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How people should use social media

August 7, 2018

The director James Gunn was fired from the 3rd Guardians of the Galaxy franchise because of posts he made 9 years ago. The actor Sarah Silverman had to put out a release because of posts she made on Twitter 9 years ago.

The alt right on the internet, the trolls of Reddit and 4chan target people for their older content, feigning outrage when there is none.

I tell you this because of the social platforms that are indexed by Google. They are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.

The things our kids post today will still be there 9 years from now (assuming these platforms are still there.)

Yes, Instagram has a private feature. However, there is no guarantee that older posts, ie, posts made when our daughters are just trying to understand their place in the world, will continue to be protected. The mission statement of Instagram is about “capturing and sharing the world’s moments.”

The mission statement or the Terms and Conditions does not say older posts will always be private.

My advice.

Don’t tell kids to not use social media platforms. They are under pressure to get on Instagram, and they will be under pressure to get on some other platforms. Younger men, and some younger women, will experiment with Reddit. I’ve deleted two Reddit accounts.

Kids will use social media. Here’s what I tell my kids.

Sit down with your kids and talk about their brand. Have them think about three words that they want people to use to describe them.

My three words are marketing, parent, fun. 

My daughter has three words. My son is still thinking about the second two, his first is soccer.

Now, when your kids have three words, tell them to only post when their post reflects at least one of the words. My daughter has an Instagram account, and she is aware that it is forever, so she is being really picky about her first post.

The next thing to talk about is commenting. When we comment without looking someone in the face, it is easier to be mean. Talk to your kids about commenting.

My rule has always been this: would I be able to read my comment to my mom?

I asked my kids to think about their comments as if their mom was in the room.

As for the rules above? I’ve failed at them (I’ve deleted Reddit twice.)

Social media sites that are indexed by google are not a place to experiment with your voice. Reddit is a good place to explore a voice, but be careful. Nothing is anonymous.


Let me know what you think.

The issue with Higher Education communications

June 29, 2018

Higher education is.the only high consideration, high involvement product in which the date of purchase is known. Higher education knows that someone has until January 15th to buy the undergraduate version.

Think about that for a minute.

At the high end, the product is $250K and the buyers and sellers all know the date of purchase. Everyone knows who the purchaser is, and when the purchase decision is being made. Many are on Facebook spending hundreds in an online auction on the SAME people, telling them the same thing: we have small class sizes, offer off-campus study, have a tree you can study under, and a professor who does class outside.

The issue.

The problem is, most schools don’t think they need to sell. They don’t think it is a product.

The mission is higher.

The mission is to make better adults, to generate a love for learning. There’s often a 1000+ word mission statement, on a ridiculously obtuse website, about what the school wants to do, and how it makes a difference. I’ve seen the data on this, and no one looks, or cares.

I’m not here to tell you the missions is wrong, I think it is right. I’m here to tell you that the communications department needs a different mission.

Think back 25 years: one can imagine an editor and someone who can work a fax being the comms department, The team was responsible for an alumni magazine and a press releases faxed to the press about something or other that the school did. It is called news, and in an era where there were newspapers, news was important.

Schools had an alumni magazine, it was said, because alumni are interested in news.

The comms department might have helped with the view book, and they might have helped with the DM packages from advancement, but this is back at a time before higher education budget bloat, when the IT department was still 5 people with overhead projectors.

Fast forward to the first stage of the internet, and higher education got its first website, and the first major expansion of staff. More IT people, more comms people. The mission of IT was to support faculty in the mission. And maybe hep with this website thing, but maybe not. It was school specific.

What is the website for, asked no one.

Admissions or advancement? Dean of Faculty? Dean of college?

As pages got added to the website, staff was added in IT and comms.

These new staff members weren’t on campus to make a better student and a better world, or maybe they were? IT supported pedagogy. Comms people didn’t though. (Side note, I did help create a Twitter play that was pure pedagogy.)

The annual budget

The typical private institution makes money in two ways, apps and gifts. I know a school where 65% of the annual budget comes from full pay applicants. 25% comes from the endowment, and the remaining 10% comes from annual fund gifts.

Apps and love. That’s it.

My advice.

