Rachel Reuben is a marketing communications professional in higher education.

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AMA 2012 Conference Recap: Continuing to raise the bar personally, professionally and as a conference

Nov14

Earlier this week I attended my third American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. The organizers received about 150 paper proposals and selected 48 for publishing in the conference proceedings and to present at the conference. I was fortunate enough to be one of those selected and wrote an eight page paper and presented a 45 minute session in the brand alignment track called “An Integrated Marketing Revolution at Ithaca College.”

On a personal note, this conference has been one I’ve aspired to present at for the last several years. I sat in many sessions in admiration at the last two conferences, looking up to my peers with far more experience than I have in my new(ish) role as the associate vice president for marketing communications at Ithaca College, telling myself that 2012 would be the year I would throw my hat in the ring. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity, and am humbled by the positive feedback I received during the session on the Twitter back channel, as well as in person from attendees following the session.

I met some terrific new colleagues, re-connected with others I’ve met before or knew through Twitter, and was again inspired by many of the sessions I attended. There was one woman in particular that I’ve been working with off and on for a year and a half and finally had the pleasure to meet in person. We had a magnificent meal at a restaurant recommended by a friend of mine who lives in New Orleans (R’evolution… ohmygosh), and her presentation at the conference was the one I’m going back to the office armed with a pile of notes from and a fire in my belly to put this knowledge to work. I’m going to share those notes internally first before blogging about them to the world. Another colleague also pointed out how interesting it was that the theme of my speech was about a marketing revolution and the one restaurant I went to had the same name. :)

I attended several other great sessions as well. My other favorite was delivered by the ladies from Loyola University Chicago, who talked about brand fragmentation and set up a bit of an improv skit with eight scenes:

  • Scene 1: We want our own logo
  • Scene 2: We want our own colors
  • Scene 3: “Everything you do looks the same” (To which one of the speakers said, “I have two words: Thank you.” I loved that!)
  • Scene 4: We’re different
  • Scene 5: Who doesn’t know us?
  • Scene 6: We’ve always done it this way. (Challenge the status quo. Invent the status quo!)
  • Scene 7: Just do as we (or they, as in, other colleges) say
  • Scene 8: We don’t really need you (thanks to Microsoft Word, Publisher, low or no budgets)

If nothing else, this was a fantastic group therapy session. But the passion with which Kelly Shannon and Katie Hession presented and shared tips for dealing with each of these “scenes” stole the show. They do an annual college-wide marcom audit and share a brief report with their President’s Cabinet. They track a rough percentage of consistency across the different units, and continue to ask what they can do to raise that percentage and get better each year. She also emphasized how unhelpful identity standards guides are for folks outside of the marcom world, largely, which gave me a new perspective for thinking about how we share that information currently. They talked about the infamous House of Brands vs. Branded House, and her analogy of having a House of Brands is like Cybil (multiple personalities) had the crowd roaring with laughter. They’ve also had to give up on certain  “off-brand” logos. Their theory is if it stays within the campus and is internally focused, they let it go. If it’s going to be seen by a larger external audience, her office steps in to assist and work to bring it under the brand standards for the college. We’ve had much discussion and debate about this at Ithaca College in recent years, so this session definitely helped further shape my thinking about where we might go with the minor logo garden outside of the IC logo family on campus.

These ladies kicked off this session with a terrific video, which they use on campus to help faculty, staff and administrators understand the pressures we’re under and the current landscape of higher education. We have to change the model. We need to stay affordable and clearly communicate our value while not sacrificing our objectives core to our mission.

The AMA Symposium is in Boston next year, and I can’t wait. Is it November 2013 yet?

I’m very proud of the integrated marketing revolution my team has accomplished over the past couple of years. But, we’re just beginning. Much more revolutionizing to do. I’m back with lots of fresh new inspiration, albeit a bit exhausted, but ready to go. Let’s do this.

