Nimble Communications Requires a Solid Foundation

By developing a solid foundation for online communications, higher ed marketers can be more nimble in responding to new technology and online services.

October 1, 2015

Higher ed marketers are not nearly as nimble as those in many commercial organizations when it comes to adapting quickly to changes in technology or adopting new online services or channels. There, I said it.


There are a lot of reasons why our industry is slow to change. And, in fact, that’s not bad—it means higher ed doesn’t adopt a lot of short-lived, largely pointless, trends.


Yet, every week brings reports of new online products or services. Some of them will fade quickly and be forgotten, but others will have a lasting impact on how people interact with each other and therefore our institutions. Those will affect how we do business—or, at least, how we do marketing.


The bottom line is that to deliver the results our institutions need, marketing communications professionals must pay attention to and adapt to ever-changing currents in the world of technology. And we must help our institutions become more agile in responding to changes in devices, apps, technology, and consumer behavior.


While this is a challenge for many in higher ed, some colleges and universities break the mold. What characterizes those institutions that do a great job with their online, digital, and social marketing and are able to stay in front of important trends? And how are those front-runners different from the rest?


It doesn’t always come down to budgets or more staff, though of course both help. The key is usually hard work, a intelligent skepticism, clear attention to audience needs and interests, and a culture of experimentation that carefully assesses what works and what doesn’t.


Here are five ways in which institutions signal that they are prepared to respond to changes in online and digital marketing:

  1. They know that everything is connected to everything else and therefore, websites, social channels, and other online initiatives are integrated as closely as they can be with each other.
  2. They develop and deploy high-quality content everywhere, both text and (increasingly) videos and images.
  3. Their websites are well managed and up-to-date. Core business assets—majors, courses, research programs, faculty experts—are easy to discover. Site search helps you to find obscure information that’s important to you. It represents one institution because there’s a consistent look and feel across. The site works on a phone or tablet. There’s a close connection to, and shared content with, with social channels.
  4. The institution has clearly designated and well-established “official” social channels: particularly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. On them, it actively engages constituents and shares relevant content.
  5. It’s experimenting with other social channels, such as Tumblr, Vine, or Medium.

Research confirms my beliefs. As just one example, institutions that are highly successful with social media in their advancement activities are more likely to plan, have goals, measure outcomes, use more social channels, and post and engage more frequently on them. Those findings come from the 2015 Survey of Social Media and Advancement, which we conduct with CASE and Huron Education,


When I see an institution doing these things well, I know that the people responsible for its online presence have made wise investments in their university’s most important communication channels. Technology, management, and focused staff create a strong foundation on which to add new channels, apps, or approaches that achieve enough resonance with the wider culture and deserve to be adopted by higher ed marketers.

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