How do we educate campus on best practices for e-communications

November 13, 2009

When it comes to marketing one of my favorite lines is when someone says “lets get an email blast out!” How do we as web professionals educate, collaborate, and assist the rest of the institution with best practices in e-communications?

Over the last four years I have found this to be a difficult question because there are so many components to an e-communication:

  • delivery system
  • body content
  • subject line
  • photo or banner
  • call to action
  • unsubscribe

Each of these of course has their own intricacies as well, which professional marketers spend time perfecting. In tough economic times not only is there not an opportunity to expand staff but in most cases web offices are being asked to cut or at least hold the line on resources. But web offices are not the only opportunity for institutional savings and we are seeing an increased interest in utilizing web based technologies including e-communications to communicate across our campus which results in an increased “email blast” effect.

I think there are a number of things you can do to help your community understand that you need to integrate e-communications into an overall strategy and plan in advance.

You need a good email system. We have used in-house systems, quasi in house systems, and now a vendor supported solution. Without a doubt the vendor solution has been a savior and allowed us to focus on best practices more instead of making sure the right lists load quickly.

Find your largest users and partner with them. In higher ed chances are good that your highest volume users are in development/alumni relations or admissions. Spend some time understanding their sequence and their needs. Having a partner early on helps when you want to work with other segments of campus.

Chances are resources at your institution are tight and you might not be able to get money to help you outsource your e-communications efforts. Set up a meeting with your IT staff who are in charge of institutional email. Share with them some of the best practices that you are trying to communicate with campus and see if they have anything additional to add. These members of your community spend a lot of time trying to block spam and you can probably use this free in-house resource to help you “beat” the spam filters.

Bring the major players together once a semester and host an e-communications summit. Share best practices and have your users talk about what works and what they are struggling with. This will help you set priorities and allow for free knowledge transfer across departmental lines.



Gettysburg College launches iphone app

October 24, 2009

At Gettysburg College today we were pleased to announce the launch of a free iPhone application for the  iPhone or iPod Touch. The app can be downloaded at and is part of a broader mobile strategy for the college

The project started in May and was coordinated by web communications. We worked collaboratively with admissions, public relations, and IT and used a vendor GeoNova Publishing, they are historically a mapping company but are branching out into mobile devices.

We targeted the iphone/itouch for a number of reasons. We saw it as an opportunity to start working in the mobile world and thought that there was a good base of apps already for the iphone. In the future we may have to develop across several devices but we will wait and see if one emerges as most popular.

The app was designed specifically for the external audiences of the College including prospective students and their families, alumni and parents. It provides mobile access to an interactive campus map, information, photos, videos, and campus directories

Twitter success story

August 30, 2009

Last week I wrote about a new school year equaling new opportunities. In the post one of the things I encouraged web professionals to do was tweet convocation. Susan Evans from William & Mary commented on the post,

“Guess what? We tweeted our convocation today. It was fun and successful. You can read our stream for this afternoon at”

At Gettysburg we did as well and saw some good results. Move-in day and convocation were Wednesday with Field day and our traditional first-year walk on Thursday.

We used the twitter search widget to pull the hashcode #gbc2013 onto our site and as of Sunday evening 88 posts used the hashtag. 31 of those were not using the college account but rather, students, alumni, parents, and staff who were excited about the events and used the hashcode. The live pull to our site also gave our orientation coverage an up to the minute feel. I got numerous comments during the end of last week about how great it was to see everything up to date so quickly.

Reflecting on the experience there are a couple of thoughts I had:

  • collaboration was important (we had numerous people from web communications, public relations, and the admissions office helping with the effort
  • information needed to be relevant to mater to our audience
  • despite many people not having a twitter account we made the best use of the technology by using the pull to our site
  • it was fun and I would do it again!

