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Asking "why" before talking about the "tools"
November 10, 2010 - 2:45pm

I had the pleasure of attending the NACAS Annual Conference in Colorado Springs this week. Campus auxiliary services professionals from a variety of higher education institutions came together to attend/present education sessions, network, and expand their knowledge as practitioners. Campus auxiliary services consist of a wide-range of units and departments and often include the following: Bookstores, Card Systems, Child Care, Communications, Concessions, Conferences, e-Commerce, Facility Management, Food Service, Health Services, Housing, Laundry, Mail Services, Parking, Physical Plant, Printing Services, Purchasing, Retail, Recreation Services, Security, Student Union, Technology, Transportation and Vending.

My participation at the conference was unique in that I facilitated 16 social media strategy sessions for about 40 attendees. I also presented a "super session" on social media for more than 300 conference goers. During the 25-minute-long strategy sessions, several themes and thoughts emerged.

Due to the variety of services that make up campus auxiliaries, I found that the mini-sessions were like "taste portions" and that my super session was an "entree." Understanding the "entire meal" of social media can take a lot of critical thought as well as a thorough understanding of a unit's goals and objectives. A lot of folks wanted to dive in right away to talk about how they could use the "tools." Facebook and Twitter were generally the primary and secondary foci of our conversations. I think I surprised a few people when I asked them "why" they would use those sites. I've found that the tools are of little use without a focused strategy. It is crucial that auxiliary services link goals and outcomes to their social media strategy. The ROI of social media can oftentimes confound and confuse marketers as the long-tail, while valuable, can be challenging to measure.

I think that the marketing director or coordinator for a campus auxiliary department will have an instrumental role in driving successful social media strategies. Campus marketers who cannot adapt to today's communications cocktail of traditional and social media will not last long in 2010. As an ever increasing number of auxiliaries adopt social media as a platform for sales, communications, engagement and community building, it will be important that they determine their unit's metrics of success. Marketing always has to take place in an environment that is being measured and assessed. A few campuses have started surveying their students to assess student engagement in the context of campus auxiliary services marketing and communications.

One of my predictions at the conference was the potential for Facebook Places + Deals to have a major impact on how auxiliaries use social media, mobile apps, and location based functionality to generate sales, promote events, and increase their overall "brand within a brand."

If you're wondering how I did at the NACAS Education Foundation Texas Hold 'Em charity event (referenced in my post about how the game parallels learning about technology), let's just say that I made the final table, came in 5th place, and had a great time learning about the game.

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