Malleable Musings

March 10, 2010

Flipping the HigherEd Funnel

Filed under: International Student Recruitment, Social Media — Brendan @ 11:29 pm

Early last week I listened to a podcast on which Joseph Jaffe talked about some of his thinking in his latest book and I was left thinking “yeah, I’m not really sure how new this is but he seems to make sense, I wonder how much of this applies in a Higher Education (HE) context”. Then later in the week I saw a series of tweets from Mark Greenfield who was attending a webinar run by Powered, Jaffe’s company. Mark seemed to be thinking in the same way to me.

Then later in the week, last Friday, I sat through an all-staff Marketing Division Briefing at the University I work with. It covered the internal changes in the University and anticipated changes in the operating environment. I think the key phrase was this will be a period of “cuts and austerity”.

Then there was a sort of mini-marketing lesson. It was fairly standard stuff. It included the difference between Marketing Communications and Marketing as a whole – a topic that I’d often rail about. The lesson was necessary as the Division is actually really large and includes staff from Admissions, Alumni Relations, MarComms, Student Recruitment, Press & PR and the International Office who may not have had a formal marketing training or background.

Most of the lesson centred on the importance of differentiation and brevity of messaging. There was quite a bit about the importance of being first.

e.g. Everyone knows who Yuri Gargarin is but the guy on the left was apparently the third man in space (I say apparently as I found out later it depends a bit on your definition of space). Unsurprisingly no-one knew his name?

What about the 49th UK Prime Minister? She might be better known as the first female UK Prime Minister, mightn’t she?

The point was then made that many university marketing straplines and positioning statements are similar to that used by the Flight of the Concords. Compare “Ranked 6th best for student employment performance for non-specialist higher education institutions in England”; “Fourth for the highest average graduate starting salaries”; “Ranked in the top 5 best modern universities”; with “Formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo.”

From that there was then a vague UK university branding map the Elite (Oxbridge) at one end and the New Universities at the other. This lead on to the New Elite positioning. etc, etc.

What surprised me was that another UK university was mentioned alongside Oxbridge as an elite university. I initially thought this was just a slip of the tongue. However, from a conversation over a coffee later in the day I started thinking that it might not be.

This was particularly interesting for me because when I started looking for a job closer to home in Spring/Summer’08 I’d had a couple of interviews at this university to head up Student Recruitment.

I obviously didn’t get the job, which at the time I was very upset about, but now I’m happy with as my current role is far more up my street.

However, as part of this interview process I had to present on their new corporate strategy which ran to 2015 (seven years in the future) and the implications of this strategy. I was presenting to a group of staff – who would have either been my peers, or working to me.   It was a fairly standard-ish presentation covering how the future was fairly unpredictable and to demonstrate this I looked back at what has happened in the previous seven years (top-up fees; the twin towers attacks and it’s impacts on the international education market; an explosion of Chinese students on the campus of the university; communication changes including the rise of the web, email and mobile phones; the effect of their recent rise up the league tables etc.) and what this meant as their recruitment funnels changed shape. I went on to explain some of the challenging targets in the strategy and how I felt we would need to future-proof ourselves….

After the presentation one of the questions that I was asked was something like, how do you think our exhibition booth should look to differentiate ourselves at UCAS recruitment fairs? The question was obviously being asked of everyone. I seem to remember giving a fairly glib response and then asking a question back, “How important are UCAS recruitment fairs going to be to this University in the future?”

So how does this story fit with Jaffe’s Flip the Funnel?

Well, Jaffe has written a business book based on the premise that “Customer retention is totally overlooked and is in fact the new acquisition.”

He explains it in this short video.

I don’t like using the word customers, I prefer students, but I’ll buy that Higher Education is a business, maybe a business in need of radical change, but still a business.   My view is that in the vast majority of the world the qualification and the educational/student experience are commodities that are purchased – although I realise that this may not sit comfortably for many educators. (e.g. I listened to George Siemens at TEDxNYED at the weekend say something like if education draws heavily from corporations, I don’t want any part of it.)

