Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

3 reasons why independent schools must market

Friday, January 9th, 2015

CityOfLondonSchoolAn axiom in independent schools has been that marketing is unnecessary. Reputation, history and narrowness of market obviate the need to invest very much in the marketing effort, so the meme goes, especially in boarding schools. After all, when Presidents, Senators, and Captains of Industry graduated from your esteemed institution, why sell your school like soap?

Schools are finding, however, that a number of factors now are putting paid to the past preferences. It’s no longer nearly enough to buy a few ads in the local newspaper, and any effort to buy advertising in national publications carries a much bigger price tag than most schools are prepared to pay. But that’s a tactical problem, and the big issue is strategic; it’s the plans and thinking that most need to change, and here are three reasons why strategic and sophisticated marketing and communications are crucial for independent schools, especially boarding schools.

  1. Your alumni’s kids don’t live near you anymore. The demographic shift south and west has resulted in Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas as places your alums now live instead of New England, Pennsylvania and New York. While boarders might “come back,” they’re not doing so at the same rate as prior years. For independent day schools, it’s much the same story: there are fewer families to draw from locally, and many schools are located in older neighborhoods no longer favored by full pay families.
  1. There is competition never before seen. Charter schools. Parochial. Magnet schools. Independent day and boarding. Home schooling. There are many outstanding public schools. This places parents in the catbird seat for choice. Add to that a fountain of data, information and wisdom about education, educators and schools, and you’re just one piece of the puzzle.
  1. Changing trends in news are challenging communication strategies. Let’s not belabor the point, but suffice to say that people get their news and information differently today than just 10 years ago. TV ratings, terrestrial radio and newspapers have lost market share. People don’t have to rely on curators like editors to get access to crucial information, and that means your school’s story should be told in multiple ways in multiple channels. It’s more than just a website, because the story is told by more people than just you. That was the case before, too, but now social media has made it easier than ever. Mind you, this doesn’t mean eliminating other media — it just means being strategic and data-driven in your paid media mix, your public relations, your community relations and your admission contact strategy.

There’s no doubt that the independent school world is being tilted on its axis by these relatively recent developments. In many schools, there still is a sense of denial — but this is a world where even the top, elite boarding schools are banding together to share techniques, tips and strategy.

What is your school doing to prepare for the next disruption?

 

{Note: This post also appeared on LinkedIn.}

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5 facts that independent schools should take to heart about marketing

Monday, October 27th, 2014

462996881Independent schools (boarding and private schools) are bastions of wealth and privilege, packed to the ancient rafters with the sons and daughters of titans of industry, government and commerce, with long waiting lists of the 1 percent clamoring for entry. And the admission directors’ main job is to say, “no.”  Well, not exactly. This is 2014, and even alumni (many of whom have moved away from the old school) no longer “always” send their kids back. It’s a new world, and independent schools need to wake up about marketing.

What’s happened now is a massive demographic shift, from north and east to south and west, mirroring the wider trends in societies. For example, the state of Ohio, home to four boarding schools and countless private day schools, lost 150,000 households with children under 18 between 2001 and 2010. Who were those people? Young families from the state’s main metro areas, Toledo, Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Youngstown and Cincinnati.

In Massachusetts, nearly 31 percent of households had children under 18 in 2000. That figure dropped to 28 percent in 2010, and just 8.6 percent had children under 14… Connecticut:  20 percent of households had children under 14 in 2000. 17.7 percent in 2010. On the surface, these are changes of just a few percentage points, but given the continued trends, and the lower birth rates associated with modern American life, they’re sobering. SSATB’s recent survey noted a 33% decline in domestic boarding students since 2001, and a precipitous decline in inquiries.

How do independent schools need to respond to the shift?

1. Realize you are battling with your peers over a declining market. Differentiating your product is essential — the traditional New England boarding school experience can be had many places, and the cost to value calculation is being conducted more often than you think.  Your brand must differentiate you.

2.  People outside of the I-95 corridor don’t understand boarding schools. That’s why the highest proportion of boarding school attendees come from just six states, according to The Association of Boarding Schools.  Creating new boarding school families is critical, but it’s an expensive proposition that independent schools haven’t budgeted for. By one calculus, a prospect needs to be exposed to messaging 30 times before the product or service has a shot at entering the consideration set, and that’s assuming your targeting is precise enough to find the most likely people to be prospects.

