Guest Post by Shanan Sorochynski
The other day I read that higher education consulting firm, Noel-Levitz, found that more than three-quarters of students and parents it surveyed never or only rarely read blogs on college websites.
I manage a blog for a mid-sized Canadian University.
The study was listed as one of the bullet points in Academica’s Top Ten, a daily scan of the news stories in Canadian Higher Education.
Anyone worth their salt in our organization subscribes.
So, you can imagine my chagrin finding this.
It’s August. Both the campus and the blog are less active than normal.
Content submissions have dropped and with that conversations in the comments section.
So I’m feeling a bit defensive.
Image: Abdulmajeed Al.mutawee via Flickr, CC 2.0
Higher Ed is also still an environment where mumbles and snark can undermine your efforts.
A fine example of this is in an article I read on CollegeWebEditor.com where Rick Stutz, Coordinator of E-Communications at Juniata College, talked about the redesign of the school’s homepage.
“It was great to have such a supportive administration behind the work – suggestions were always very minor and approvals took place over the phone or in person, not in committee. And only two professors have complained about the new design.”
And only two professors have complained.
That line made me smile.
The complaint count matters. And pointing out that many university blogs are collections of hand-picked student testimonials or boring administrative news items doesn’t matter.
What matters is if I can defend the effectiveness of our site.
And rightfully so. I need to be able to do that.
It is why I think having your cage rattled on a semi-regular basis isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else it makes you stop and re-evaluate if your program is working.
If it’s not, then you need to fix it. You can’t be married to the tools.
In my case, I can still defend the castle. The blog wasn’t created with recruitment in mind (though the inquiries that come in through the site are great). Its goals are entrenched in reputation and community-building.
I need people inside and outside the University to know about the great people and work happening within our community and we need to hear from our stakeholders, their ideas, their concerns … and the numbers are reflecting that.
On the whole, people are engaging with the material. They are reading, commenting, and sharing the U of R story.
With that said, I’m still looking for better performance metrics.
Right now, I can’t tell you if a blog story about U of R research made post-secondary education an important factor in a local voter’s decision at the ballot box.
I don’t know if someone read on our site about an upcoming event and then told a friend over coffee about that thing, they heard about, somewhere, but can’t remember exactly where but think it is this weekend at the University.
I don’t know if I was able to save someone time because they found the answer they were looking for on our site.
I don’t know if I made someone’s U of R experience a little better because of the blog.
And it drives me nuts.
Do you feel my pain? Is there a performance metric that eludes you?
Shanan Sorochynski manages the University of Regina’s first official blog: YOURblog. Previous to this she was the managing editor of U of R Report, the University’s faculty and staff internal publication, and a print journalist in Manitoba.
I like the idea of trying to find ways to bring them to the Facebook page. But, the class cancellation idea won’t work for us.
1.It’s about what is easiest for students. We shouldn’t force them to the Facebook page for important information.
2.Many of those class cancellations won’t apply to the majority of readers. They would need to slog through extra material to find what’s relevant to them.
3. Class cancellations can sometimes be the call of individual professors. It is easier for them to simply email their students.
Some of our professors do use social media to teach and connect with students. But, it is their choice.
@Shanan I checked out your Facebook Page and I thought a great way to get everyone in the school to Like the page if that is what you want them to do, is to do something really key to their life just on that page. Say ‘We will only be announcing class cancellations on our Facebook Page’. You would have 100% participation there. Plenty of other things that would also qualify.
Or a private network where the Professors are really accessible to the kids with a similar format. G+ circles might work.
I think that is the key to a good social media program. You need members of the school actively participating and championing the place. A student (unscripted) talking about their experience is far more valuable to potential students than what I can tell them as a paid staffer (though I am alum ;) .
ROI is tricky but I don’t think it’s impossible. I’m still searching for better ways to capture that data.
Love your post. It really goes to the heart of the Klout and Social Influence debate when you discuss metrics and influence. Connecting online and offline is really hard. In fact almost impossible unless they print a coupon or use a special code for something. Even readership numbers are fuzzy. What if people love reading the blog because of the content yet for some reason are apathetic about the school for whatever reason.
One thing you can say is I bet all your readers feel they know the school better.And while that might be hard to measure trust me that is of unique value as a powerful tool for the school.
My girlfriend wanted me to apply to a small private school in Vermont (Saint Michaels) because they advertised for a Social Media person. While they can’t afford me, nor do I qualify on the technical side of things they seek (like Video Editing experience) I did see they have a whole group of student bloggers blogging about the school life experience hosted on their website. They also have extensive student videos on their You Tube Channel. I might not be bullish on Facebook for this stuff. But hosted on the school site in aggregate it is very impressive.