However, unlike many industries the Higher Education Business is usually a significant one-off purchase. This means that some of the Jaffe’s soundbites about returning customers don’t seem quite that applicable* e.g.

12% of all Coca-Cola customers account for 80% of Coca-Cola Classic sales

75% of Zappos‘ revenue comes from returning customers

* at least not in student recruitment, although I can see some of them fitting well with other roles in HE, like alumni relations/giving.

In HE students (our customers) don’t usually come back for seconds and there is selection process that works both ways.  We are often recruiting with an eye on the quality and diversity of the intake, or to meet specific targets imposed either by physical limits or a regulatory environment.

In contrast, most businesses aren’t fussy about who their customers are.   (Although, I’m sure it does happen on occasion, e.g. I watched an episode of the brilliant 1950’s set Mad Men TV show, and there was a storyline about a TV manufacturer called Admiral not wanting to advertise to “Negroes”.)

However, these differences shouldn’t lead the HE community to entirely dismiss the concepts and stories that Jaffe is promoting. For example, on the recruitment side it is easy for selecting universities to over-invest in awareness by not pushing their points of differentiation or by attending fairs and advertising in specific publications and partaking in other promotional activity simply because that’s what others are doing.  Whilst retention of the right prospects through the conversion funnel and converting these “right prospects” is often underplayed.

Detractors (e.g. United Breaks Guitars) and promoters are more important than ever before.  Changes in communications have allowed people to express their satisfaction, and more likely dissatisfaction, to large numbers of people far more easily and quickly than in the past.

Jaffe is definitely on to something when he says what’s needed is  content, conversation and commendation.  He says we need to give our promoters a megaphone.  A sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more.

He’s also quick to push the customer experience to counter detractors.  In a rough approximation of his words, Customer Service is the new Marketing/PR and it can be a revenue generator but it’s “not your grandfather’s customer service.” It’s alive and it certainly shouldn’t stop at 5pm on Friday.

To me this is Moments of Truth played in public, in real time, often over the web.  Yes we need to build fantastic customer service, which requires an ongoing commitment, but we need to back this up with as near to a real time 24/7 monitoring service as we can afford.  My view is that this should incorporate formal processes as well as we have a duty of care for all students not just those with the loudest voices.  This monitoring / feedback process then needs to be triaged.  Issues and problems need to acknowledged, evaluated and routed with serious issues escalated to appropriate decision makers so that responses can be made as quickly as possible.  (In HE not all decisions can be made quickly, especially if a committee is involved, as they often are.)

One of the tweets I saw from Mark asked “Where does “customer service” organizationally reside in #highered?”  Well, my guess is it has to be distributed.  OK, there may well be within my university a Student Experience Committee but it’s the entire staff (including academic, administrative, technical and any other type of staff member) that provide the service.  These people will be considered by the student to be the organisation.  They are the brand*.  And, like or not, that means that they market the institution whether they know it or not.

* People are the brand, this tweet came up during the webinar. I think it has important implications for how brands should use social media and the importance of meshing personal, professional and corporate messages.

Hard to have a relationship w/ a biz. People want to talk to people, not to the “brand”

In conclusion, I’m not sure how new or original Jaffe’s thoughts are.  Especially if your starting point is that marketing is about identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.  The world is obviously changing.  Customers have a bigger voice than they ever have had in the past  and some of Jaffe’s stories and concepts help illustrate this well.  I’d love to read the book, but I’m realistic and know that unless it’s an audiobook I probably need to wait until I next take another holiday or a flight.

I’m sure there are other implications for HE that I’ve missed so I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.


January 6, 2010

Career women make bad mothers

Filed under: Social Media, Trad marketing methods — Tags: — Brendan @ 7:01 am

I saw the “Career women make bad mothers” outdoor ad on a bus shelter as I was driving around the Leicester Ring Road on my way home yesterday.

