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PR 2.0 for Higher Education: Community Management

July 14, 2009

communication cycleIt was 1998 and I was directing the rollout campaign for Southern California College as it was changing to a new administrative model and a new name, Vanguard University of Southern California. The campaign was moving along well with good feedback overall from our constituencies, many of whom we had surveyed.

But then we began to hear rumblings from a new influential community within our college, the History-Poli Sci LISTSERV. This discussion group of history-political science professors, students, alumni and other interested, and in many cases influential individuals on and off campus, began questioning the values of the name change, with some charging that the college was discarding its heritage and decades-long mission.

Following up on a previous invitation from a faculty colleague to join in the various discussions on the LISTSERV, I decided to become part of its conversation about the transition to university status.

Those discussion group conversations were at times enlightening, challenging, satisfying, humorous, ridiculous, and entirely beneficial for me and the campaign. I would simply listen most of the time, taking back valuable insights to the administration and rollout committee, adjusting communication strategies, and sometimes details of the name change.

Other times, I would speak up, writing calmly and clearly that what they said was just not true, referencing the meetings I had been in or quoting documents that would counter their comments. For me, it was invaluable input and an opportunity to speak to concerns.

In the end, the rollout was a huge success by most any measure. Behind the scenes, I know that my participation in that LISTSERV community was part of the reason why the rollout campaign did not go sideways.

I’ve thought recently how that experience was a foreshadowing of things to come with social media and PR. I guess I was a first-generation community manager. But it was much more manageable back then. LISTSERV was one of a few options for communities to be formed online, and the current business environment with technology-empowered consumers hadn’t taken place yet.

social media icons

It’s a different PR world today. PR is no longer about pushing your agenda onto your communities. PR 2.0 for higher education is about engagement with the many publics that are involved with and impacted by your institution. It’s still about traditional media. But it’s also about monitoring the various and multiple conversations taking place in social media about your institution, and participating in those conversations.

In this recession-era higher education landscape of uncertainty, there are many alumni, friends, students and prospective students wondering how your college or university is doing. Many of them are online asking good questions, making uninformed statements, sharing concerns, and engaging others about your school.

Given what’s at stake, it’s astounding to me that some institutions are not actively managing their online communities. Thus, they miss opportunities for meaningful engagement with community members. Essentially, they fail at an important part of today’s world of public relations.

Marketing higher education in social media is about more than just having a Facebook page. It’s about engaging your many communities in social media. Your alumni, friends, students, and prospective students are there. Are you listening to them?

See also:

A New Role for PR in Higher Education

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2009 3:00 PM

    Ahhh, LISTSERVs. I remember them well. You’re fortunate that the faculty admin who was in charge of the listserv let you join in (or listen in) on the conversation. On our campus, not every listserv was open. But it sounds as though you took the right approach — lurking, listening, learning and observing. Too often, folks would jump into the fray before really getting to know that online culture.

    There are many great lessons to be learned from the listservs of old. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Rick Hardy permalink
    July 14, 2009 3:20 PM

    LOL. Not everyone will know what LISTSERVs were. Yes, I was fortunate to be invited to join in. The invitation came as a result of good faculty relationships. I was a dean at the time, an administrative faculty member, a former teaching faculty member. I was not yet the lowest of creatures, an administrator. 🙂 The senior most member of the faculty invited me. He was a friend, still is, and a person with whom I would talk about marketing vs. mission. I appreciate dialogue and debate, and those LISTSERVs of old.

    Thanks, Andrew, for your comments.

  3. April 12, 2010 12:47 PM

    Social media does need more focus in education and educational institutions. It has so much potential, but interactivity is essential

    Excellent post!

    • Rick Hardy permalink
      April 12, 2010 2:00 PM

      Thanks, Carol, for your comment. I agree. Interactivity is important. It’s largely missing from higher education’s foray into social media thus far.


  1. links for 2009-07-14 « innovations in higher education
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