When I worked as the marketing department for a Pressure Transducer company, the engineers used to say, “Matt, this product sells itself. Word of mouth is the key. We just need to make the product more maroon and people will buy it.”

They didn’t believe in marketing. They said, “let the product be the product.”

At a higher education school that I know, the President would said  “let our school be our school.” He probably also said more maroon.

This isn’t a criticism. Engineers tend to think about the product first, and how to talk about the product second. Make a better product is the strategy of all engineers. And the president of a college is the chief engineer. He or she makes decisions about the product that impact why people will buy it.

But that isn’t marketing. It takes a marketer to understand how to sell the product.

What higher education needs. 

This week, Syracuse University relaunched their communications department. They are hiring an associate vice president of marketing strategy. A director of digital strategy. A director of marketing strategy.

They get apps and love.

They understand that the goal is to market to people, at the right time, with the right content.

Instead of thinking about content as “news” – an old way of thinking about content born of an alumni magazine and a fax machine, they probably intend to have weekly strategy meetings to talk about content that can generate behavior.

“News” implies people care. A news feed implies people care. People don’t care.Higher Education can no longer launch a website or redo a website and assume people will give a crap.

I’ll bet at Syracuse they intend to focus in on the brand pillars that advance the admissions or fundraising elements of the school. I’ll bet all marketing content will crescendo in the middle of January, and then work towards yield and summer melt.

I’ll bet they will never redo their website, but instead finally give it purpose. They won’t have summer hours on their website because they’ll have purpose.

When deciding to create marketing content, they will ask who will care and why? They will also ask how they will prove people cared. They’ll ask questions of their content BEFORE they make it, and find the answers in the data.

That’s called marketing. Something that doesn’t get done enough in higher education.

It isn’t higher education’s fault. They know their mission. For the most part though, the mission of the internal marketing departments hasn’t been articulated.

Watch Syracuse. You’re about to see it get articulated.

Higher education is an important product for the world. We need more critical thinkers, not less.

If you’re reading this, and you work in a communications department in higher education,  ask yourself why it is called communications when it should be called marketing. If you’re not in charge, ask the people in charge.

If the answer is that the mission is bigger than marketing, agree, and suggest that if you figured out a better way to use the stories of your school to sell it to people who will buy it.

The world would be a better place if that happened.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?


Google updated the entire search experience for prospective students

June 15, 2018

Google is at it again. I wrote earlier this week about the change in the mobile search experience, for students. Then after I hit publish, Google changed the desktop version of the Knowledge Key for all of higher education.

First, Google is a product. Their initial “I’m feeling lucky” actually worked. They are a powerful company because they have a product that people use, and the product, for the most part, works.

When the browser bar became the search engine, everyone started their queries with a search. Google’s core business is still search, so it wants to return the correct search results for someone searching for something.

This week, while researching a couple of schools for a proposal, I did a Google search for a school. Then I did one for another school, in this case Union college.

On that second search, the top of the SERP threw me a list of other schools. This is a screenshot of a google search for union

This is great for students, but not for schools. Remember, in order to do a search for Union, a student needs to know about Union. Union will have extended marketing resources, either via school visits, outbound emails, or social platform ads, to make someone aware of Union. Now a student is delivered more schools like Union in that search.

Super useful for students.

Each school’s Knowledge Key (the thing on the right in the above image) was updated with three categories: average cost after aid, graduation rate, acceptance rate.

How much will it cost, will I get in, and will I graduate. Three key data sets.

The Knowledge Key also has a “more about” at the bottom which includes some very contentious data. It has a cost per household income chart.

Cost per household income

Finally, it also includes a random list of rankings that doesn’t seem to include US News.

To a student starting their top 20 list, this is all they need. Every school offers the same class size (what is the difference between 9, 10, or 11), the same basic majors, a chapel on a hill, students under a tree.

These data sets, costs and rankings, are a differentiating metric. A student can understand a highly ranked party school and a highly ranked academic school. They don’t even care about the methodology, when given a bunch of rankings, they can begin to see a picture that is more accurate than a Chapel shot.

Since all higher ed marketing is about the same, rankings are useful. Google knows they are useful. I bet they come out of the “more”

So what does this mean?