It made an impression.  I remember thinking, “What advertiser uses a message like that.  Are they looking for trouble. ”

As I was only able to read the headline I assumed it was for some trashy new TV show.  A few minutes later I’d forgotten all about it.  Then in the evening I saw a tweet by @pigironjoe and I was interested enough to read his posterous post

Unlike Tristram I’m not a careers person so I wasn’t particularly interested in the careers aspect of the headline.  Instead, I was interested in the campaign itself.

So I went off to the marketing comics to find out a bit more.  According to Media Week/Brand Republic, it’s part of a £1.25m campaign to promote the power of outdoor advertising and will use 11,500 billboards and poster sites nationwide.  To put this into perspective it’s the equivalent weight as a campaign that would be used for the launch of a new blockbuster film or of a campaign by a major telecoms company.

What interests me about this campaign is the supposed interaction between online and offline media and the use of such a provocative headline.  In terms of the provocative headline I think that “Max Harrington” sums my thoughts up well with his comment on the Media Week/Brand Republic article.

Max Harrington

Max Harrington – 05/01/2010
This approach is a bit old hat these days. Couldn’t they come up with something that’s clever or funny? When the outdoor industry did that campaign \(10 years ago) for a fake Aussie perfume that was brilliant. If the outdoor industry wants to seduce brands then use the style of creative ads that brands would run. The average marketing director will simply say “well of course you got a response, you insulted thousands of people, big deal, that ain’t selling”.

However what really has me scratching my head is the quote from Alan James, the chief executive of the Outdoor Advertising Agency, “The campaign hopes to demonstrate the power of outdoor advertising as a direct response medium with the ability to drive people online.”  (Now this may not be an exact quote, there’s a subtle difference between the word direct and the word immediate used in the Daily Dooh post linked above. )

But in any case, why:

  1. was the URL so small as to be unreadable on the poster?
  2. pick the domain when there is already a domain which dates from March 2003 (it was for text-messaging about the Iraq War and I found the analysis of their campaign really interesting);
  3. build a site that’s so poor for SEO purposes?
  4. run neglible PPC? Bizarrely they are bidding on “Britain Thinks” – where’s the PPC for the phrases that they will use on their posters.  If I were still a PPC advertiser I’d seriously consider running a campaign on their phrases for some quick, cheap eyeballs.

You’d expect them to get all this right wouldn’t you.  After all this a serious £1.25m campaign – isn’t it?

Having seen the poster the only thing I had to go on was the phrase Career Women make Bad Mothers.  So I typed it directly in to Google and at the time of writing the number one result was a highly critical mumsnet post “Career women make bad mothers“.  Whilst on Bing it’s this great blog post on “Career women make bad mothers“.

The BritainThinks website doesn’t make the first page on either search engine.

Whilst there is definitely more to getting a message across than advertising on Google poor oohgle thinking is unforgivable in this day and age.  Separately I’m wondering what effect the snow is going to have on the campaign.

June 25, 2009

New job – what I’ve learnt from the first 72 hours….

Filed under: Social Media, Twitter — Brendan @ 7:15 am

So I started a new job on Monday morning – I arrived at the office at about 08:15 and then realised my potential mistake (no one else in my office had yet arrived). However luckily one of my new colleagues was in and had just gone off to make herself a cup of tea so I was able to get in to the office after all.

My first couple of days went mostly as I expected.  Before I started a handful of appointments had been made for me.  I’d been warned by my new boss that my first task would be reading several reports and papers and filling in a host of forms to get access to various things. Even now 72 hours later, I know that I’ve not got access to everything that I will need. However, I’m still at the stage of trying to identify who in the organisation knows what and what the organisation doesn’t know, so really I guess not seeing student record data or the departmental drives really isn’t that important right now.

