Inside FutureM: Digital Marketing & Higher Education

Posted by erik devaney

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If you’ve ever wondered why your college’s or university’s website is — or was – unhelpful, aesthetically displeasing or flat-out horrible, you are not alone. In fact, there are likely members of the staff at that school who recognize that their website is fundamentally flawed. The problem? Invoking change in the realm of higher education is hard. Unlike a Fortune 500 corporation, colleges and universities have limited budgets; they lack centralized decision-making environments; and they do not employ armies of marketing professionals.


To help better understand how higher education can succeed with digital marketing, both now and in the future, I attended this Monday’s FutureM event titled Beyond the University Website - The Future of Digital Marketing in Higher Education.

Moderated by Chief Strategy Officer & Co-founder of ISITE Design, Jeff Cram, the event featured a panel of four higher education marketers: Perry Hewitt, the Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University; Gene Begin, the Digital Marketing Director at Babson College; Mike Petroff, the Web and Enrollment Technology Manager at Emerson College; and Tom Baird, the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Cram kicked off the discussion by showing the above Venn diagram from The diagram illustrates how colleges and universities traditionally litter their websites with digital content that is not a priority for website visitors. The panel agreed that this Venn diagram highlighted some serious issues that plague higher education websites. However, the panel also pointed out that redesigning a website is not an easy undertaking.

The technical part of website design is not the problem, as colleges and universities have capable IT people that can handle that. The problem is getting all of the different factions of the school that have a stake in the website to agree on changes. According to Gene Begin of Babson, one of the keys to overcoming this problem is opening a dialogue and building bridges between these different factions. Schools need to be united in their website goal, which should be to produce and display excellent, useful content. The other aspects of a school’s website, such as the color of its background, should not be at the forefront of inter-faculty and inter-staff discussions.

So how do you get an entire college or university to agree on what should go on the website? After all, each department or faculty will argue that its content is the most important and the most worthy of that coveted spot on the homepage. Harvard’s Perry Hewitt has a solution: use Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. Instead of having departments wage war over getting permanent links on the homepage, every department can have their most recent activities streaming across the page via RSS.

While the website is the hub of a college’s or website’s online presence, it is by no means the only aspect of digital marketing in higher education. The website should serve as a launching point to social networks, like Facebook and Twitter.

However, as Mike Petroff of Emerson commented, colleges and universities need to ensure that their different departments leverage social media responsibly. Instead of strictly monitoring social media content, the panel agreed that a better idea is to put out a page of guidelines, which can ensure that all departments work together towards achieving a common digital marketing goal.

Related posts:

  1. Inside FutureM: The Future of Marketing for Small Businesses (and Why it Doesn’t Involve Daily Deals)
  2. 18 Public MA Campuses To Share $2.5 Million in “Performance Incentive Fund” Grants
  3. Cambridge-Based Startup Offers a Way to Ease Financial Burden on International Students
  4. Dealing with Going Digital: Millions of US Court Records Bound for Shredder
  5. Governor Patrick Announces Seven Appointments to UMass Board of Trustees

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Posted by erik devaney on Sep 13 2011. Filed under Business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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