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The early college search process through the lenses of a 14 and a 16 year old

Nov28

I had the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving with 11 other wonderful family members this year. Two of them were my cousins, ages 14 and 16. The 14 year old is a freshman in high school already actively and excitedly thinking about college, and the 16 year old is a junior in high school narrowing down the pool. They are both incredibly bright, talented girls. Speaking with them yesterday gave me a greater insight into their passions and interests related to college, and how the college search process looks through their lenses.

While having these conversations with them about their subject areas of interest, and then turning to the computer to do some research with them, I found a few things:

  • Information architecture on many college sites still below par. How is it 2011 and so many of us still haven’t figured this out yet – or haven’t been able to get the resources to assist?
  • Too many university sites were organized by school/college and didn’t have an alphabetical list of majors. Or, better yet, have an intelligent bot that could find ‘majors like this’ based on keywords you type in. The 14 year old has ideas of her interests in the everyday language that she uses — but trying to match that with what various colleges name their majors/minors and trying to figure out what school they landed in? Ridiculous.
  • Search on many university sites still returns useless results.
  • Using Nintendo DS as a mobile device to access your university’s site is a scary reality.
  • Location and your unique selling point may not be so unique.

Naming majors/minors

Are you using market research and/or conducting market studies on the viability of new programs before just launching into them? And how are they named on your campus? There are a great number of faculty with their pulse on the market, and are typically the ones that are coming up with new majors and shepherding them through the process to begin offering them. But, I also know this process is often done in a vacuum. A constant reality check should include — what will a 14 -17 year old think this is called? Will they be able to even tell you have the major/minor they’re interested in?

 

Organizing academic programs

Higher ed websites are largely political. I get it. This has been another battle we’ve been fighting for more than a decade. But I need to say it again — don’t organize your information architecture based on your internal organizational structure. I understand many universities admit by school and have a vested interest in branding their schools. But at the start of the admission funnel – when a 14 year old is trying to figure out what she wants to do is called – being organized by school is not helpful.

 

Search still largely returns unhelpful results

Google Mini Search Appliances aren’t all that expensive. They can be customized like crazy. Most of the school sites we searched (because we had to give up on the information architecture and primary navigation) returned the most unhelpful search results. Are you regularly reviewing your search logs to see what terms users are searching your site for? We used to do this monthly at SUNY New Paltz. It was a fascinating way to learn what people were looking for. It gave us some insight in terms of what could help make easier to find, but balancing that with the fact that some web users just prefer to use search over primary navigation.

 

Is your content Nintendo DS friendly?

Prior to yesterday, I had never once seen one of these devices. I’m actually surprised at all they can do – including hopping on the Internet. The 14 year old uses it like crazy for Facebook. What does your site look like in a Nintendo DS browser? Dave Olsen wrote a great post about content strategy and the mobile platform that I think applies here (without knowing the actual technicals behind the scenes). If you’re still on the fence between apps and mobile-friendly sites, I strongly encourage you spend your time on the mobile delivery across all browsers and devices first and foremost. However – don’t forget your primary site. Build a more solid foundation there related to the topics I mentioned above, but don’t waste too much time – because these kids and their newfangled devices will leave your college in the dust if they can’t see it on the device they are using.
Speaking of her using her Nintendo DS for Facebook — she also had no idea colleges and universities had a presence on Facebook. She’s also too early in the funnel to care. She’s still figuring out what various colleges call her major and minor of interest!

 

“Close enough, but far enough away”

At one college I worked with, they thought that statement was their unique selling point. Location. Students regularly said they chose College X because they wanted to be close enough to their families, but far enough away that they felt they really went away to college. (Typically within a two hour radius.) I’ve now heard this at other colleges from other students as part of the reason they chose their college, and it was one of the first things both of my cousins said to me on Thanksgiving. Takeaway? Every college can be close enough but far enough away from home if your primary market is within a two hour radius. That’s not a unique selling point. Keep digging.