For the first day and the first couple of hours of the second I didn’t have access to the computer network.  This certainly isn’t something specific to universities as a friend reminded me

However what this first day really taught me was:
1) How much a computer has become an integral part of my working day. (Making hand-written notes about what I was reading seemed almost alien to me, and at the first chance I had on Tuesday and Wednesday I transcribed them to a digital format.)
2) Social media is a fantastic tool when you are starting a new job. I’ll return to this theme later.
3) That I can’t ditch a computer for my iPhone yet (even with the new copy and paste features available in OS3.0). I love my iPhone – my wife often tells me I love it too much. I just can’t type as quickly as on a computer keyboard and I certainly can’t multi-task in the same way.

So far I’ve got to meet some of my colleagues who work in central roles. I’ve talked in some detail with two of the four people who appointed me about how they see my role and have arranged follow up meetings with four or five key staff specifically in the Division of Marketing & Communications and the Finance Office.

Bizarrely, today will be the first day in which I’ll get to spend some time with my line manager – as she’s been out of the country.

At the moment I’m still trying to process the information I’ve been picking up about how distance learning works at Leicester.  In my last job after four or five years I could with some degree of certainty predict how many students we were likely to recruit in each territory for each course and after a year I had a good understanding of who I needed to talk about for specific end.

I’m hoping that at Leicester I’ll be able to make inroads much, much more quickly. I’ll probably know how quickly by the end of next week. However the range of people I’ll need to be in contact with feels a little overwhelming at the moment.

There’s a large number of people who I’ve only just managed to say hello to (and not yet managed to say much else).  And that’s just within the central administrative parts of the university. As an example I still don’t know the names of everyone in the room in which I sit, let alone the Division in which I work (Marketing & Communications).

What’s more I desperately need to get out as soon as possible to talk to people out in the departments as soon as possible. I’ve sent a couple of emails to request meetings with a few key people and I’m expecting to be introduced to a large number of other departmental contacts at a forum on Tuesday.

I’m particularly conscious of the importance this because I was appointed by a small group of people who are largely based within the central roles within the university.  Only one academic was on the panel, and whilst he knows Leicester well, he’s still very closely associated with the International Office in which I’m based. I’ll be meeting him on Friday and from what I’ve heard elsewhere I know he will have some fascinating insights to share with me.

Then I’ll need to have a think about the external partners that I’ll be working with. Luckily, I’ve never much believed in Dunbar’s number!

One thing that has been particularly interesting for me was that I last moved jobs in 2001 – in the days before Facebook and WordPress, let alone Delicious, Digg, Twitter, Flickr, Plurk, FriendFeed et al.  Back in 2001 I seem to remember Mamma not Google was the search engine of choice. Funny how things change eh!

For my interview at London in 2001 I was able to download the entire London website (100 odd pages) and use that as the basis of my interview.  In 2009 given the tsunami of information downloading and analysing the Leicester website really wasn’t an option. (I love the phrase “tsunami of information” which I heard most recently within the first few minutes of Scott Leslie – The Open Educator as DJ – Towards a Practice of Remix which is well worth watching by all to hear about for benefits of working within the tsunami.)

By working within the tsunami utilising specific tools I’d been able to listen (at a very superficial level) to a few conversations that were going on between staff, students and others.  I’d been doing this for about the past four or five months, from as soon as I knew I was being interviewed.

Generally I didn’t take part in a conversation, I sent the odd tweet, and a couple of emails but generally I was just listening. I really felt that I should participate in some of the conversation – particularly, this sort of thing and on several things on then relatively new Beyond Distance blog.

I quite recognise some might equate this to stalking. However I didn’t want to be drawn in to public conversations too early. I especially didn’t want to get bogged down in a convoluted conversation without understanding more about the culture of the organisation I was joining, or fully understanding the identities (and motivations) of the people behind the digital personnas that I was encountering.

I also wanted to be somewhat careful about the digital footprint I was leaving behind, as I don’t want it to cause me any problems.

