Marketing’s pain points for 2016

firstaidkitThe December 2015 issue of the American Marketing Association‘s magazine, Marketing News, included the results of AMA’s survey of what marketers see as the chief challenges and “pain points” heading into the new year. (The article is behind the AMA paywall, but here’s the link for subscribers to access.) Continue reading “Marketing’s pain points for 2016”

Study: #highered branding comes of age

Branding, it seems, is no longer a dirty word in academia. College and university leaders tend to be supportive of brand-building initiatives for their institutions, and they’re also willing to invest in brand development work, including research.

In short, branding is coming of age in the higher ed world. Continue reading “Study: #highered branding comes of age”

Gain inspiration for the new year with #Resolve2015

Introducing-Resolve-2015-1024x768Editor’s note: Even though I’ve resolved to make no resolutions for 2015, that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to moving forward and making improvements, personally and professionally. My higher ed colleague, Liz Gross, has kicked off the new year with a series of blog posts from other colleagues in the higher education business. Today’s post by Liz outlines that project and offers a peek at what is ahead for her readers over the coming weeks. – AC 

Guest post by Liz Gross

A new year is upon us. Hopefully, you haven’t given up on your resolution yet—or maybe you haven’t gotten around to making one. Andrew has kindly given me the opportunity to tell his readers about Resolve 2015, a series of 30 blog posts in 30 days from higher ed professionals in the U.S. and Canada designed to inform and inspire you to make 2015 the best year of your career.

The series kicked off on January 2 with reflective post from Lisa Endersby, National Chair-Elect of the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community, which encouraged us to define success by ourselves and for ourselves, not by what we’re seeing and hearing from others. In a world full of “humble brags” on social media, this is a very poignant message.

While the remaining posts will come from professionals within a variety of functional areas in higher education, I’d like to highlight the posts from folks working in marketing, communication and web/technology—those with job functions similar to readers of this blog. Here’s what you can expect from your higher education colleagues this month:

  • Kristen Abell, web developer at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, will encourage younger professionals to consider non-traditional career paths instead of marching straight up the prescribed career ladder.
  • Ma’ayan Plaut, manager of social strategy and projects at Oberlin College, brings us a double-header with two posts in the series! She’ll write about the value of investing in your own professional development and sharing your work.
  • Keri Duce, external relations manager at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will publish a post about the importance of understanding your sphere of control.
  • Bryan Fendley, director of instructional technology and campus web services at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, will share his experience with online professional development.
  • Deborah Maue, senior strategist at mStoner, is writing about mindful meditation.
  • Lori Packer, web editor at the University of Rochester, will help the more bashful among us with tips on attending your first professional conference.
  • Karine Joly, founder of Higher Ed Experts, will help us write better conference proposals, focusing in on upcoming calls for proposals from PSEWeb and EDUWeb.
  • I shared my first post today, How to Create Your First Professional Conference Presentation, and later this month will write about how to create and maintain successful relationships with service providers and vendors.

There are many more posts to come from colleagues working in other areas of campus, all across the country (and in the great land to the north). All of the posts are hosted on my blog, Gross, Point-Blank. If you’d like to receive every post for the rest of the series in your inbox, you can subscribe here. This will also add you to my mailing list, so you’ll continue to receive future blog posts when Resolve 2015 is finished. I’ll be blogging much less frequently (usually only a few times per month), and you can unsubscribe at any time.


What’s the frequency, Twitter?

Tweet-birds-muralI guess by now we’re all aware that with Twitter, the more frequently we post, the greater the opportunity that our posts will be seen and acted upon.

But how much is too much?

This is something I’ve thought about since Guy Kawasaki brought it to my attention back in 2009. (See my post, To drive traffic, tweet and repeat, about Kawasaki’s test of tweet frequency.)

I’ve also worried about this idea of frequent and repeat tweeting. Like every other blogger with a PR or marketing background, I want to drive traffic to this blog. One way I do this is by sharing links to my blog posts on Twitter. I usually repeat the post a couple or three times, and generally I tweak the wording a bit in an effort to appear somewhat less lazy than a guy who automates tweets to churn them out at regular intervals. I don’t think I tweet too much. But I can’t help but wonder whether others see my approach to repeat tweets as obnoxious or spammy. I wonder whether followers ever notice those repeat tweets, and whether they think I’m posting too much about my own content.

