Ethically controlling social media commentary

Most institutions of higher education have several social media sites that are associated with their college or university brand — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, a blog, a website with many thousands of active pages and usually several administrators who all have their own ideas about the best way to moderate them all. When the posts are like the YouTube clip above — a great piece about some students who won a campus film competition and were able to show their film at both the Hollywood Film Festival and the Festival de Cannes (Cannes!!), life is good and comments are usually all really positive. People are just piling on to congratulate the students and wish them well. It is days that like when no social media policy is really needed (HA!) and the comments can almost flow freely … right?

Wrong. It is days like that will get a social media person in more trouble quicker than you can say, “Tweet what?” Because it is ALWAYS the innocuous posts that get you in trouble or are the ones that lead you down the path of trouble quickest. Because you let down your guard and don’t pay attention. After all, who is going to say anything nasty about a bunch of students who are bringing only glory to the university? Oh, you would be surprised. In this instance, no one has said anything yet and hopefully, they won’t. There isn’t really anything nasty TO say. These were hard-working students who really did a great job and represented the university well both on the west coast and in Cannes. I am sure if we left the commentary open long enough, someone would find something awful to say, but we probably won’t give them the opportunity. We are fairly vigilant on our social media sites and we have a very strict policy. We state it up front, we state it often and if someone steps over the line, our moderators remind them of the policy. If they step over the line too far, the comment is pulled quickly and the commentator gets a warning and a detailed explanation (if we have the opportunity to do so). We don’t just pull something without trying to let the person know why — we really try to help him or her understand the reasoning. But our policy is pretty clear.

Every administrator of every official social media site is trained and works with the public relations staff to make sure that they adhere to the standards and policies. They have to understand and agree to the policies before a site can go up under the auspices of the institution. And the sites are all pretty carefully monitored by the PR staff. We want to make sure that the institution is being well represented on social media and in the commentary. We care. And we want people who comment to feel safe. It matters to us.

And when there is a crisis or a situation that warrants bad news being delivered, we are hyper vigilant. We want to make sure that not only is the message being received, but that those people receiving it can ask questions of us and can give us feedback through the comments. Usually, we have a few staff members watching the comments on social media to make sure that nothing inflammatory or hurtful is posted so that questions can be asked and answered, or that official information can be updated quickly and without intrusion. Again, all of this is posted in our official policies so no one is really surprised when it happens. And, of course, we are polite and well-mannered when working with our stakeholder groups on social media so that they can rely on us to give them up-to-date information and news, even if we have to be firm at times in an effort to be transparent.




Analyzing what you post and what you put up on the web

If you are going to put something up on your social media sites, or on your website or on your blog, you need to track it — especially if you are writing it for your company, your brand or an organization. If you are writing it for yourself, by all means, have at it. But if you are writing something of substance that has a message you need someone else to receive, you need to track it to see if it has made it to its intended target.

So how do you do that? Well, here on WordPress, they do it for you. Or you can track it through Google Analytics. At my institution, we track everything through Google Analytics. We know who comes to our pages, who stays on them, for how long, who bounces, who clicks through, who follows directions and who doesn’t. We know who is likely to give based on their patterns of behavior and who is likely to apply to the university based on how and when they click on to our site. We also look at who gets valuable homepage real estate based on how much traffic their page gets. We track EVERYTHING.


And we look at who is visiting our social media sites — both official and unofficial. We want to know who is joining the conversation and who is just lurking. We want to know who is “liking” what we are doing and who is just sort of hanging out with us. Both tell us a lot about what we are doing right and what we need to improve. It also tells us a lot about the folks we are attracting to the institution and who we might need to work a little harder to attract. But if we didn’t look at the analytics, we would not know.

It used to be that we would just send out 100,000 view books  in the mail to every high school student aged 17 in the zip codes within a five-county area surrounding the university and hope for the best. Now, we can really be selective and target who gets those printed copies, if at all. We are much more likely to send those to their parents or save them for high school guidance counselors than to mail them to a 17-year-old who only wants to see what we have posted on Instagram or tweeted. Targeted marketing and technology have totally changed the way we recruit both students and donors to an institution these days. We know who is looking at us, we know who likes our presence and we can change it almost instantaneously if something is not going right or if something gets a negative reaction. It is a great way to do business in my world and so much better than it used to be. Plus, we can have conversations with folks on social media or the Internet — if they hang around long enough to chat.

Which they don’t.


Every company — every brand, every BODY — needs a crisis plan

Not that I am a huge fan of the NBA, but I am a huge fan of doing what’s right. And this week, Donald Sterling got it wrong (apparently, he has gotten it wrong his whole life and just got caught this week) and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver got it right by swiftly (whoa!) banning Sterling for LIFE from professional basketball for his racist rant. Justified? In my book, yes. You say crappy things like that, you deserve what you get. In this case, Silver stepped up and made the only decision he could.