So far I’ve found Social Media to be of immense value to me in starting my new job. Initially I used my listening process to identify a couple of people to make contact with who I knew I would be able to relate to and who I would probably need and want to work with at some point in the future. I took the step of going for lunch with @stujohnson a couple of weeks before I started working at the University. Whilst at lunch he made a couple of suggestions of other people I should take particular care listening to online. Thanks to one of the suggestions Stuart made and the follow up that I did through digital media tools I had a meeting at the end of Wednesday that I never would have had. And it has generated ideas for using other types of social media tools that I wouldn’t have expected to be able to even be talking about for another 3-4 weeks.

Something else that was particularly interesting to me was that when I was invited to a lunchtime lecture on my first day and given an attendee list.  I realised that I knew the Twitter usernames of five of the fifteen attendees and that I’d read blog posts by some of these five and one other before the lecture started. Stuart said something along the lines of Thanks to Twitter I was probably one of the best inducted members of staff Leicester has ever had. I think he might well have something in that!

June 17, 2009

DM / Email / SM … the same rules apply

Filed under: Emails, Social Media, Trad marketing methods — Brendan @ 10:22 pm

I got a piece of direct mail yesterday that seemed to bring together a lot of different ideas.  My thinking was undoubtedly influenced by the #digitalleap twitterstream, which I dipped in to on Monday. Also, many of the arguments about social media being just another form of communication were fresh in my mind having listened to the excellent Six Pixels of Separation #159 podcast on the train home yesterday evening.

As an aside, personally I find JayJay’s notes about Digital Leap to be a far more detailed and coherent summary of the day than the twitter #hashtag.  To me it doesn’t matter that this is one person’s point of view and she’s espousing it away from where the main online conversation is likely to take place.  Why? Because I trust her point of view and think the permanence, readability and searchability of JayJay’s notes to be superior.  I think that there’s probably a whole blog post just on this topic – but for now that will probably have to wait.

Outside of CAFOD mailer

Outside of CAFOD mailer

Anyway the direct mail piece was from a charity that I’ve given to in the past.  What I loved about it was the language used, how on message it remained and the calls to action that were used.  It got me thinking about how similar this sort of communication is actually to the digital methods that many would say have superseded direct mail.

This is the mailing as I received it.  Immediately it had done all of the right things.

1) Their targeting data was good – and their delivery mechanism was sound. (The piece was delivered and had got in to my hands. I presume I was targeted through the Gift Aid scheme in which you provide your addresses.)

2) I recognised the sender (branding).

3) The subject line attracted me (alongside the crunch that told me there was something other than paper inside the envelope).

4) All of this led me to open the communication (envelope).  If steps 1-3 weren’t in place the mail either wouldn’t have got to me or I would have thrown it straight in to the recycling bin.

Compare this to the cardinal rules of email marketing.  The only significant factor missing is receiving the message at the right time.

This was what was inside of the envelope.

intInside of the envelope

What struck me first of all was the consistency of the message.  On the envelope I’d been warned that I would be asked to tell them what I think and the contents delivered.  This core call to action should sound familiar to the social media fundraising mantra of building influencers and friends and understanding them and their commitment to your cause as a first step.  It’s certainly no new idea, more like fundraising 101 – people give to causes they believe in that are articulated well and to their friends.

Anyway, the entire pack had been carefully designed.  I thought the addition of a Fairtrade teabag and the second line of the headline “Will you tell us over a cup of tea?” was a masterstroke.  Throughout the covering letter and the survey the language used was chatty and informal and the graphics complemented this.

Every opportunity was used to tell the little interesting stories that fit with the brand messages that the charity is waiting to push.  It informed and cross-sold, but at no point did I feel I was being pushed.

I was left in no doubt that the purpose of this mailing was predominantly a listening exercise. The paragraph requesting donations was actually the top paragraph of page 2, and it was a simple understated, “when you’ve completed our survey, would you consider making a donation” backed up by the following line which was underlined, “We really do want to hear your opinions, whether you choose to make a donation or not.”

In the UK, I think this approach fits the university sector well.  It’s actually the approach used by my alma matter, the VC wrote to me saying something about how she wanted the alumni to help keep the university honest.  A clear message that as alumni that we are the probably the most visible aspect of the brand that the university has.

