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?