A few years ago, Google offered a menu option called “Search Engine Optimization” on analytics. It showed how many people did a search for the brand, and then how many people clicked on the website. I saw the data for a higher education institution and it blew my mind. They showed the number of searches for the school, then reported that about 11% of the people clicked on the top result.

Social media platforms have taught people to scroll.

89 people our of 100 did not click on the website of the school when they searched for the school. Google took away the data, but you can still find it by searching in Google Trends and comparing that to your search engine source data.

Google continues to actively stop people from looking at the 3,000+ pages of the .edu and deliver information it knows students want. This redesign is packing it in a simple way.

If I were you, I would seriously consider your digital strategy. I’d probably consider not redoing a .edu that Google is actively trying to help students avoid. Instead, I suggest two things:

1. How are people becoming aware of your institution? School visits, list-buying, PR campaigns? Where are they landing? Redesign those landing pages, which might include Facebook, Twitter and your .edu. Consider also building pages that fit what Google is delivering. Yes, that means having rankings on the .edu.

2. How best can you maximize your digital presence? Have you turned on Do you have a calendar of posts for, including events and your best sales pitch? Do you have a Note on Facebook? How are your videos tagged on YouTube – the second most-used search engine on the Internet. If the school does convince a student to study the SERP, is it the best it can be?

What do you think? Is this a big change, a small change? A change you can get behind?

Google takes over the second point of contact for higher education

June 13, 2018

Red or blue.

that’s the decision Google has made for most Higher Education institutions.

Red. Blue. (The ones pictured above are blue. Your school might be red.)

Google announced a new admissions tool for higher education this week. Here is the announcement 

Google wrote:

The process to find the right school for you, however, can be confusing. Information is scattered across the internet, and it’s not always clear what factors to consider and which pieces of information will be most useful for your decision. In fact, 63 percent of recently enrolled and prospective students say they have often felt lost when researching college or financial aid options.

Indeed, it is.

Google was already a huge part of the second point of contact

I’ve been watching the way the SERP has evolved for higher education for years. From the simple tabs on the first hit, to the launch of the Knowledge Key on the right-hand side. At its core, Google wants to give people a good experience on search. So it has been tweaking the SERP for the last couple of years. When people searched for a school, less and fewer people were clicking on newly updated websites that valiantly try to tell a story to the world, so Google acted.

Navigation tabs on a mobile SERP.

Every school is either red or blue. Red for schools that are reddish. Blue for schools that are blueish and greenish.

Every school gets: Overview. Cost. Majors. Outcomes. Students. Rankings. Notable alumni. Similar Schools.

This is the new nav of a school’s digital presence. With a seal or logo, depending on what Google thinks is important.

Since most .edus spend about 3,000+ pages on Overview, this is a much cleaner look at a school, with the things students really want. On mobile first. Because that is where students are starting.

Overview cribs from Wikipedia. Cost cribs from Wikimedia or the website. Outcomes cribs from US Department of Education.

Students offers data from, and from crowd-sourced images people added.

Rankings are exactly that: in a world of Chapels and hills, and posed students in a lab, the only differentiation is a ranking. Schools hate them, but if they don’t want rankings they should do better marketing. It is hard to determine a difference from a view book. it isn’t hard to determine a different from a ranking.

“Notable alumni” is the weird one: it displays the alumni who are searched for the most on google. It tends to throw up entertainers and media people, since more people search for them. It is an issue for many schools. It might be fixable by having a more robust notable alumni section on Wikipedia.

Finally, similar schools. Not what your college thinks are similar, but the colleges that people who searched for your college also searched for. This is data that is not in dispute. These are your peers.

If you know me, you know I think Google should crib from LinkedIn. I get it, Google v Microsoft (owners of Bing, powering Yahoo.)  But LinkedIn data is actually the greatest outcomes collection ever assembled and tell a nice story about outcomes. Hey, maybe Bing will incorporate this when they copy Google 3 years from now.

What does this change? 

Well, nothing. Google was still a second point of contact for your school. Remember, this is for people searching for your school,. so they have to know the school’s name. Unaware people don’t know your school’s name.

I do think there should never be a need to spend 500K on a new website that LESS people will now click.

