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Social Colonization of University Websites

August 24, 2009

Web StrategyI recently listened to an audio interview on the blog, Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang. The post was titled, Three Recommendations for Marketing Leaders. I encourage you to listen to the 11 minute interview. It’s important stuff, and it got me thinking about its implications for higher education.

Based on a Forrester Research report on The Future of the Social Web, Jeremiah makes three points:

Social colonization

“One of the key findings in the next few years is we’re entering an era called “social colonization.” And essentially what this means is that many social networks will span beyond or MySpace or and they’re going to be embedded on your corporate website. And this is going to happen even inside of browsers, so even if you don’t choose to turn on social features, your corporate website, your product pages, will be social, and you cannot stop it. It’s inevitable. Now this should really be making marketers shake in their boots because it means that customers can rely on each other for recommendations, not solely on what you, a brand marketer, is saying to them on that corporate webpage.”

The 80/20 rule for social media

“When it comes to social marketing success, 80% is about the strategy–the process, the roles, the procedures, the measurement and the budget that you’re going to need, and stakeholders internally. Your corporate culture is going to dictate whether or not your social marketing will be successful…So we see roles, like the social media strategist or a derivative of that title appearing. And multiple community managers that have dedicated roles to communicate with customers…Don’t just treat social marketing as an add-on to your advertising or to your marketing. This is a long-term program and you have to put the appropriate resources towards it.”

CMOs have an opportunity to be more strategic within a company.

“You’re going to find that your support organization is doing social–your product development team, your product engineers, your client team, your HR team, your sales team, marketing of course…Every single touch point…is going to be impacted by social and they’re going to start using these different tools. Now that’s both a threat and an opportunity for you as a marketer. Threats are pretty obvious. You don’t have as much control over communications from the tower as you used to. A lot of communications are happening at the edges of the company.

The opportunity here is for you to lead and to set down guidelines that both protect the company, yet empower all these people at the edges of the company to participate and expand the brand. So you should be taking a more active role in ‘how can we use customers in all of these customer touch points to improve the overall customer experience.'”

If Forrester’s research and Jeremiah’s analysis hold true, what are the implications for marketing higher education? Seven thoughts:

1. In a sense, higher ed is ahead of the game. Its consumers to a significant degree already define what our brands are. Think party schools, for example. Or, those brands that are known by their standout programs. Or, those schools with brands tied to religious values and experience.

2. Is higher ed ready for this? Are we ready for unvetted opinions about us to appear with our website? Even though blogs and vlogs are beginning to become the norm, those are to some degree controlled by the institution. Many institutions will have serious concerns about this.

3. Colleges and universities are well prepared to address various constituencies through social media. We have many community managers on our campuses responsible for relationships with prospective students, students, parents, alumni, donors, community leaders, political leaders, church leaders, etc.

4. Clearly, what Jeremiah is describing is well beyond what almost all colleges and universities are doing now in social media. How many from the top-down, involving most departments on campus, have a comprehensive social media policy?

5. Higher ed’s organizational structures preclude it from adopting a top-down social media strategy. Social media will be and is being adopted as other marketing strategies have been adopted: school by school, program by program, silo by silo. The challenge for the CMO is how to get a measure of control of something so democratic and decentralized. As usual, institutional culture will play a huge role.

6. The university chief marketing and communications officer will need to preach the message that social media is more than just advertising. It’ll take this understanding from the very top down to get the financial commitment necessary to fund a comprehensive social media program.

7. Bottom-line? Is higher education really ready to be responsive to student and customer concerns and opinions? Will our colleges and universities truly embrace social media? In Social Media Brand Management, I wrote about how higher ed does not have a good history of doing so. Social media will be pushing us even harder to change.


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