PR 2.0 for Higher Education: Community Management
It 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.
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?