In the institution in which I have worked for the past seven years, I’ve long argued that our alumni base is probably more important to us as influencers than as a cash cow to be milked.  And I also argued that setting up our alumni association from scratch one of the key things we needed to do was to locate and listen to our alumni before anything else.  What’s more we needed to listen harder to our alumni who were distance learning students who had never set foot on the university than might be necessary for more conventional students.

We built the numbers very quickly and did a lot of listening and surveying but we always had a problem with segmentation.  Our surveys were rudimentary and nothing like as elegant as the one I got in this mailing.  When I get a chance I’m going to scan and save it here as it really is an exceptionally well executed.  It will provide a tonne of information that the charity can use highly effectively to both reduce their costs in communicating with me, recruit me as a volunteer and improve their likely return by targeting me with the key messages that matter to me.

However it’s also written in language that encourages and reinforces all of the brand messages so I’d imagine quite a few people will get to the end of the survey and will feel compelled to add a donation.

Thinking about it after a while I realised that there was one extra thing that could have been done, but for me this was the only fault.  This minor thing was to separate the email address from the donation box.  Ideally they should have also used a quite statement about helping them reduce their communication costs / or communicating electronically to save paper.  The reason for this is that some people will take the charity at their word and just fill in the survey, but not realise the savings that the charity can make in dealing with the person electronically.

May 12, 2009

I’m a sheep…

Filed under: Social Media, Twitter — Brendan @ 11:26 pm

I was listening to Episode 155 of the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast on my train ride home this evening.  I was really interested in the first 20 minutes or so in which there were some good points about how 21st century educators need to be a cross between curators, librarians and broadcast editors.

However the later part of the podcast seemed to drift off in to talking about how people are using web 2.0 tools, particularly twitter…

Somewhere within the podcast there was a phrase about how some people are sheep who just RT or share a message without providing their own perspectives or taking an idea forward in anyway.  This struck me as particularly ironic as I’d just ‘liked’ the podcast on Friendfeed.

Later on, I started thinking about new technologies generally and how they are adopted. My thoughts initially strayed to cavemen and the adoption of fire and how the idea of fire might have been marketed and spread as it’s use evolved (a source of light and heat, a weapon, a way to prepare food etc.).  I also remembered something I once read about primate group learning of tool use.  The basic idea is someone has an insight which may or may not be imitated and spread through a group.

Web 2.0 tools are still relatively new technologies and we’re collectively still figuring out the uses for them.  Like fire to the caveman many tools can be used in very different ways.  Consequently, it’s so easy to make assumptions that people use tools in the same way that you do.

As tools develop and mature, social pressure will probably standardise their use somewhat, but at the moment the tools are evolving.  I certainly don’t use the tools, or think about thim in the same way I did three months ago (e.g. twitter favourites as a way of showing you value content and wanting to read every tweet from every person I follow).

March 31, 2009

How to launch a course….

Filed under: PR, Social Media — Brendan @ 12:44 am

I tried my best yesterday not to get distracted, and I actually did pretty well at it. However whilst having my lasagne at lunchtime I turned to Twitter and saw a tweet telling me that the University of Birmingham had launched an MA in Social Media.

My first thoughts were that it didn’t sound like the sort of course Birmingham would offer, so I read an article (Telegraph I think?) and from that saw that the course was actually from Birmingham City University, and then I visited the course website and discovered who some of the key people behind the course were.

By this time I’d had several other tweets telling me about the course. (There was also some false positive RSS matching – it’s definitely not just Mashable that don’t check their sources – as a side note one of the nice things about moving out of London to Leicester is that the number of false positives should drop tremendously.)

For me as a marketing person within HE what struck me as odd was that the University’s marketing department or press office didn’t seem to be following along and/or helping with any correction of facts. All of this activity seemed to be left to the academics. Although to be fair the academics certainly practice what they preach and I was only really watching a portion of the Social Web. As an aside, the course leader @jonhickman sent me an reply within a few minutes when I asked why @brumcityuni were quiet today when a lot of people were talking about the University.