 

Keep digging

I’m going to continue this experiment with them – primarily because of my vested interest in their personal and professional success, but they’re also providing an interesting reality check related to my professional interests. I’ll be spending a bit of time with them again on Christmas Eve, and can’t wait to pick their brains again.
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Crowdsourcing and building a keynote presentation

Jun5

I’m honored and humbled to have been asked to be the keynote speaker at the HighEdWeb Rochester Regional Conference on June 27, 2011. I’ve never given a keynote presentation before. And, I’m a tad rusty at conference presentations. I had taken a break from the conference circuit after 20 presentations in one year and wanting to focus my time and energy on my move to Ithaca and Ithaca College. This opportunity is giving me a great opportunity to get back in the saddle again, but I was hoping I could ask you for your thoughts.

Keynote presentations are tough. I’ve sat through dozens of them. Some have been fantastic. Others have tanked. Conferences typically attract people from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences, and to try to find one broad topic that will appeal to all attendees is tough. In the case of this HighEdWeb Rochester Regional, we’ll have some web programmers, web designers, content strategists, marketers, communicators, and more. I want my talk to be useful, practical, and heck, maybe even inspirational.

My talk is current titled, “Reflect, Repurpose, Restructure, Re-energize: A journey from the last 15 years of the web in higher ed and the road ahead.” That’s a mouthful. I came up with a rough outline prior to accepting the keynote invitation to make sure I thought I could come up with something that might be worthy. The outline is still quite rough, and even though I’ve committed to the presentation, I’d still like to know what you might find helpful (“you” being the attendees – physically or virtually via Twitter or whatever).

In the “Reflect” opening, I thought I’d talk about where we came from, how much has changed, how much has stayed the same or we’re seeing repeat in various forms. In “Repurpose,” I’ll talk about skills web professionals (and marketing/communication types) have had in the past and how they can repurpose their skills into todays organizational needs. In “Restructure” I’ll actually talk about the organizational structure I inherited last summer at Ithaca College and what I’ve done to overhaul it in recent months, and my vision surrounding that effort. I’ll talk about higher ed’s challenges and needs within the web and marcom framework, and thought I’d try to tackle some hot topics (what do we do with magazines online, who should manage social media, is the viewbook dead, etc.). In “re-energize,” I’d like to share some thoughts about finding your niche, and find ways to leave you with some inspirational takeaways.

I have less than an hour to tackle all of this, yet I still find myself wondering if it’s not enough, or helpful enough. What do you think? What would be useful to you?

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Managing social media is a team sport

Feb1

Who should be responsible for social media? This has been a hot discussion topic on higher education listservs, community message boards, Twitter, and other forums. My answer? It depends. Institution size, strategy, community management, and monitoring are some of the factors higher education professionals should consider in determining where responsibility lies.

The current debate is reminiscent of the late 1990s, when higher education communications and marketing professionals were having conversations about who should be responsible for an institution’s website. Then, as now, people were calling for policies, guidelines, and rules. We’re in the same boat all over again. Facebook and other social networking sites were so easy to set up and launch that before we knew it, most colleges and universities already had a presence—official or not. While institutions’ use of social media has matured, we’re still working out how to best use our current social media platforms. And now we have to begin thinking about how to incorporate the various location-based social networks into the mix.

Just like the website, social media have evolved to a point where they have the attention of senior-level communications professionals and administrators. And like they did in the 1990s Web era, communications and marketing professionals need to incorporate these new media tools into their overall marketing strategy and ensure that they represent their institutions in the best possible light. It’s yet another area where knowledge, consistency of voice, and customer service skills are imperative to an institution’s online reputation.

An institution’s size, resources, and level of support for social media greatly affect its approach to these platforms, both in terms of what’s possible and what’s practical. Mark Greenfield, an associate consultant with the higher education marketing firm Noel-Levitz, believes it’s important to first understand an institution’s culture as it relates to transparency, openness, authenticity, and control. He uses the “openness audit” (from Charlene Li’s book Open Leadership) to begin the conversation about campus and organizational culture, which helps inform social media strategy planning.