But for those of us in marketing and communications (and public relations) it brings into relief the need to always have a crisis plan at the ready. I linked at the top of this post to another blog by a pr firm that states much the same thing. Any company, any brand, any public person who does not have a crisis plan in place today is just plain nuts. With everyone and his brother carrying a cellphone that has the ability to record everything we say and do, the likelihood that anyone in the public eye is going to be caught doing something stupid or embarrassing increases exponentially. It is not like back in the day when folks only had to worry about when the press was around with their cameras. Now everyone is potentially a member of the media. That is scary stuff. So the time is now to be prepared.

There are plenty of great resources out there to help you prepare a crisis plan. There are companies that will help you do it. Just look for a reputable marketing, communications or public relations firm in your area. See who has been in the news lately and check out who his or her spokesperson was. Was he or she connected to a PR firm? If so, contact the firm. See if they can help you write a plan.

If you don’t want to go that route, talk to your in-house communications folks. They know your business better than anyone else, anyway. Chances are they can draft a good plan that will get you through the initial crisis. If the crisis is bigger than you can manage in-house, you can always call in the big guns. (I am a huge believer in keeping things in-house, by the way. If you hired the people in the first place, let them do their (#&@*&#@* jobs. Don’t belittle them by calling in outside experts. If you are not happy with what they are doing, that is another story and you have to deal with that situation in another way. But let them do what you are paying them to do.)

If you do not have in-house communications folks, consider hiring a freelancer. There are plenty in your area who can help. They will be cheaper than retaining a PR firm, if money is an issue. But vet them carefully. Ask for references. Check out former clients. Make sure you know what you are getting. It will be your reputation on the line, not theirs.

Having been through several crises in higher education at a couple of different institutions, I can tell you, it is no fun to ride them out.

BUT … the more prepared you are with a good crisis plan in place, the easier it is. It will not be fun either way, but the less you have to worry about the details and whether or not you are taking care of all the details, the easier it will be and the less you will have to worry about missing something. Then, all you have to worry about is making sure people are safe and taken care of until the crisis passes.



The truth about higher ed marketing

Several years ago, at an institution far, far away, a group of students I was using to pose for some photography for our new viewbook (the institution’s main recruitment piece that is sent to all prospective students and their families, typically full-color and VERY expensive) started talking to me in between shot set ups. If you have never been on a real photo shoot before, there is a whole lot of hurry up and wait. Lights have to be moved, the photographer has to get light readings, find the right angles, determine the best positioning for everyone — it takes a loooooong time. So there is a lot of time for the art director (in this case, me) to chat with the talent (in this case, the students). They started kidding around with me about their recruitment experience and how they received essentially the same pieces over and over again from different colleges. There was the photo of the bright smiling faces on the cover (two white students, one Asian student and one African-American student). Inside, there was the classroom shot with the male professor looking over the shoulder of the female student and pointing at her work. There was the beautiful campus shot with students walking across the scene, again, a racially diverse group with one of them walking a bicycle. There was the residence hall shot, with students gathered around eating popcorn and laughing. There was the dining hall shot, with students eating a well-balanced meal and with books opened all around them. There were the athletics shots, the intramural shots, the library shots, the professor-and-student-in-the-office-shot, the studying outside shot, the studying inside shot … the list went on and on, but the students had made their point. All the publications they received looked and read like one another and the one we were shooting that day was going to be just another one to add to the pile.

computer photo

Today, it is the same, but on the web as the article above points out in the beginning. Colleges and universities are stuck in this endless loop of having to look slick and talk slicker to attract students in an ever-diminishing pool of recruits and applicants — we are in the lowest ever cycle of high school graduates for about the next five years. After that, the numbers are expected to pick back up, but for right now, competition is fierce for every single student. We are looking at every advantage we can find to recruit students and many schools are turning to athletics and their athletes come-from-behind stories. While that makes for incredibly compelling reading, that does not exactly let prospective students and their families know what an institution stands for academically.

college recruiting photo 2

The advice above is sound. If you want to know what a school is all about, go to the news page. Read about what is making headlines at that particular school. See what is trending. Not what the homepage says, but what the newspaper is saying. What the news channels in town are saying. Has the school been written up in the Chronicle of Higher Education? Has it made the national news? If so, what for? Good news or bad news? Look at that and you will see what it stands for. Make your decision about the school based on that, not on its website — which a marketing person wrote. And not solely on the admissions materials, which a marketing person wrote. They are going to write what they want you to know and how they want you to read it. Which it great — for them. But read a little further for yourself before you make a decision about a school. Then take a campus tour. Talk to student who really attend. Ask questions about classes. About the professors. About graduation rates. About whether or not their friends got jobs when they graduated — at not at the local shoe store.

walkingin on campus

There are lots of ways to find out the real story about an institution. And most of them are great stories. And great institutions.