After I’d eaten my lasagne I let this slip out of my mind and got back to my spreadsheets and carried on working. Then I was out until late in the evening playing volleyball.

However on getting home I discovered a few more tweets mentioning the course including a link to this excellent explanation by Neville Hobson about why this sort of course is needed from a PR perspective. I think Neville’s spot on but I’d argue that this course may well be needed from other perspectives as well – e.g. HR.

Thanks to Neville’s blog I was reminded to go back and look at the video that was on the course page – it really is excellent. It’s on vimeo where you can also see some stats. If you’re a numbers freak like me you’ll also be hoping that Jon Hickman and Paul Bradshaw (and some of the others who did such excellent promotional work yesterday) publish some of their other numbers.

March 29, 2009

The 90:9:1 rule

Filed under: Social Media — Brendan @ 11:43 am

I saw this last week. @ewanmcintosh presented it at the Jisc’09 conference (I was listening to a live video feed from my desk). The video is supposed to be posted somewhere but I can’t find it however the presentation was written up by @ostephens.

Ewan showed a grid that helps thinks about startups – but he suggests it could also be used for University web services, or even other activites.  He suggested that 90% of people will be visitors, 9% fans and 1% contributors. (I later found this website.)

Visitor (just looks at stuff) Fan (will sign up but not create content) Contributor (uploads content, comments etc.)
Grab the attention
Keep the attention again and again
Turn the value into a tangible asset

I think this could be a really helpful little grid and I think when it comes to thinking about deliverables for SM projects.

Obviously it might be possible to shift people across from visitors to fans, and fans to contributors, especially if there are repeat visitors and there are things for people to engage.

The reason that it struck a chord with me is that I’ve recently been involved in a side project where I’ve been trying to create user generated advertising from alumni within a Ning Community and conceptualising the project along these lines before I started would probably have changed the way I have done things.

February 4, 2009


Filed under: BTP, Conversations, International Student Recruitment, Social Media, Tools — Brendan @ 12:30 am

Over ten years ago, I remember being surprised when a friend of mine who worked on advertising strategy for one of the fancy London agencies told me that rational argument isn’t that important in advertising, what’s important is pushing an emotional connection. I was reminded of this thought again at the weekend courtesy of @TobyKeeping.

What Toby’s excellent post on what defines a recruitment relationship got me thinking about was the importance of listening.

Why? Well, in order to gain that emotion connection, I need to be able to listen and understand what’s being said or communicated.

  • I need to listen to know what language I should use so that potential students can easily comprehend.
  • I need to know what, if anything, is likely to excite and enthuse or repel the different segments of potential students I’m working to attract.
  • I need to be able to respond to potential students in a timely fashion, especially in a Web 2.0 world.
  • I need to listen to know what’s being said about my brand and intervene when necessary.
  • I also need to listen in order to help provide the guidance and advice that’s needed once a prospects is ready to enter that recruitment relationship.

The listening process has definitely changed over the past few years, especially for prospects. In the past I would have run surveys and held in-depth conversations, often in a face-to-face environment. Whereas today and in the future much of the listening is (will be) carried out using tools like the Social Media Firehose, through specialist Search Engines like Who’s Talkin’, Social Mention via Alerts and RSS feeds, by following people on Social Networks and utilizing existing spaces where comment and feedback happens anyway.

The tools mean that it’s easier to listen at a superficial level, but the understanding or knowledge that comes from the listening process seems to have changed.

What’s more the amount of chatter that is suddenly opened up to us by using these tools is staggering and knowing where to begin is difficult.  At the moment I’m grappling with how I monitor what’s being said and how I aggregate this, report on it and make it all actionable, which leads to questions like:

  • Who should handle a comment about X
  • Is it important that comment Y is floating about on website Z
  • How are leads qualified, assigned and followed up
  • How will any interaction be viewed by the prospect (their influencers)?