Neil Bearse, manager of Web-based marketing for Queen’s School of Business at Queen’s University in Canada, concurs with Greenfield. “The same individuals who are in charge of setting the overall business strategy of an organization should be responsible for the oversight of strategic implementation of social media—the same way they are overseeing the use of other communication methods,” he says. “No single person should be in charge of all social media channels.”

Having just one person responsible for social media is akin to putting one person in charge of every aspect of the institution’s website. In social media strategy efforts, forming partnerships with staff members from admissions, student affairs, alumni affairs, and communications and marketing is critical.

Listen, assess, and evolve

Social media have provided higher education with an unprecedented opportunity to really listen to and engage with its various audiences. Mentions of your institution in blog posts and on community bulletin boards, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms can now be monitored, aggregated, and ranked with sentiment ratings, giving you an almost real-time look at what people are saying about your school.

The need for community managers, which has grown quickly in the corporate sector, is beginning to increase in higher education. It’s important to have staff members throughout your organization tracking this information and playing community management roles on your various social media presences. These functions help free up those who are driving social media strategy as well as the overall strategy for other marketing channels.

A committee of about 15 faculty and staff members managed the initial strategy for Emerson College’s social media presence. The group met biweekly to discuss the status of their efforts before launching the Massachusetts institution’s official social media channels, which are now managed by four staff members—three in the communications and marketing office and one in enrollment.

The committee no longer meets regularly, but representatives do attend the marketing and communications office’s weekly news editorial and Web content meetings. Committee members also plan to host monthly social media workshops for student organizations, faculty members, and departments to continue talking about the development of the college’s social media presence, says Mike Petroff, Web manager for enrollment at Emerson. Meanwhile, the overall strategy continues to evolve through new marketing initiatives by the admissions, marketing and communications, and institutional advancement offices.

At Tufts University, also in Massachusetts, a working group of up to 50 social media practitioners representing a wide range of schools and offices meets monthly to share information and examples of work and to discuss emerging services and platforms, challenges, and ideas about how to use certain tools, according to Georgy Cohen, manager of Web content and strategy. While the group is not a governing body, it devised the university’s social media guidelines and is working to develop more social media resources for the Tufts community.

Advise and collaborate

Many departments want to leap into developing their own social media presence, so guidance on the use of social media is often a critical need, particularly at small to midsize institutions. To facilitate such a discussion, Queen’s University developed a social media brief to help departments determine which social media outlets should be used and to address the surrounding strategy.

I adapted the Queen’s document at my previous institution—the State University of New York at New Paltz—and added questions to help me better understand why departments wanted their own social media presence, including a statement of purpose, objectives and goals, target audience, execution plans, and maintenance. The document promoted discussions and helped determine whether a department or office’s website could be expanded to fit the need or whether a specific tool would be more appropriate.

For example, one department wanted to use Facebook to share more timely information related to events and programming. Using the social media brief to outline their objectives and goals made me realize—and helped me show them—that Facebook was not the best solution, particularly because they didn’t want to engage in conversations about the events. Instead, we added a calendar-of-events module to the department website, which the staff began to promote. In another instance, members of an athletics team wanted to foster community between current student athletes and former team members. Initially, they thought they wanted a Facebook group. After completing the social media brief, I suggested that Ning, a platform in which users can create their own social networks, would be the better tool to help them achieve their goals.

The technology aspect of social media is not an obstacle. The challenge lies in finding the right mix of strategists and executors to manage an institution’s social media communities effectively, which in most cases is a team effort.

This article was written for and appeared in the January 2011 issue of CASE Currents magazine. Copyright (c) 2011 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Help Shape Our Presentation for the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education

Oct26

Reposted from Michael Stoner’s blog so we can collect comments here.