There should, however, be time and $$ spent on a digital strategy that asks two important and obvious questions:

1. How will people become aware of the brand school? You know, a proper marketing question.

2. How can a school influence the Knowledge Key on desktop and mobile – thus putting the school’s best foot forward?

If you’re not asking and answering these, you should be. Or you could go build that website that Google is ACTIVELY trying to stop people from needing to visit.

What do you think?

Higher Education should get a podcast

June 4, 2018

About a quarter of America listens to a podcast each month. The vast majority probably listens on their commute to work. From RadioLab, to This American Life, some people might even know when their favorite new podcast drops. We’re approaching peak podcast – wherein people say, this is where the audience is, and you should do this.

Imagine if billboards didn’t exist. Then one day someone had the idea to put up a billboard. The news would be: “millions of people drive past this every single day, brands have to be here.” So brands, or higher education brands, would go about making a Billboard – which isn’t easy. Distilling the essence of higher education down to 7 words is an exercise in sheer impossibility.

Here are the reasons to say no, and the reasons to say yes. 

Look, I’m not saying higher education shouldn’t get a podcast. The plus side is that more and more students will begin using Siri, Alexa, and Hey Google assistants to aid them in the school search. Having a podcast called “Getting into (school)” or “life at school” could begin to win those particular digital assistant searches.

that said, before going down the complicated road of making a podcast, consider using to ensure that the content on your search engine results page (SERP) is 100% perfect. Getting that right takes continued care and a detailed, calendar-specific content plan.

This is like a football game. There are certain things one must do to win a football game. A team must block and tackle to win. That is called doing the fundamentals. When the fundamentals are right, and there is a content plan for Twitter, Notes for Facebook, posts for Google, all fitting the time of the year in the admissions or development cycle, and the Wikipedia page is updated with a notable alumni section, then start a podcast.

The podcast will be the trick play of your offense. An “in vogue” play that gets the school the championship, or a play from a digital assistant. Just don’t ignore the blocking an tackling.

It is also worth noting that making a podcast is hard. One of the hardest things to do on the Internet is build an audience. It has taken me years to get to 3K followers on Twitter. Maybe a hit podcast would increase my reach. Maybe not.

Finally, the podcast has to live alongside Serial, RadioLab, and 99% Invisible, and other professionally created  podcasts. At the end of the day, the podcast by a brand is an ad. Their podcasts aren’t an ad. So tread carefully.

What do you think?

How higher education should think about the website

May 19, 2018

Before I start, I would like to make a semantic argument.

The Facebook Page is a website. The Twitter feed and YouTube channels are websites. In fact, everything that is on the first page of a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for a brand – or University, is a website.

The .edu is often first on the list of searches for the University (second is often Wikipedia, it has that much power.).

The .edu is also the only place to register for a tour, apply for prospective students. It is also the only place to register for alumni events, and to give. (Facebook offers the opportunity for a college or university to register as a not for profit and take money online, but only if the school changes the category to not for profit.)

The .edu is also the only place to register for classes, and get information about facilities, hours, and perhaps menus.

So it is critical to generate the behaviors needed at a school.

The .edu is rarely a first point of contact.

Unlike YouTube and Facebook (and perhaps Twitter), the .edu is rarely, if ever, a first point of contact for someone interested in the school.

No one is made aware of a University via the website.

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 6.25.26 AMEven if someone searches “nursing school” and selects an autofill, the text of the SERP for the program is the first point of contact. It is worth noting that the first 4 results are ads.

For a liberal arts undergraduate university, the .edu is almost never a first point of contact.

That’s a bold statement. Almost never.

The few exceptions are blog posts, magazine articles with good SEO, and faculty searches after a conference or a meeting. The people who make these kinds of searches are probably not alumni, and are almost never prospective students.

That doesn’t mean the traffic isn’t important, but it does show the importance of landing pages. As a product, Google is winning because it gets people to the content they need.

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 6.31.27 AMThe psychology professor who is in the news has a landing page for the website. Chances are high that the majors and minors page is a landing page. More and more, the smart people at Google are looking to get people directly to the page they want. A search for Harvard offers some helpful looks into landing pages that aren’t the front page of the .edu.