3.  People have good choices other than independent schools. Many cities with challenging public schools not only have great private options, they have charter schools and parochial schools that compete with your school. Even in cities that are struggling, there are people who believe in public schools and want to support them, or who want a religious education, (or who just want to be five minutes closer to school), rather than send their kids to yours.

4.  For boarding schools and private high schools, the kids are driving the decision process, and they aren’t reading your viewbooks and brochures, or your letters. They’re using Instagram and Facebook to find your current students and evaluate your school from that angle. They hit your website looking for multimedia content that’s real, open, honest and focused on them. They find your followers on Twitter and engage on Snapchat. They don’t care about your marketing messages, they care about discovering the real story of your school.  They don’t read long articles. They are harsh judges.

5. Digital marketing is more targeted, more effective and more measurable than analog marketing. It can be efficient, too (ask me for details), but it still takes budget and expertise. It’s more than search engine optimization or buying Google Adwords (which can get spendy very quickly), it’s managing your digital strategy from objectives to creative in concert with your other communications. Public relations, social media, internal communication, parent communications and alumni communications all play crucial roles in the marketing mix. You need experience and talent to manage all of that.

It’s doable. But your school has to let go of the ego-centric conceit that it doesn’t NEED marketing because of its history, its venerable buildings, its location or its alumni base. The world is changing fast, and only the adaptable will survive.

Data retrieved from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml , 2013 State of the Independent School Admission Industry (SSATB)  This post also appeared on LinkedIn. 

 

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Feeding mind & soul at PR research conference

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Many of my colleagues in public relations quail when I tell them I make a habit of attending the International PR Research Conference.  It’s an academic conference that features scholars presenting papers they have written (or soon will write) in 15 minute blocks. Half the time they explain the main points of the research, and the other half we listeners get to ask questions and make suggestions. That works great for me, and beginning in 2014, I’m now a member of the IPRRC Research Advisory Board, so will have a chance to be more involved.

For a lot of these papers/presentations — which are requirements for Ph.D.s and doctoral students — there isn’t a direct connection to practice. That doesn’t mean discussing them is not useful, and I admit readily to being enough of a geek that I appreciate the deep mental stretching that the more esoteric topics bring forth. Among the more usual questions I ask: “So what?” Most of the time not quite so bluntly (though one longtime friend of the conference, a practitioner who passed away last year, Jack Felton, felt no such reticence), and always with the desire only to understand the research’s impact on our practice.  We need more of the usual PRs to delve into this stuff, because the academics need our feedback, and we need to be there to give it!

One of my favorites was among the most academic. Denmark-based professors Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen of Aarhus University are exploring a general theory of intermediaries in PR. That’s trade unions, trade associations, the news media and others as stakeholders on their own account. Finn and Winni pose that there’s a trifecta of reputations at stake — the industry represented, the members of the intermediary organization, and the organization itself might be sharing reputation in a commons of sorts. Made my head hurt a little, but in a good way.

There were several other presentations that made a strong impression. Here’s the first few I took note of. 

Place

Dr. Shannon Bowen listens to Dr. Katie Place

Dr. Katie Place of Saint Louis University, presented on ethical decision-making in public relations. She is seeking to understand how professionals evaluate or reflect on their decisions. Dr. Place has started a qualitative study on the topic, and finds that there are few constants in process, with relying on one’s “gut” one of the few.  It’s a highly personal and rather eclectic mix, she finds, and that matches with much I’ve read on the topic.  We need more research on this, especially as PR Ethics is so often considered an oxymoron.

Doctoral student Arunima Krishna of Purdue University explored a “big 4” accounting firm’s unauthorized Facebook “Confessions” page, exploring whether the passion, vigor and dedication associated with highly engaged publics (groups of people) who are negative toward their organizations present particular challenges to our practice.  She posits that engagement — frequently assumed to be positive and desirable — might have a dark side. Stay tuned, and look for your organization’s Facebook Confessions page ASAP.

 

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, a doc student at University of Georgia, looked at corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as contributors to organization public relations activities. She conducted interviews with PR pros to determine what they thought of their org’s CSR, and sought to determine whether the CSR was primarily used to accomplish PR goals. It’s early, but the preliminary findings are encouraging for those who a) believe CSR is the right thing to do regardless of its business or PR value, and b) that CSR is no replacement for confronting and solving organizational problems and issues. 

There are more to review — look for another 3-4 in the next post, including the offering from my Kent State University colleague, Prof. Michele Ewing!