By: Michael Stoner

One of the main reasons I’m looking forward to the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education this year (fyi: #amahighered) is because I’m doing an Advanced Marketing Session with Fritz McDonald from Stamats and Rachel Reuben from Ithaca College. Entitled “The Success Conversation: A dialogue about how your institution can leverage its online communications to meet its goals,” we’re hoping that we (and you: see below for how you can contribute) will be able to start a real conversation about how to be successful with an institution’s most important marketing channels.

Here’s the description of the session we submitted to AMA:

Need a moment? It’s not easy, fast, or cheap to make choices when technology is constantly evolving. There’s a staggering array of tools to use, trends to follow, and people urging you to do more. Still, achieving an excellent online presence isn’t a nice-to-have in 2010: it’s a necessity. Building a cohesive, broad-reaching, and successful Internet brand is a marriage of art, artifice, technology, and culture—and a challenge for everybody. In this session, we’ll encourage you to take a deep breath and join a conversation. We’ll pinpoint fundamental questions you should ask, look at what works (and what doesn’t) and explore some significant trends. What you’ll get out of it: a team of multiple, complementary and overlapping perspectives and the opportunity to articulate your challenges and success stories.

This is an ambitious agenda, and we need your help. We’ve posed a number of questions to that we’re going to use to start the conversation. We’d love to have your feedback: please let us know what you’d like to share with colleagues in marketing for colleges and universities. Share your thoughts about one, or all, of these questions that we believe are fundamental to building a coherent online brand:

  • What are the primary challenges/issues that are top of mind of people for people focusing on their institution’s online presence (websites, social media, etc.)?
  • What are fundamental questions you should be asking about your institution’s online presence in 2010-2011?
  • What have we learned that works—and doesn’t work?
  • Are there significant trends that marketers should be paying attention to?

Personally, I’m really excited about doing this session with Fritz and Rachel. They’re smart and insightful: it should be an inspiring session. Even more so if we have your help!

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Tackling digital overload: Simplify & standardize

Aug29

Are you overwhelmed by one or more inboxes? Is your todo list a bunch of post-it notes all over your desk? Do you have a pretty good organizational system but could use some efficiency fine tuning? Go read Bit Literacy. (Big thanks to Karine Joly for turning me on to this Friday.) I’m only six chapters in, and I’m already applying the author’s advice and practices. (Side note: This is the first book I’m reading on my iPad, as well as my first Kindle app book. I’m a fan already.)

I’ve become digitally overwhelmed and overloaded. I’m completely in love with my new job, but we sure do use a lot of different systems there. I’m adapting to a new way of managing my calendars (personal+work), contacts (personal+work), and email (work). In addition to these systems, I’ve been trying to integrate my todo list manager, Remember The Milk (still failing on that for work, but active user for personal stuff). Throw in that mix the following that I now use:

  • One paper notebook full of notes & scattered action items
  • Paper files in a desk drawer and in my commuter tote
  • network drive for department file sharing
  • network drive for personal files
  • myHome (portal) community groups for some committees / working groups (files+discussions)
  • activeCollab for web and recruitment marketing projects (project management status, discussions, files)
  • FileMaker Pro for print projects
  • Google wiki as a repository for some documentation and notes
  • Google docs
  • Dropbox

To add to this digital overload, there’s also messages coming at me via social media on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and via SMS. And, I’ve just started using Evernote as a test to see if this might help me organize. The jury is still out on that one.

It’s too much! I can’t remember where virtually anything is saved. I need the Mac’s “Spotlight” feature in my brain! I’m on a mission to simplify and standardize. Reading Bit Literacy is just step three. (Step one was identifying all of these items, step two was ordering a label maker and new file folders for work. Hey, it’s a process.) Once I feel more in control and organized personally, I’m going to attempt to take on these systems at work and see if there’s any way we can simplify and standardize as a group.

Reading this book has also been effective in helping me realize I’m not a total disaster. I actually have some really good organizational practices in place – I just got hit with a whole lot of change at once, and it’s piled up to the point that I’m digitally overwhelmed. Time to take control of all those bits.

