Susan Evans is the director of creative services for the senior strategic communication team at the College of William & Mary.
About three years ago, I was looking for bloggers. We were on the verge of a comprehensive relaunch of the William & Mary website and front and center on the new home page (well, actually, in the bottom-right corner) would be student headshots with links to their blogs about William & Mary. At the time, placing student bloggers on a university home page was unique; in fact, I don’t think there were any other universities that so prominently featured their bloggers.
I wouldn’t say that student blogs were controversial on my campus back in 2008, but there were a handful of administrators who were a bit nervous about the prospect. I wasn’t one of them. I knew in my bones that if we let our students speak for us, we’d win.
The W&M Blogs site is, hands down, a successful component of our web strategy. All 44 of our bloggers are presented in a WordPress instance that is skinned to complement the wm.edu web presence. All of our bloggers are volunteers; most are students but we also have authors who are faculty members or administrators. We know anecdotally and from web analytics that W&M blogs are popular and heavily visited. The readership goes beyond prospective students and is steady throughout the calendar year; readers also include parents, alumni, and the on-campus community.
So, how do we find them?
Mostly, they find us. To date, we have not had to do any active recruitment for student bloggers. Instead, we are fortunate that students contact us, volunteering to blog for William & Mary. We enjoy a critical partnership with the undergraduate admission office. Most of the 2008 student bloggers were summer interns in the admission office and Dean of Admission Henry Broaddus offered to make posting to a blog a specific part of the intern job description. That was gold.
Now, when a student contacts us, volunteering to blog, we ask them to write two or three posts and send them our way for review. After that, they receive a two-page guide with ideas, suggestions and parameters about representing the university through a blog.
And, do we edit them?
No. But we do moderate their posts. Before any blog post is published, it is reviewed by the managing editor of our website. With nearly three years of W&M blogs under our belt, we have rejected just one post and only in a very few instances have we recommended the elimination of a word or the adjustment of a phrase. Comments on our blogs are not moderated but we do monitor them. We have never removed a comment.
And, how do student bloggers fit into the William & Mary communication plan?
W&M blogs are central to our university communication plan because the posts offer evidence for what we claim. What our students write on their blogs is dead-on. I’ve often said that if we’d given them a script, they wouldn’t have written it any better. As I read through their posts, I am delighted to find them filled with stories and details that bring to life what we promise in our marketing copy.
The bottom line? Student voices are authentic. Stop there.