 

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A communicator’s manifesto for 2014

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

no_year_in_reviewNo predictions, no year-in-review. Instead, how about a statement of first principles? Can you dig it?

Resolved: Whether in internal communication, PR measurement or strategic communications, we will be fearless, ruled by the right thing to do rather than the facile, easy or merely expedient. Therefore:

  • As the internal experts in communication, we will have facts and data at our disposal to support our strategies and tactics. We will do research, ongoing measurement and evaluation to ensure that our activities are having the desired impact on business results. Because we care most about that, we won’t allow ourselves to be wedded to our tools — social, electronic, print, whatever. Instead, we will do as every other department in our organization must do: be judged by our impact and value. We will measure at the output, communication outcome and business results levels (output, outtake, outcome), and if we don’t know how to do so, we’ll educate ourselves.
  • We will not cede the public relations field to marketing, embracing the credo that while all marketing is communication, not all communication is marketing! Neither shall we use marketing metrics for non-marketing activities out of inertia, expediency or lack of interest. Nor will we by word, deed or omission allow social media to be subsumed solely into the “marketing mix,” advocating instead for a truly strategic approach to the use of social tools as well as all the other tools in our cabinet.
  • We will insist on transparency from our vendors, never settling for “black box” methods. We recognize the unique value our vendors may bring to the table, but we will need to understand how their many miracles in return on investment, value of Facebook likes, financial values in nonfinancial situations, etc., actually work in practice. We will compare notes and seek metrics beyond anecdotes.
  • We will develop SMART objectives — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound — because performance against objectives is the most basic and appreciated mode of measurement for any communicator. It is these objectives — and the process of setting them — that lead us to our strategies and tactics. They give us purpose, drive, ambition and business life, a reason for being.
  • We will embrace the simple fact that we are business people — regardless of industry, specialty or education, we are business people first, using communication skills, tactics and strategies in support of business objectives. We therefore will be more than merely conversant in the language of business; we will employ it when we talk of what we do, who we are and the roles we play in our organizations.

These are weighty responsibilities, my friends. Are you up to the challenge?

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What’s the matter with IABC?

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

It’s happened to a lot of organizations.  Business shifting under their feet, departure of key exec, search for new leader, struggle to change without losing customer base, new leader leaves sooner than expected after difficult tenure.

It shouldn’t, however, happen to a membership organization comprised of professional communicators.

The drama over Chris Sorek’s departure after less than a year at the helm of the International Association of Business Communicators has to have been avoidable.  We counsel our execs and clients about this. Books are written, conference presentations, academic papers all say the same thing: “Tell the truth, tell it first and tell it all,” according to Bruce Hennes of Hennes/Paynter, the crisis management firm based in Cleveland.

The tragicomic saga opens when Sorek takes over, succeeding Julie Freeman.  Julie, who held the post for 10 years, communicated quite effectively, in my book. She was visible, involved, supportive. Sorek was a little invisible, a little remote, seemingly more comfortable out of the spotlight in his 11 months. That’s fine; not every leader is an ENFP.

But as the changes began, including massive staff layoffs and restructuring, I believe the numbers were 15 of the 32 employees, Sorek still hung in the background. The always excellent David Murray had a good summary and analysis, as did Ragan.com, all without a word from the executive director.  In corporate life, we often call that, “insulating the CEO” from delivering bad news. But hey, this ain’t a corporation, its our bloody (and bloodied) association.

On IABC’s web feature, “IABC in the news” Sorek hasn’t been present since an interview in August 2012.  Freeman often took to the IABC Cafe, the blog platform. Sorek never did.

Who was that masked man?

Meanwhile, IABC’s LinkedIn group is full of members and nonmembers asking about what was happening at our association (I’ve been a member near continuously since, well, a long time ago). The International Executive Board (IEB), a volunteer leadership group, did its best to fill the void, but the paid head of our association was strangely reticent, leaving the spokes duties to our IEB chair.

I am wondering whether I need IABC anymore. I’m active in other groups — PRSA’s Employee Communication Section for one, the Institute for PR Commission on Research, Measurement and Evaluation, for another, and have a strong community of outreach via social media.  Add to that the desire to speak and write less for my communication family and more for senior execs in industries that might need my professional help, and we’re coming to an inflection point.