In thinking about these questions I believe that this recent Harvard Business Review Article hits the nail on the head. The listening and communicating needs to be done at the front line. Essentially what’s needed is the killer mindset rather than the killer technology.

So what does this mean for me, well I’ve got to get to grips with the tools and do what I can to change things so that the “I” becomes “we”.  What’s more in the university sector the “we” is an expanded “we” – it’s not just staff that need to be involved.

January 23, 2009

Brands on Social Media

Filed under: Branding, Social Media, Tools, Twitter — Brendan @ 11:34 pm

I really enjoyed watching Blogwell in Chicago last night on Twitter and on the Critical Mass video feed that @Armano was running.  It was interesting to see what some of the big brands are saying about social media.

There’s a nice post that @AmberCadabera has done giving her key takeaways but I thought I’d just riff about the ones that I picked up on from following the #blogwell search:

SM is about listening:

  • @thehomedepot Our customers are talking in these spaces, whether we choose to listen or not
  • @AmberCadabra What if they say something nasty about us? They’re saying it anyway, and if you’re listening, you can respond
  • @scottyhendo P&G have an app that streams Twitter posts about Tide & projects it on wall of Tide brand dept

Content remains key:

  • @lsilich: Biggest takeaway from #BlogWell: Social Media efforts fail without a solid content strategy. It’s the first thing I do for my clients!
  • @chimoose: Legal tip 3: choose your words wisely. It’s not “social media” it’s “content sydication”

People are still learning.

And finally disclosure is important – it’s as simple as: “My name is X, I work for Y, this is my personal opinion…” @sernovitz pointed us at for further guidance.

It was all useful stuff for me, as I’m going to have to formalise a Social Media plan soon.   Formalising the things I’ve been playing with scares me in a way. It’s not the planning, its the need to gain sanction from my senior management so posts like the following one about selling Social Media to Cynics, Skeptics & Luddites will be useful.

Separately I’ve been testing a few things recently, just to see how brands I’m involved with respond or don’t to comments on social media.  So for example, I’ve been searching around for brands that I’m interested in and following them (both openly and covertly) and mentioning a few things in a few different places under different names to see if they are doing any monitoring, and intervention.  There’s been some great stuff so far but quite a few brands are simply not doing anything. Will probably post more on this later – currently engrossed in #wossy.

January 13, 2009

People… …the power of networks

Filed under: Social Media, Tools — Brendan @ 8:07 pm

Friday was a fairly hectic day for me.  So it might be surprising to that I spent a good ten-fifteen minutes of my day doing something that is unlikely to benefit me or my organisation in the slightest.

Bizarrely in the middle of the mayhem, I found time to fill in a survey from some Japanese professor that I’d never been in contact with before.  What’s more I ended up writing a five-six paragraph email providing some suggestions and offering to help with his research.

Just to give this some context I get invited to participate in surveys most days.  And probably 95 times out of 100, I’d ignore the invite (the email would be deleted before it’s half read, or the survey questionnaire would find it’s way straight in to the bin).

So why did I behave in this way this time?

Well it’s a story of loose associations.  The sort of loose associations that I think are the basis of how 21st century marketing actually works.

The survey invite came from someone I know at the University of Nottingham.  They aren’t a good friend or anything like that but they are someone I’ve known for ten years.  That the email came from them meant that the delete button wasn’t pressed immediately.  I then picked up that this Japanese professor held a London PhD.  Somehow I felt a little more connected to him as he was one of our alumni.  It’s another very loose connection but it was enough for me to open the questionnaire and start filling it in.

It was an interesting survey although it was about Trans-National Education / Distance Learning / Collaborative Provision it touched on the topics of hierarchy, entrepreneurship and centralisation which had been doing the rounds on some of the blogs I read last week so once I’d completed it I started writing some advice to help the professor improve his response rate.

Reflecting on this it’s an interesting micro-experience and it reminds me of something a fund-raising professional once told me – people generally give to people not to causes.

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