Emerging media has emerged already

It might be time to change the name of emerging media. I think it is safe to say that we have incorporated it very nicely into our professional and personal lives. It has become a part of how we think and act on a daily basis. I know that when I am putting together a marketing plan for either my institution as a whole or a department within, one of the first ways I am thinking about getting the message out to stakeholder groups is through social media and other technology. Unless I am trying to reach donors in the 70+ age group, I am looking for ways to connect with them electronically.

And I am not alone.


My colleagues around the country are doing the same thing. As social media, blogs, videos, pictures and crowdsourcing and becoming the norm for us as we look to connect with prospective students, their parents, current students, their parents, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, community members and friends of the institution, we need to reach them where they are most comfortable. And increasingly, it is on their technological devices.


They want things electronically so they can access them wherever they are. If they are on their tablet device, great. If they are on their smartphone, great. If they are at home on a desk- or laptop, great. They just want the information so it is convenient to them. They don’t want a printed piece that is mailed to their home and then need it while they are at the office. That doesn’t work. If it is in their inbox or the Cloud, they can grab it anywhere they happen to be. And that works for me. I want them to be able to read my stuff where they are. I want them to be at a high school baseball game and be able to pull up our latest recruitment piece to be able to show it around to friends and family. I want them to be able to pull up our latest endowment report at a board meeting and show it to their colleagues. Wherever I can get a conversation started about my institution, I want it to happen. And it is. People are using the technology they have to access the media they want. So it really isn’t “emerging” anymore.

It is here to stay.

Well, until the next new thing.


When I started my professional career, a brand really wasn’t a “thing” yet. It really wasn’t. Apple was really just starting out, Nike’s were just shoes you wore to gym class and McDonald’s was where you went when you only had $2 until payday. And Starbucks — I kid you not — did not exist outside of Seattle. No one would THINK about paying $4 for a cup of coffee.

But today, those are all one-word mega-brands that exist with only their logos. They are so huge they don’t even need their word to go with them any more. That is pretty huge. They didn’t get there overnight and they didn’t get there easily. A lot of hard work went into creating, establishing and building those brands to what they are today. And much goes into sustaining them in the ever-changing landscape of popularity. What works today won’t tomorrow.

And just as when I was coming up there was really no such concept as “brands,” although they did exist, today brands really could not exist without social media. Can you imagine, really, NOT interacting with your favorite brand on the Internet? Or wanting more information about a new brand and not going to Google it? Or check it out on Facebook? Or go to its Website? Or its blog? Or its Pinterest page?

The infographic below from, and shows what makes people want to follow a brand and how and why they follow one on social media. It is pretty interesting stuff and makes you think about how to brand better on social media today.


And just because it doesn’t all have to be serious, check this article out shows the much lighter side of some very, very well known brands engaging in social media banter. You’ll get your laugh for today.


Creating buzz is not a bad thing

I never thought I would need to worry about creating buzz, especially about myself. As a matter of fact, I grew up being taught that was the last thing that Catholic girls did. We were supposed to keep quiet and let our actions speak for themselves. Bragging was not becoming and we were really not supposed to let others do it for us, either.

And buzz isn’t really bragging. But it feels like it is. I know that it is more about promotion and making sure that what we are doing for our clients or our employers is getting the attention it needs it today’s over-hyped, over-loud, over-emphasized world. We have to cut through the clutter so our clients and employers are heard and those who need to hear them receive their messages.

Mark Hughes, the author of Buzz Marketing, said there are six ways to get people talking about whatever it is you need them to talk about — you, your boss, your company, your product, your widget, your whatever.

Talk about something taboo.

Think bathroom humor, sex or even morbid humor. When HBO was premiering a new season of “The Sopranos,” it put a body or at least an arm in the trunk of every taxi in New York City. It got people talking. It created buzz.


Talk about something highly unusual.

Oscar Mayer’s Weinermobile. There is nothing usual about a 100-foot-long hot dog on wheels. Nothing. It is one of the most successful advertising campaigns Oscar Mayer has ever had and it always gets an audience because it generates a buzz wherever it goes.

ht dog

Talk about something totally outrageous.

In 2010, Topeka, Kansas changed its name to Google in a bid to get Google to choose the city as host to Google’s broadband experiment. Google reciprocated by changing its name to Topeka, but awarded the contract to Kansas City. It still created a tremendous amount of buzz for Topeka, though.

Talk about something funny or hilarious.

Funny stories get told over and over. Be that story.

Talk about something that you don’t see every day.

If it’s a remarkable sight, people will talk about it. The Goodyear Blimp, the Blue Angels — they get talked about a lot.


If it’s a secret, then it’s got to be told.

The more secret it is, the more it is has to be told.

And that will help create buzz.