In the end, I’ve opted to stay in IABC, at least for 2013. I have a few personal frustrations — despite a long history of chapter leadership and good experiences with the Heritage Region Conference, the International has been a tough speaking nut to crack. As a small business guy, I need to make good decisions about how I spend my time and money.

This latest imbroglio, including a request from our IEB chair to “stick to the speaking points” was a real tale of the cobbler’s children. Seriously?  IABC tried to tell it first, but the technology didn’t cooperate. It didn’t tell it all because of privacy concerns (and a desire to avoid feeding voyeurism, according to one comment).  That made it seem like IABC wasn’t telling the truth — the failure to explain reasons behind decisions makes people believe they’re being deceived, as Joe Williams teaches.

Now, the search for an executive director begins all over again. The question is, who wants that job?  It better be someone who knows how to connect with membership from the very start, who will do a good job of listening to membership and who can exude confidence about the plans for the future.

 

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PR is NOT the Guardian of Corporate Reputation

Friday, November 16th, 2012

A guest post by James G.Savage — A few weeks ago Sean posted eloquently on the value of a firms’ reputation. Akin to the accounting concept of goodwill, there is general agreement that reputation and, hence, reputational risk is, in fact, tangible and material. In light of the wreckage of the past few years, stakeholders increasingly assume companies are on top of reputational issues, but in fact most companies still do not have any sort of proactive reputation management strategy, with no holistic approach to building reputation and mitigating risk.

Functionally, who owns corporate reputation? In the risk management world there is a fierce debate going on right now over that very point. Most corporate communicators reading this blog would probably assume PR is front and centre here, as communications is at the intersection of brand, business, stakeholders and reputation.

And they’d be dead wrong.

Reputation management remains at a very nascent stage. Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, various internal ‘experts’ within the enterprise approach corporate reputation from their specific fields of expertise. Within companies, the C-suite assumes reputation is top-of-mind for all employees, while specific functions – enterprise risk management/GRC (governance, risk and compliance), marketing, communications, operations, product development, corporate sustainability, even IT – equally assume they “own” guardianship of the firm’s reputation. These various parties work diligently in splendid isolation from one another, often falling victim to the critical myths I outlined in an earlier white paper.

The author of KPMG’s authoritative Reputational Risk Survey, Dr. Thomas Kaiser, put it this way in a recent interview with Britain’s Risk Universe magazine:

The role of PR departments is essential for ‘clean-up’ operations following a reputational risk event, but they should not be key in its active management. Reputational risk is not a PR exercise – the underlying problems of any event need to be solved rather than actively managed after the event.

To me, that quotation epitomizes the singular failure of corporate communications to get beyond the tactical and be seen as central for business strategy and corporate reputation. Kaiser adds that “people (in the enterprise) need to define their role in reputation management.

So I’ll put it out there for this blog’s readers. Has PR missed the boat? Are we down there in the weeds thinking reputation management is merely a matter of getting rid of that nasty Facebook post or Twitter meme without taking the lead in communicating to the C-suite why the attacks on reputation are occurring? Have communicators been sidetracked by CSR into being the Pious Works department?

If PR doesn’t lead, then whom?

Jim Savage is principal of Reputation Leadership Group (www.reputationleadershipgroup.com) (RLG), of which Sean is a member of the board of advisors. They have been collaborating and co-conspiring happily for many years.

 

 

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The role of scale in social media is oversold

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

The next time I see an article saying that social media measurement is about followers, likes and comments/retweets, I’m going to scream loud enough to raise the dead. These are not business results.

Social media measurement takes place across a three-part continuum — outputs, outtakes (or communication outcomes) and business results. Measurement should cover all three parts, including followers, likes, comments and retweets, but we must not mistake those outputs for real business impact. When we focus on the outputs, we’re extrapolating impact and the potential for impact — not measuring impact itself. When we look at the middle part — outtakes — we get wrapped up in web traffic without closing the loop.

Ask yourself WHY you want followers/fans. What is it we want them to think, feel or do? Measure that! Performance against objectives!  It doesn’t have to be sales/revenue/retention, but it’s mighty helpful if it does. Don’t stop at measuring only the things you have direct control over. Connect the dots. Carry your outputs to business results. Don’t rely on mere correlation — track the different inputs that lead to the objectives you’ve set.

What does the headline of this post have to do with these past 179 words?

Followers have to be influenced by you to feel, think or do something that advances your business objectives. There’s some credible research that suggests there’s a plateau of influence, a point at which influence wanes as the network grows larger.  More on this later, but I implore you — there are no shortcuts to establishing the impact proposition of public relations/communications. I don’t think you’ll find it by counting the number of retweets and likes, however easy that might be.