When Kawasaki ran his experiment in 2009, he put eight hours of time between each repeat tweet. (He scheduled four identical tweets over 24 hours, then reported his results.) But a new experiment by Jade Furubayashi of SimplyMeasured makes Kawasaki’s test appear to be a model of restraint.

Furubayashi tweeted for one week in 15-minute increments, and another week in 30-minute increments. Her results showed that the more frequent the tweets, the greater the traffic from Twitter to her website.

So, frequent tweeting seems to drive web traffic.

But one item not addressed in Furubayashi’s experiment (and an issue raised in the comments to her post) has to do with the content of the tweet. Which also has to do with the headline or description used. (More about that in a previous post.)

What do you think? What’s the sweet spot for tweet frequency?

Image: Twittering Tweets Mural by cobalt123 on Flickr.

Another silly social media ranking

kredkloutLast spring, it was Education Dive’s list of the top university Twitter accounts, as determined by Klout score, number of followers and some kind of secret “subjective appraisal.” (I groused enough about that shoddy methodology last spring, so no need to rehash it here and now. The links are there if you want to revisit it.)

Now comes something via the Huffington Post called The Top 100 Best and Most Collaborative U.S. Colleges. And, just like Ed Dive’s approach with Twitter, this ranking’s methodology does not pass muster on many levels.

Once again, there’s a heavy reliance on an institution’s social media Klout score. As if that weren’t enough to raise skepticism, it relies on another ranking — one that is well-established but that comes under fire year in and year out: the U.S. News & World Report listing of the best colleges and universities.

  • HuffPo contributor Vala Afshar, who compiled the ranking, used this formula:
  • Pick the top 100 colleges and universities listed in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of national universities.
  • Look at their Klout and Kred scores.
  • Rerank the U.S. News & World Report top 100 by those social media influence scores.
  • Create an infographic that claims: “The very best schools are the most social schools.”

So. Where to begin the critique?

Let’s start with Klout and Kred. These tools are supposed to measure the influence of a social media user. And it may be true that individuals with high Klout and Kred scores may be more influential than those with lower scores, as this more or less balanced article suggests, I’m not too familiar with Kred, but I think Klout is designed for the individual, because it offers rewards from brands to those who attain certain scores and levels of activity. Chris Syme calls the Klout score an “ego metric” (see her comment on this post from a couple of years ago), and I agree. Aliza Sherman, in the article I cite earlier in this paragraph, says:

A high Klout score is like a Maserati or whatever the cool car of the day might be. It’s fun to flash around, but at the end of the day, it isn’t practical.

So I don’t think these vanity metric tools carry much clout or cred.

And what about the U.S. News & World Report rankings?

First of all, Afshar only looked at the top 100 national universities. U.S. News ranks many other types of schools — regional colleges, liberal arts schools, specialty schools, etc. So by limiting only to national universities — all Ph.D.-granting — Afshar excludes many from his list. For example, Williams College was ranked the top liberal arts institution by U.S. News, and it has a pretty impressive Klout score of 85. Meanwhile, one of U.S. News‘ top national universities, the Colorado School of Mines, was ranked No. 100 on Afshar’s “most social” list with a Klout score of 57.

So if you’re going to use Klout as a metric, don’t penalize ostensibly social media-savvy schools just because they’re not in the “national” category.

Finally, Afshar’s ranking suggests that an institution’s high rank in social media equates to high levels of collaboration. I don’t buy it — for the same reasons I didn’t buy Ed Dive’s list of the best higher ed Twitter accounts last spring. Look at several of the schools on either list, and you’ll see that much of the communication is one-way. That doesn’t sound very collaborative to me.

One commenter on the HuffPo site wrote, “[I]f you calculate the correlation between U.S. News ranking and your social rank, you get a coefficient of around .32, which indicates a weak to middling relationship. In other words, it is difficult to make the claim that ‘the very best schools are also the most collaborative.'”

Difficult, yes. But as we tend to see more often these days, not impossible.

On the other hand, numbers do matter

numbersReaders of my previous post (The elements of a great #highered Twitter account) could come away thinking I don’t care about numbers. That would be wrong. I do care about numbers.

Numbers matter in social media.