Today’s success: I had an email induction ceremony to achieve personal inbox emptiness. I have only one message in my personal inbox that requires me to make a decision on tonight. I’ve never seen my inbox this size. Step two – my work account. Tomorrow.

I think this could be an interesting process, and I’m going to try to keep up with documenting my personal progress with this effort here. I’m always on the lookout for new tools that will help me simplify and be more efficient. I’ve heard lots about GTD and Things. I’ve also read and watched a video about goodtodo.com, which was developed by the author of Bit Literacy. I’m actually not convinced to switch to that, as Remember the Milk has been working just fine for me — it’s integrating the work stuff and keeping track of who I delegate certain tasks too that I don’t have a good process for yet. (Delegation & having a “someday” list are two features I wish Remember the Milk would implement.)

How do you handle digital overload? What tools and processes do you have in place to not let the bits overwhelm you?

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A new role, a new location

Jun2

It is with great excitement I announce that I have accepted the position of Associate Vice President for Marketing Communications at Ithaca College. I am joining a staff of extremely talented, creative, passionate individuals and will lead the Marketing Communications office to help set priorities for our efforts that align with the College’s strategic direction. We’re about to kick off a brand identity initiative, which many of you know I’ve been integral with in my current position at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Leaving New Paltz will be bittersweet. I started as an undergraduate transfer student at New Paltz in August 1996, and have been there ever since. I began as an intern in the marketing office in the Campus Auxiliary Services company at New Paltz, did a bit of freelancing to develop many department’s very first Web sites, and then was hired as the College’s first full-time Web professional right after graduation in May 1998. A couple years later I was promoted to Web Coordinator, and then five years later to Director of Web Communication & Strategic Projects. I’ve grown the College’s site from approximately 10 pages to more than 25,000, and have hired two full-time Web Developers to assist with the College’s Web services.

In February 2006 I opened the College’s first Welcome Center, and have continued daily oversight and management of the staff and the Center. I’ve implemented the OmniUpdate Content Management System, two different mass notification systems for emergency alerts, led the College’s social media activity, and have served as an active member of the President’s Brand Marketing Taskforce, and the Emergency Rseponse Team. Last summer I was named Team Lead for the Creative Services Team, which includes the 10 staff members from the Office of Communication & Marketing (media relations, Web services, design services, print services, video services) and Arts Services. In December, I earned my MBA in marketing and management from New Paltz.

My last day at New Paltz will be Friday, June 25 and will begin my new position at Ithaca College on Monday, July 12.

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It’s not just about Print and Web

Apr13

Over on the Intermedia blog, Charlie Melichar recently posted Integration & Separation – print and web. I’d like to expand further on that with my thoughts.

When I was first hired as a Web Editor for a university in 1998, my position was created to re-purpose print documents for the Web. Print drove everything. Twelve years later this is still quite the hot, and rather unresolved, topic. The  transition now seems to be primarily financially driven. Due to budget cuts many are cutting back on printing to save money.

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Stand Out! Customize Your Institution’s Social Media Presence

Mar19

This morning I presented to a group of ~80 higher education colleagues who work in creative services offices for colleges and universities across the country. My session, Stand Out! Customize Your Institution’s Social Media Presence went beyond yesterdays Social Media 101 session and got under the hood with seven social networking sites to equip these designers with the specs and knowledge needed to customize their college’s presence.

continue reading »

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Questions & Answers from eRecruiting Web Forum

Feb17

Whew. Nearly 500 people tuned in to my session, eRecruiting with Social Media and a Purpose this afternoon as part of the CollegeWeekLive/Chronicle of Higher Education eRecruitment Web Forum. There were a ton of questions I didn’t have time to get to during the live presentation (120!!), so I’ve answered the ones I didn’t get to below. Did you miss the live presentation? The folks at CollegeWeekLive have made it available to watch on-demand.

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