These autofill options are based on search volume at certain times of the year. Right now, the Class of 2023 is thinking about Harvard and wondering about tuition, acceptance rates and requirements. The “nursing” hit is Google trying to be helpful to me, and anticipate what I am seeking. Prior to this search I did a search for “nursing” – the Google AI wonders is that is still on my mind. (Pro tip, do a your school and collect the screen shot of the autofill each month.)

Why understanding Google search matters

A student learns about a school – either from a guidance counselor, a teacher, a family friend who attended the school, sports success, an email to a purchased list, or reading or listening to a professor’s work. They hear about the school, then go to Google and search for the school. No one types in URL’s anymore, people type search queries into the search bar and wait for autofill to help. While it is increasingly rare that people don’t take autofill suggestions, presume for a minute that the search ends up being for the school, in this case Harvard University.

Like most schools, the .edu wins the Google search. Wikipedia is often second, but since I’m logged into Twitter and use it a lot, Google delivers me three random Tweets from Harvard’s main Twitter feed. Next are Facebook, Athletics, USN&WR, and the Times Higher Educations. Some other schools get Niche, Princeton Review, and Forbes. Quite often lists on the front page of a SERP. (I think the similarity of marketing from schools results in a marketing void filled by lists that numerically differentiate schools.)

Social media channels have taught us to scroll-scan, so most people do and look at the options. The Knowledge Key, the thing on the right-hand side, also anticipates a searcher’s needs – which is where comes in.

Even though Google is actively trying to answer the query with the Knowledge Key, assume the user clicks on the first result, the website. After they peruse the site, and click on the links in a way that the web company proposed, they will leave. if they come back again, it will be via a more detailed Google search.

Academics at school. Research at school. Majors at school. Student life at school. Athletics at school. Dorms/food at school. Or they might listen to Google’s suggestions and follow the breadcrumbs of previous searchers.

Landing pages for the win. 

When a brand decides to redo their website, it often starts with a hierarchical flow. Students will start here and click twice to get here. The desire is a top down flow, almost mirroring the University governance – Faculty get the departments and their own bios, the school gets the rest of the pages. The people who make the site assume two things:

  1. This is an introduction to the school.
  2. Users will always start on the front page.

It isn’t an introduction to the school. they already know something by coming from your amazing video, Facebook post, Canvas Ad, or Twitter post.

The website can’t get the first hit, but it can encourage the second, third and subsequent hits. It can encourage a hit for research, academics, and student life.

These are things any university wants to attract, so the website should be designed, written, and created to encourage these kinds of searches.

It should not be designed as a top down site. Instead, it should be designed with two questions in mind.

  1. How will people get here?
  2. What pages do you want them to find?

If those questions aren’t asked and answered, the schools ends up with a website that has a lot of information on it. It will have majors and minors, programs, stories, and images. It just won’t have purpose.

What do you think? How do you think the web should be crafted?

Hey #highered can we talk about tone?

May 12, 2018

Hi there,

I run the digital media channels for a 200 year old collection of buildings. The Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin channels are the voice of a highly selective liberal arts university on a hill.


If you happen to attend a higher ed conference, someone will say the following: “I want to bring more fun to our voice.”

It will never be me.

200 year old buildings are fun. College isn’t fun. College students are fun. College sports are fun. College events are fun. The buildings aren’t fun. The mission of a university isn’t fun.

The mission is important. It is also important to get people involved in executing the mission to agree on said mission. Or vision. Or strategic plan.

So, this post below. This is the kind of post that is killing digital media platforms.

I would have accepted this post with “Final exams are underway.” That’s it. The buildings of this particular school are reporting on a fact. Alums will probably be nostalgic. The Class of 2018 will definately feel nostalgic. This would have been a great post.

But marketing is simple, the hard part is keeping it simple.

You got this!

That is the voice of the glee club. Of DORAK. Of a student who wants to support. That isn’t the voice of a chapel. Or an academic building. Or most professors.

Also, never use a screamer. Ever. Not ever. My rule is one screamer a year, maximum. So if I used a screamer to talk about finals, I wouldn’t be able to use it for commencement. Or Reunion. Or when we turn 200. Or something that is actually exciting.