Dan Zarrella makes this clear in his popular Science of Social Media presentation. In the simplest of terms, if you want to get your message out to as many people as possible, then the bigger your potential audience, the greater the chance you’ll reach a bigger group of people. (This assumes your audience is paying attention to you, and that assumes they find your content worth paying attention to, sharing and acting upon. And that ties back to your credibility among the audience and their level of trust in you and your message.)

But that’s just potential reach, and as C.K. Syme points out in a recent post, reach is only a starting point. But it can be “the beginning of great things.”

“Raw numbers don’t give us a good mirror of effectiveness,” she writes, “but they are one of the indicators.” She suggests social media managers consider other measures, such as potential reach and share of conversation, and she points readers to some tools and resources that can help them do that.

Flickr photo by Mervyn Chua.

The elements of a great #highered Twitter account

successkidLast month, in response to Education Dive’s unsatisfactory ranking of the 10 best university Twitter accounts — and what they do right, I posed a question: What makes a great #highered Twitter account?

Your responses, both in your comments to that post and on Twitter, provided some great perspective on this topic. (Some of you even took up the question on your own blogs, providing more than 140 characters’ worth of insight.)

In my post, I said I would try to draw from your insights to outline an alternative to Education Dive’s method of measuring Twitter greatness for colleges and universities.

It is no easy task. In many ways, Twitter greatness is in the eye of the beholder and difficult to gauge. No wonder Education Dive stuck with two easy metrics — an account’s number of followers and Klout score — to develop their top 10 list. (True, the author of that post also claimed to conduct a “subjective appraisal,” but much of the evidence is based solely on numbers.) The number of followers and Klout score are certainly metrics to consider, but they inherently favor bigger schools over small ones. Perhaps a more nuanced approach to analyzing followers is in order.

But more about that later. For now, let’s look at a few of the themes that emerged from our online discussion on this topic.

Start with strategy

It should come as no surprise that someone with a title like “digital strategist” would suggest we start with strategy. That’s how Mike Petroff (@mikepetroff), the guy behind the @Harvard Twitter account, suggests any social media person in higher ed begin. And not all strategies are the same.

“It’s important to note that there can be differences in meaningful metrics for institutional accounts on Twitter,” Mike wrote in his comment to my post. “Some may focus on student engagement and customer service, while others may be driven by specific campaign efforts or general news awareness and amplification. These strategies are really an extension of the ‘voice’ of the Twitter account and how they focus their efforts.

“I respect both strategies, when executed well and attached to specific goals.”

The key here is to start with a strategy. Your institution’s social media strategy may not be the same as Harvard’s (which, by the way, topped Education Dive’s list). But if you don’t have a strategy, and don’t connect it with specific goals, then you have nothing to measure.

Taking a step back from Twitter, it’s also important to consider this platform in the broader perspective of social media strategy. Jeff Puklin (@JeffPuklin), who manages the @ConnCollege and @ConnCollegeLive Twitter account, shared this comment on the blog:

A great Twitter account in Higher ed should live in the center of a larger social media strategy [emphasis added]. Through the creation of our internally focused @ConnCollegeLive Twitter account – we engage our current students by facilitating conversations and promoting the vibrancy of our digital campus community. This allows us to provide admitted, prospective students and parents with an authentic user-generated view of campus life. The result: vibrancy and transparency.

Stepping back even further, that social media strategy should be connected to an institution’s communications and marketing strategy (or strategies), which in turn should be connected to the institution’s strategy. (A separate post about strategy some other time.)

Be human

Mike Petroff also mentions the “voice” of a Twitter account. The idea of voice — especially a human voice — seemed to be important to many of us.

Ma`ayan Plaut (@plautmaayan), the human behind @OberlinCollege, put it this way:

Ma`ayan was not alone in that sentiment:

I believe that a human voice is critical for success in Twitter. It may be easy to simply push out press releases or marketing-speak. That just gets information out there. Making it human is what matters and leads to meaningful interaction with your audiences.

Which leads us to…

Interact. Like a human.

“IMHO,” commented Jessica Krywosa (@jesskry) of @HamiltonCollege, “what makes a Twitter account great is that it is an active participant in the community. It RT’s, provides valued, timely information and it creates opportunities to bring people into a conversation. It creates targeted hash tags so that people can follow conversations. It cross promotes other accounts of value to its audience. It follows back relevant accounts/people. It has a personality (brand). Its not afraid to be cheeky/human/real.”

