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The digital media universe: why higher ed should look to the stars

October 17, 2013

What is digital media? Hint, it used to be called social media, but now since it encompasses YouTube, Flickr, Livestream and Klout, it isn’t always social, but its always digital.

Backstory: I once managed the Twitter feed for a fast-foot restaurant. One day, we handed out $5 gift cards to fans on Twitter. The winner DM’d us with the following message:

“This is marketing genius. I’ve never felt so close to a company before.”

This happened in 2008, but back then the idea of engaging directly with a brand was different enough to be interesting. A $5 gift card isn’t enough to generate his amazement – he was amazed at the ability to speak with a brand he loved.

At my current employer, the building talks to other buildings on a daily basis. This ability to engage in social media is both good and bad. It allows brands to have more tools in the marketing tool box, but clouded our thinking about the power and purpose of social media.

“Tell stories.”

That’s what I often hear, and write. But its more than that. If our Flickr site tells a story with an image, it should really be trying to get a click at the end of the story. 2.5 million people have looked at the stories on Flickr, we work hard to turn them into clicks.

So what is digital media?

In higher ed, we have a website. The website ends with .edu which tells search engines that when someone types in Colgate U into Google, they aren’t looking for the toothpaste, they are looking for Colgate.

The website is the hub. It is where most of the efforts go, where most of the stories are told. Yes, many of the pages are static, but they tell important stories about departments. And since they end in a .edu, when someone enter “Colgate biology”, Google suggests some answers and offers links to the website.

When used right, digital media can surround that search and the .edu. They are all just websites with varying objectives.

Back to interstellar space:

Solar System - courtesy of NASA

Solar System – courtesy of NASA

Here’s my take, and while this is particularly focused on the .edu, I think it applies to all brand websites.

The .edu is the sun. It is the center of the digital universe for your school or brand. All of the social media sites are merely satellites that orbit around the sun.

Each planet, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter… they all have a population of people. Ideally, you would like those people to eventually visit the sun. Perhaps on the way, you’ll engage them in the conversations, perhaps they’ll talk. Mostly they’ll consume your stories.

Then, depending on what stage they are at in their relationship with your school, they’ll visit the sun. That’s where the heat is, that is where the action is.

A digital solar system, if you will. With some new social media sites popping up (like new livestream — who are those 4,000 people?), and some being relegated like Pluto to orbiting, but less important (I’m looking at you FourSquare.).

Like any solar system, there are big planets like Facebook and Twitter with many inhabitants. some of the other planets get a lot of visits, but no one really lives there – like Flickr and YouTube.

They all live in the universe guided by the gravitational pull of the .edu.

Social media sites are important parts of the digital universe, but if they don’t revolve around the sun, then I wonder if the strategy is wrong. The goal of social media sites should be to think about ways in which they will work with the official website. Start by thinking of them as digital sites. Then think about what behavior you want to generate.

What do you think? What is your social media solar system? Am I way off base?

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