Jeremiah Owyang is one of my favorite commentators on Social Media. I have been thinking about his post Web Strategy: How to evolve your irrelevant corporate website for quite some time and if this is applicable to higher ed sites.
The basic premise is that the corporate website (yourcompany.com) is becoming less relevant and marketing is no longer about your domain and Google search results. In the spirit of Cluetrain:
People are tired of the corporate website and all its happy marketing speak, stock photos of smart looking dudes or minority women crowded around the computer raving about your product, the positive press release, the happy customer testimonials, the row of executive portraits, the donations your corporate made to disaster relief, the one-sided view never ends.
The growing trend, especially with the millennial generation, is that decisions are made before people visit the corporate website. This is certainly the case for me. Whether it’s the purchase of a new car, a tennis racket or a bike, I’m making product decisions based on feedback from my peers on consumer rating sites, social networks, discussion forums, etc., not on information from a corporate website.
Owyang goes on to say that in order to stay relevant, future corporate websites will have to have customers building them along with employees. He goes on to say:
The corporate website of the future will be a credible source of opinion and fact, authored by both the corporation and community. The result? A true first-stop community resource where information flows for better products and services.
So my question for you is will this concept apply to higher education websites? Will yourschool.edu become irrelevant? I think it will. Not totally irrelevant, since marketing is just one aspect of a university website (online services and academic support being others.) But as far as marketing the school, we will continue to see more emphasis outside the .edu domain. Think about the numbers of colleges and universities that have created a web presence on Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Ning and Second Life. Progressive higher ed sites have been following Owyang’s advise by providing an open, authentic and transparent view with tools like blogs and wikis.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Will .edu sites become less relevant with the continued growth of Web 2.0 and Social Media? What strategies should we employ to stay relevant? And if prospective students are making their choice on what college to attend using non .edu sites, what sites are they using?
I absolutely disagree that they will become irrelevant (nor do I think, as Ryan asserts, that to stay relevant they will NEED to incorporate Web 2.0 or 3.0, whatever that is…). Here’s the thing – if you’re doing higher ed marketing the right way, it’s not what most people consider marketing in terms of a sales pitch. It’s informational and (as you noted) presenting a transparent view of what your institution is. To do it well though, colleges have to get over this idea that every student out there would be lucky to be there and just present what they are and what they stand for.
With that said, I don’t think incorporating Web 2.0 stuff is a bad thing but I think that anyone who asserts that its the end all be all of a university’s online presence in terms of appealing to prospective students has never worked in admissions LOL. This is the problem I have with a lot of higher ed web people – they don’t have a REALISTIC idea of why students choose to apply to or attend a specific college. Web 2.0 doesn’t get them. It only solidifies their decision after they make it (though I’ll also concede that with students starting the college search process as young as 14, it can help keep them interested until they are older). Now the only area I will agree with you is that the web is irrelevant in terms of being the clincher in their decision making process because that goes to the campus visit (students who don’t visit campus and rely on the web end up sugaring off or transferring at a MUCH higher percentage than those who do).
So where is the web extremely relevant: when they are in the earlier stages of their college search process and when they are in search of specific information throughout the application process. I don’t think we’re going to see that change any time in the foreseeable future.
sorry for the rant 🙂
I do not believe they will become irrelevant. .edu site will NEED to incorporate these Web 2.0 then Web 3.0 concepts into their site. Utilization of these resources to demonstrate student life, faculty expertise and quality of education is necessary. What the .edu sites will provide is the hub of the wheel. .edu sites will need to manage their presence at Flickr, Youtube or whatever the latest trend is. But they should be designed to pull the user back to the .edu site.
Karlyn, thanks for the rant 🙂
Your thoughts on doing marketing “the right way” is the key. It can’t be a sales pitch using typical marketing hyperbole, it has to be informational. Millennial students have finely-tuned BS meters and the traditional sales pitch just doesn’t work.
The other difference with the higher market is that students look for the falling leafs, the laughing students, and posh facilities.
If you marketing doesn’t show those things AND however you try to differentiate yourself then you are going to stand out in the wrong ways.
Karlyn, I agree you need to market the “right way”. But the “right way” will always change as well as the tools to reach it. What is more transparent that having the community generate content and define itself. Student and Faculty blogs allow real user experiences to be displayed. Furthermore, how much of a site’s text will a student really read. Introduce video and photo galleries into the mix and you are hitting them with multiple content mediums.
My mention of Web 3.0 is simply a reference to what might come next. There will be change, especially with the internet.
Will the exclusion of Web 2.0 tools cripple a school? Perhaps not. Was saying you NEED them too strong, probably. Am I REALISTIC, yes. Having them and using them the “right way” may just give you that comparative advantage to the school next door.
Thanks for including me on this, great discussions here.
Jeremiah, I’m not sure how familiar you are with some of the unique challenges of higher ed marketing and the web, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on if .edu sites will become increasingly irrelevant.
Mark I think I’m going to have to go with Ryan and some of the stuff Karlyn is saying here. If the message that you are putting out on Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, or whatever ISN’T tuned with the intent of driving traffic back to your main site then it’s off message. I’m not in Admission, but in my opinion, it’s the Campus Visits that make or break a student as Karlyn mentioned. The website with web 2.0 stuff (insert videos, blogs, virtual tours, etc) should be to build interest and name recognition. Why is a student going to visit your school if they have never heard of it before? And the name recognition is where the social media fits in. If you can use those other sites to build a presence that stands out and get kids to click through to your main .edu site and they continue to find things they like then maybe you can ‘convert’ them to schedule a visit or pull the holy grail and apply.
Besides if you start loading all these other sites up with content then you run into duplication and redundancy because if you don’t have all this content on your main site already then well…
Build the portals and let them click on through.
Perhaps some of the friction here is around the word “irrelevant.” Given many of the good points about old/useless content made above, one could argue that most websites already are irrelevant.
Websites can be a great platform for us, in higher ed, to show that we’re listening. While social media efforts are, and should be, community centered, the website is the “official” presence and, thereforce, is a source for helpful, accurate answers to the big questions and needs of those seeking information on our institutions. Unfortunately, many sites get bogged down with everything an institution wants to say and how it want to say it, without enough regard for what folks want to know and how they want to hear it. That’s the key to relevance. Do that, and the website will live on… and probably have a lot fewer pages.