I could not agree more. Justin J. Ware of Bentz Whaley Flessner also concurs. As he said in his comment on my earlier post: “It doesn’t matter what industry, real interaction always makes for a better Twitter account.”

Measure what matters

I received a lot of ideas about measurement, and few of them had to do with raw numbers. A lot of us tend to agree with a quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein (but probably more accurately attributed to William Bruce Cameron):

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

One possibly useful measurement of Twitter greatness could be engagement-to-follower ratio.

This is something Liz Gross (@lizgross144) was getting at in her comment about the value of retweets as a metric.

“Retweets, while some might consider it a vanity metric, might be useful here,” she wrote. “If someone find the information in the account so valuable that they want to pass it on to to other people, that might mean something.”

Determining this ratio can be tricky and time-consuming. But here’s one approach (as discussed in this blog post):

  1. Select a tweet (or series of tweets during a given period)
  2. Calculate the number of mentions and retweets of that tweet during a given period
  3. Divide by number of followers during that period
  4. Multiply by 100

I’ve never tried this before. I may give it a shot.

There’s another approach that could provide context to the “raw number of followers” issue. Chris Syme (@cksyme) talks about this in her comment on my original post.

I’d leave follower numbers completely off the table, but maybe look at the number as a percentage of the total number you could reach (alumni, students, staff, faculty, etc.) Reach is a shallow metric — has nothing to do with effectiveness — only shows how many people could have access to your information.

I like that apples-to-apples approach, even though it’s crude and, as Chris points out, has nothing to do with effectiveness. Let’s say one university has 50,000 Twitter followers, and let’s suppose it has 20,000 students and 480,000 living alumni, giving it a potential audience of 500,000. Using only students and living alumni as the universe to measure, we could conclude that this school has a 10 percent reach.

Now, let’s suppose another university has 5,000 followers on Twitter but enrollment of 2,000 and living alumni of 48,000. It too would have a 10 percent reach.

Don’t forget to listen

Listening is not the same as monitoring. But both are important.

I view monitoring as more of an intel-gathering function, to find out what people are saying about your organization in social media. It’s an important function of brand and reputation management.

But monitoring your brand in the social media sphere doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be great at Twitter. It could just mean you’re good at gathering intel, and maybe you should consider working for the CIA.

Listening means more than monitoring.

Sometimes it means knowing when to respond, and when to respond publicly versus privately.

“For our institutional feed, I place a lot of emphasis on listening and responding to individual tweets, and I don’t always respond publicly,” writes Davina Gould (@davinagould).

Listening is also an issue Ma’ayan Plaut wrestled with in her blog post on this topic. With refreshing honesty, she struggles to find the appropriate balance of listening to interacting:

I’m still in limbo about how Oberlin College on Twitter needs to act. I tried a few weeks of retweeting things from our community, then added in some personal conversation/outreach to people talking about Oberlin, but then there was a lot of institutional silence but a heck of a lot more listening. Sometimes I broadcast original stuff. Is that okay? Is that a cop-out? On the whole, I don’t know what makes people visit, follow, converse with, retweet, favorite, or any of the other actions one desires from a/our Twitter account, or what we could do to make them do (something?) more.

A continuous feedback loop

What I’ve presented in this lengthy post merely scratches the surface of the web of issues related to achieving Twitter greatness. In the end, though, I think it all begins and ends with strategy and goal-setting for your specific institution or organization. And part of that goal-setting should involve listening to your constituents and determining what they need or expect from you at any given time. As Ma’ayan said in her post: “If we’re operating in an always-changing space, the replicability and scalability of what we’re doing is more tied to what the humans out there want rather than what we want and what the tools seem to encourage. …”

So maybe this entire blog post should be flipped. Maybe we should start with listening, build our goals and strategy from there, while taking into consideration the business goals of our organizations (i.e., how social media fits into those goals, including overall marketing).

Or maybe it’s a continuous loop that begins and ends with listening, revising and reworking our processes and approaches in the fluidity of the social media space.

Whatever it is, I think what I’ve taken away from the past month of listening, discussing and thinking about this topic is that no third-party assessment of “what makes a great Twitter account” can necessarily fit all institutions. It’s up to us to make our Twitter accounts great in the context that meets the needs and helps fulfill the dreams of our human audiences.

I’m ready to make @MissouriSandT more awesome on Twitter. How about you and your account? Starting today, Star Wars Day, let’s join forces and achieve #highered Twitter greatness.