By Rob Speekenbrink
Like a lot of industries, higher education is going global. Time and place are becoming less relevant. Higher education institutions are morphing into international nodes: nodes of knowledge, students, researchers and teachers. The modern higher education institution is still a place to meet, interact and exchange ideas—but not necessarily in person.
Online communication used to entail having an up-to-date website with news from the institution. Until a couple of years ago, being visible online was enough. Social media have changed online communication. Engaging content and online branding are becoming more and more important, and so is knowing what people say about your institution online and engaging online with stakeholders.
Traditional media, brochures and email are no longer engaging universities’ target audiences. Therefore, it is essential that higher education institutions position themselves (again) in the center of online society by listening to, interacting with and talking to their stakeholders on the platforms the stakeholders choose. This enhances the relationship between students and the educational institution itself and increases the possibility that students will be lifelong ambassadors for the institution.
The Golden Triangle: Listen, Interact, Talk
Online engagement or “webcare” is the act of engaging in online interactions with consumers by actively searching the web to address consumer feedback (e.g., questions, concerns and complaints). Universities often focus on this but may not always know how to position webcare within the organization.
The three essential pieces of online engagement are listening (online monitoring), interacting (engaging in conversations) and talking (creating content). These aspects of online communication should be organised at the center of communication in higher education—in an editorial office combined with an online customer service desk. It acts like a two-way funnel of communication.
Listening means scanning, reading and understanding all content related to your institution, created by internal or external communities. Typically, this listening happens with social media and search query monitoring tools. An essential part of listening is interpreting what the data you find means.
Interacting online means fostering engagement between your higher educational institution and a customer on any online platform. This can entail reacting to complaints, answering questions before they are actually asked and helping people out with relevant questions. Tone of voice is highly important.
In the online communication world, “talking” to our audience used to mean filling web pages with text and other content. Today, this means making Tweets, Facebook posts, vlogs and snaps—generally, cross-platform online content with text, photos, videos and illustrations.
We face unique challenges in higher education communications—the greatest one being that students are our stakeholders, so we need to change our approaches to meet their communication needs. If our institutions communicate on a different level than students, we will grow apart and our messages won’t resonate.
Rob Speekenbrink, founder/director of NosCura, will present at the CASE Europe Annual Conference. In his presentation, he will showcase a few (good and bad) examples of approaches to online communications in higher education. He is also co-author of the forthcoming book Online Communication in Higher Education, which will be released around this year’s CASE Europe Annual Conference.