising, students find out and then end up leaving. This seems like an opportunity to me.

Often, we’re looking for ways to have our audience elevate our buzz in social media. Maybe we give them a task (send us a pic of you in your XX wear!). Maybe we support a contest (make a video telling us how much you love us!). But how much time and effort do we put into amplifying the content that they already create about us? About their experiences, thoughts, dislikes and tribulations? Can’t we argue this is the true college experience? The one we’ll most likely lose when we all go MOOC-style? Is this a hidden, too obvious opportunity?

What about our profiles in social media? The personal ones we use to interact with students? Are they truly us? Our professional persona? Our institutional ‘brand’? Is there value in building relationships with a talking logo over an actual personal connection?

What if we just started holding up a mirror to our students and alumni as our communication strategy? If we took off our masks and just were people, not advisors or counselors, communicators or marketers?

Are we scared of getting in trouble or of what people would say? Both of these are problematic but especially the latter.

If we assume our students will bad mouth us or act out of accordance with our standards, did we do our job?

The Value of a Like

originalFor those just starting to use Facebook, or for those who love them some vanity metrics,  a like can seem to mean so much. FINALLY! Someone is listening to me! They like me! They really like me! Or…maybe not so much.

Consider for a moment how you personally utilize the function of liking on Facebook. Is it for acknowledgment of the person posting, a type of virtual ‘I hear you’ or ‘I agree’? Or is it more of an ‘I saw this’? Further, how often do you choose to comment over liking or in addition to liking?

For brands, what do likes translate into? Are they truly engagement or passive acknowledgement? MDG advertising references a study saying that a Facebook like is equal to $174.14. Business Insider states that the value of a like can be as high as $214.81. Then there’s this from Dan Zarrella, also, calculating likes as revenue. Most of these studies also say that the value of likes is going up over time. But these are related to a tangible sales funnel, e-commerce, etc. I’ve had a hard time for a while with the idea that social media in higher ed can be tracked back to a dollar amount. I understand that we can try to calculate the value of a visit or an application but truly, this is speculation. It does not take into account financial aid, scholarships, retention factors or the value of the brand itself. Overall, turning social media actions into dollar amounts for a brand like a university are flawed at best.

Is this what we are really looking for though when we ask ourselves what these likes really mean for us? Perhaps, as institutions, our question should not be what is the value of a like, but rather, how do we define value in our social spaces?

We seem to be trying to find ways to monetize something that cannot – and possibly should not – be monetized but rather nurtured. True, focused engagement with the required corresponding sentiment analysis and outcome tracking cannot be obtained from pure numbers – especially not those provided to us from Facebook insights. It is for these reasons in particular that the system that UIN has put into place for their over 170 social media accounts to report on various vanity metrics is flawed, in particular if they are looking for things that may cause them risk or legal harm. The machine of analytic tracking cannot determine if you have reached your goal, incorporate sentiment analysis, account for sarcasm, connect outcomes to earned media, increased brand mentions, etc. That is the human’s job.

Likes are valuable because they show us what our audience enjoys. They help us do our jobs better as administrators and posters of content. But they are not the be all and end all of our social media strategy and its outcomes. Recently, I started to look at the number of likes on a post versus the number of clickthroughs on that post link. I found that many times, the clickthroughs were at least double that of the likes. Hm. Do likes then really tell us what content our audience desires or does it tell us that a portion of our audience are likers – people that like things to signify that they agree with the post or that they’ve seen it? There clearly is no way to tell this but I find it fascinating. So, for us, our social media strategy relies more on the outcome of clickthroughs – knowing that people choose to read more about the content posted, instead of liking it. Our goal is to get more people to read it, find value and then share it.

But if they like it, boy that sure does feel good.

Why Crowdfunding is Not a Social Media Strategy

40e3174e8ac7bd6ceb6f93f5ba910eb2If you’ve been watching #AdvancementLive, reading fundraiser’s tweets or work in close proximity to your annual fund office, you’ve no doubt been hearing the buzz regarding crowdfunding. For those of us in social media it seems like a concept we – as frequent crowdsourcers – can easily understand, only in this respect you ask your crowd for, well, funding. Seems pretty simple right? I mean, if Veronica Mars fans can do it, why can’t higher ed?

Crowdfunding, according to Wikipedia “is the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” Sounds a lot like your annual fund, doesn’t it? When people begin to get excited about the prospect of crowdfunding their almost immediate next step is to social media. I’ve heard many a time that ‘crowdfunding works because of social media’, which led me to question ‘is that really what makes it work?’. Before we pin all of our expectations for crowdfunding  on our social media professionals, let’s think it through…

Social media are a means to an end. We use them as a tactic within a larger strategy. A strategy that is not only digitally focused. More than that, it is segmented and cultivated person to person, cohort to cohort. Just like your personal social media use: you have an idea, you talk about it with your like-minded friends, you come to a conclusion together. You don’t talk to non-rowing friends about rowing or Dexter’s horrible finale with non-Dexter fans. Now with crowdfunding, you aren’t simply sending out generic information to your uninterested alumni are you? We can’t mega-phone it in and hope for a big pay off.

What makes crowdfunding work is the specificity of the purpose and rallying like-minded people around it. It is tangible. It is a cause that the collective and specific ‘we’ can see through to fruition and then feel good about. It is the fact that we are needed to help solve a problem. Instead of pitching Veronica Mars to your friends who have never seen it/do not like it, you pitch it to your friends who are rabid fans. They pitch to other fans, and so on. The crowd has power. Specificity and passion make the cause work, not social media, which they use to communicate its value to others who also value it. Social media make it easier.

For instance ‘Hey everyone who ever went to school here: give us money to do stuff. You help make us better!’ is not as relevant or tangible as ‘Hey, rowers! Help us get $50,000 for a new alumni rowing shell before our first race against Penn this upcoming season!’. Of course more people in this cohort (the ‘Jess’ cohort) would want to give money to the second ask because it is tangible and meaningful and allows them to help people in a position they were in themselves before solve a problem. Middlebury is one example of an institution using this crowdfunding technique for everything from scholarships to athletic team trips abroad.

A different use is what UC is doing with its campaign for financial aid, where celebrities and alumni alike post what they’ll do if you donate a certain amount of money. Obviously using celebrities wins a huge pay off in word of mouth. Will it work? Will it engage the right audience? Will it create a stronger culture of giving? This remains to be seen. Much like the backlash Zach Braff encountered after launching a successful Kickstarter campaign for a movie many questioned if he could have financed himself, how much will the activity of the campaign itself – in any crowdfunding situation – influence brand perceptions?

As an unengaged alumna, the only times I have considered giving are the times that the ask was specific to my experience at the institution, not because it came from social media or a personal connection. What do you think about crowdfunding in higher ed? How strong of a role do you feel social media play?