More info for those of you who might read it:

Katona, Z., Zubcsek, P., & Sarvary, M. (2011). Network effects and personal influences: The diffusion of an online social network. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(3), 425-443. doi:10.1509/jmkr.48.3.425

Kitsak, M., Gallos, L., Havlin, S., Litjeros, F., Muchnik, L., Stanley, H., & Makse, H. (2010, November ). Identifying spreaders in complex networks. Nature Physics, 6. DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS1746 . Retrieved April 8, 2012, from http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1001/1001.5285v2.pdf

Satell, G. (2011, November 6). Exploding the influentials myth [Web log post]. Retrieved April 6, 2012 from http://www.digitaltonto.com/2011/the-tyranny-of-influentials/

http://www.instituteforpr.org/2010/06/the-barcelona-declaration-of-research-principles/

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Are “incented” tweets and likes “deceptive”?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

As the  usual outlets for advertising sometimes appear doomed — see New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, or Dish Network’s latest innovation — what’s an exec in need of a megaphone to do?  Advertising is trying hard to adapt to the continuing media fragmentation, but what if their “innovation” is actually illegal?

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is taking a hard look at companies’ practice of offering incentives in exchange for Facebook “likes” and Twitter tweets. Ad guidelines already require a notice, like “#paid” on purchased tweets, which calls out advertisers who’d prefer to not expose their astroturf roots. So if, as a USA Today story said today, Target gives free samples to people who “like” their page, and Amazon gives $3 video credits in exchange for a tweet, that’s an advert and subject to the law.

This is the squishy underbelly of commercial use of social media, and why I insist that all marketing is communication but not all communication is marketing. If that’s not true, everything is marketing, and who cares if people cannot tell the difference between advertising and truth?

Strength or bliss, it’s still ignorance.

 

 

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Considering the state of online influence

Friday, April 27th, 2012

How do we measure influence?

If you read these humble musings semi-regularly, you know that I’m rather suspicious of most so-called measures of online influence. Too often, it’s black-box, secret sauce, cloak-and-dagger, and one really can’t judge the veracity of the claims.

I don’t want to single any company out, so suffice to say that whatever science is behind those claims, I have been looking for independent, scholarly research that might back it up. Conceptually, I ask myself: “Is online influence different from offline influence? How might we measure it if so? If not?”

This pondering, and the requirement to write a literature review for Dr. Danielle Coombs’s qualitative research class, pushed me into examining research from several different disciplines, including marketing and communication, psychology, sociology, information technology and even the hard sciences. In so doing, I believe I’m building a foundation for my eventual master’s thesis.

I am interested in the influence process as qualitative in nature, rather than strictly quantitative. Predictability isn’t necessarily what I’m striving for (thus guaranteeing I won’t get it published…), but rather trying to understand the process as it is.  You’ve heard the claims — retweets and @replies as evidence of influence (Kaushik’s RTs per 1000 followers), shares and likes on Facebook, etc.  We know that it’s quite variable according to who you are and what industry you’re in, who your audience is, and so forth.

In short, where’s the beef in this influence sandwich?

I’m unsatisfied by publications from research firms and others with a vested interest, which is a huge challenge. I have found so far that there’s not all that much in current scholarship that is directly related to the online space, and much of what there is dates from three to five years ago, an eternity in internet time.

So, stay tuned – I have no intention of abandoning this effort, and to the extent there is interest in what I’ve found so far, I plan to share.

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Ethics starts with “me”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

If the public relations industry isn’t evil, it is frequently unethical, caught in a Hobson’s choice between making a living and living a moral and ethically sound life.  Have you opted to do something that doesn’t feel right because your boss, or your client wants it?

The anonymity of the Internet makes it easy: create a phony profile on Yahoo! Finance and go to it. Stir the pot on your company’s message boards, pick fights, misdirect.  Comment on Twitter under a false name and hide the fact the company’s paying you to foster Twitter dialogue.

How about priming the comment stream about your company’s product?

It’s all too easy to say, “Well, if our agency doesn’t do this, the client will just find someone else who will.” Or, “I’ll get fired if I don’t do it.”

We often seem to think that ethical problems are someone else’s concern. But it all starts with “me,” not with “you or them.”

At what price will you sell your ethical soul?

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