5 things to tweet about this year

August 10, 2009

As our social media strategy at Gettysburg has unfolded over the last year twitter has taken on a larger and larger role. The institutional twitter account @gettysburg has over 900 followers ranging from alumni, to staff, to news agencies. I have found twitter as an excellent free way to engage people about Gettysburg College. If your institution is struggling with how to use twitter here are 5 fairly simple ideas for twitter projects over the next year that stretch across various higher ed audiences.

Follow all of your alumni, employees, and friends of the college with accounts or at the very least who are following you. As the social media voice of your institution you can now listen to the conversation about your school in this space and maybe even pick up some good retweet opportunities.

Ask you admissions director to answer questions on the main institutional account for 2 hours one night close to the deadline to submit an application.

Campus Events
Pick a campus event, lecture, or speaker and have 2 or 3 students “live tweet” the event. Make sure they all use a hashtag so in your post event coverage you can pull a twitter search on that hashtag.

Ask your followers to vote for their favorite campus tradition. Make sure to publish the results not only on twitter but on the web, other social media sites, and your alumni magazine.

Annual Fund
Work with your development office to use twitter for a solicitation once during the year. Maybe your Senior Class gift campaign is the best place to try this approach. Make sure that you can track how many gifts and how much total money was raised from the twitter solicitation.

Interested in marketing academic departments

July 28, 2009

In Febuary on this blog I wrote a post about what makes a good academic department website. In that post I argued that

“Academics is one of the largest and most critical components of a college website. The department websites are at the center of that but it’s one of the sections that is hardest to manage at least at my institution.”

If you are interested in the topic Cognitive Marketing (@cogmark) a brand development marketing firm from Rochester NY presented on the topic at the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) Workshop for Department and Division Chairs: Creative Leadership with Limited Resources in Pittsburgh, PA.

The session Attracting Entry-Level Students to the Major: The Role and Responsibility of the Department Chair, covered the recruitment marketing process, the effect of the Internet on the relationship with prospective students, the identity of the academic department, and the creation of a marketing plan for the department.

Session materials including the session handout including worksheets, and the video about the Millennial Generation’s use of Web 2.0 are available on the Cognitive blog.

April 1st – Yield season has begun where is your value?

April 1, 2009

April 1st is here and at private liberal arts colleges the admissions yield season is in full swing. Accepted students have until May 1 to make a decision and the month of April will be spent “wooing” them.

What are the things we on the web side can do to help out our institution’s enrollment efforts this year? Here are a few quick thoughts:

Feature value
At a time where the economy is uncertain parents and students will be looking for what they get for their money. Highlighting good graduation rates or retention rates as well as your career services area are critical to this effort.

Academic reputation
Students often choose the school with the best reputation. Of course you can’t change this in one month but keeping your focus on student and faculty research and academic achievement can help with this aspect during April.

Remember your brand
Strive to constantly talk about those things that really make up the core of your institution. Hopefully you have done some brand work in the last few years and can now capitalize on those key messages.

Thinking differently about student blogs

March 10, 2009

Over the last 5 or so years I have been asked many times about starting blogs on campus. When I was in the admissions office this was often an idea we looked at but never tried. I always had trouble with what a student would blog about. Talking about what someone had for breakfast just did not seem interesting enough. I know lots of people have had success with blogs. One example we looked at was Brad Ward when he was at Butler with the Butler Bloggers.

However we still couldn’t make the case that student blogs were right for Gettysburg. Last year we decided to try blogs in a slightly different way. We tried taking short term experiences that our students were having like an outdoor adventure trip, community service project, or class field trip and have them “blog” during the 7 or 10 days that they were on the trip. They write reflections and post pictures and videos.

So far these types of blogs have worked well for us. It allows Gettysburg to highlight several different aspects of student life as well as the breadth and depth of the student experience. This week marks one year since we started this strategy with a blog about one of our student leadership groups and their trip to Colorado. Since then we have published many of these and actually have three more right now during this spring break.

What do you think of our different way to provide our audience with student blogs?