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Does a Blog Make a College Brand?

Travis Brock
Director of Business Development

Eric D. from Iowa State University provided a thought to me via LinkedIn during my writer’s block mentioned in my last blog (a precursor to the new “Ask a Marketing Consultant”). His question: “I’d like to know what criteria to use to decide if a blogger is regarded as being influential in a particular field. With so many bloggers out there, how do I decide who is "relationship worthy" — especially if my goal is to enhance my college’s reputation.” Be sure to add your thoughts in the comments below, I am sure Eric would appreciate the additional input.

Eric, thank you for this great question. I see this as two parts: The first part I would like to touch on is most intriguing: “if my goal is to enhance my college’s reputation.”  It would be very time consuming and costly to “enhance” a reputation via blogger relationships.

I may be splicing words, but I would say building blogger relationships are a good way to help support a college’s reputation rather than create a college’s reputation.  Bloggers could be considered a cross between an influencer and a member of the press.  Time would be best served by starting with a phone conversation to see how a relationship can be carried out. One potential way – ask permission to send the blogger your press releases or send them some influencer materials via email or mail. Or if possible ask to do a guest blog on occasion on some agreed upon topics.

For a negative example – and coincidently enough – I received an email an hour ago asking me to look through a company website about accredited online higher education. The email was not a press release, but a generic request that asked me to review and post their URL in one of my blogs.  My immediate reaction was that this tactic was kind of shady and I immediately had a negative reaction to the organization. If I were them, I would have called first and figured out a way to incorporate their ideas, not try to shove it at me with little explanation.

If you are looking to spread your college’s reputation via blogs, it could be more resource efficient to create a blog or a community of blogs for your college. This would also prove more beneficial as you would not be carrying the college’s reputation alone; you would have college stakeholder’s behind you for support and help. Here are some pointers when creating a community blog:

  • Create an online space for students, faculty, staff, and alumni, to write about their achievements, successes, and even some of their mistakes. Make sure this space is easy to use and complete with some useful widgets
  • Screen writers in order to be deemed appropriate for being a brand ambassador. Be sure to check:
    • Level of activity on campus
    • Grades
    • General extracurricular activities like volunteering or working
    • How much longer will they be a student there
    • Overall attitude and demeanor
    • Style of writing

  • Set boundaries: for example no bad language or talk of sex, drugs, drinking, or personal attacks, etc.
  • Check for expertise: are the writers knowledgeable enough in an important subject
  • Variety: of course there would occasionally be some overlap in blog post topics, but don’t have all the writers write about the same general topic. If you have 3 students for example – 1) could talk about business, 2) could write about engineering, and 3) could write about their student activities
  • Provide some direction for who should write, when should they post, and what to write about in terms of a general topic
  • Marketing: how will you get the news of your blog out to potential readers. Who is the audience? How can the audience be reached and made aware of your blog?

Now on to the second part: “how do I decide which bloggers are relationship worthy”? This brings up a valid point – the blogosphere is crowded.  Some content is worthwhile, but a whole lot of it is questionable.  You’ll do well to be choosy about who you build relationships with.

Your school’s “reputation” is formed to some degree by the company you keep.  If you start building relationships with bloggers who stand for something hostile or adverse to your school’s brand or reputation, then associating with that blogger is liable to do more harm than good.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Review the Blogosphere: do a review of the blogs you consider following. Get suggestions from folks on social networks, search online, and ask coworkers. Follow these blogs for several weeks and get a sense for some of the criteria below.
  • Quantity: while monitoring quantities of a blog can help, it isn’t the best indicator of a good blog because some good blogs are not always well read or commented on. Sometimes the blogger will place a widget on the side of their blog showing the number of readers. Also, review the number of comments. A large number of comments does not mean it is a good blog – what are people writing in the comments (see below). In blogging, it is not so much about quantity as it is quality.
  • Writer(s): who is he/she/they? Are they considered experts about what they are writing about? Check on Twitter to see how often their Twitter handle is mentioned and the type of followers they have.
  • Practitioner vs. Observer: Practitioners in the particular field you seek are typically more credible as they often have first-hand knowledge about a particular subject matter. Observers tend to write more editorial or opinion related blogs.
  • Format: what is the format of the writing – are the posts negative rants, positive discussions, or opinionated editorials. Positive discussions tend to bring in more readers, comments, and elicit thoughtful and constructive discussion.
  • Check the Comments: they can tell so much. They can tell how readers feel about the blog. While there are bound to be negative, demeaning, or rude comments, be sure to look at the general tone of the comments as a whole.
  • Readers: From the comments, you can usually tell who is reading the blog. If your audiences are matching – great. Also check to see if there is a variety and not the same two people reading and commenting over and over again.
  • Social Networks: Use tools like UberVU and Topsy by taking a URL of a particular blog post and pasting it into the site’s search field.  This will tell you who is spreading the word about the blog on various social networks. These tools are great – but with all of the URL shortening tools available make it hard for UberVu, Topsy, or similar sites to track all versions of the original URL.
  • Other Bloggers: do other bloggers reference your particular blogger on a regular basis? You can  most often tell by the pingbacks listed in the comments of one of your bloggers posts.
  • Time and Frequency: How long has the blog been around. If it has been around awhile, there are chances the blog has accrued a large following and the writer is serious about creating a long term blog. Also keep an eye on how the time between posts. The more blogs – the more serious the writer is about posting fresh content.

If any others would like to provide some input, please be sure to comment and pass your thoughts along to Eric.

8 Replies to “Does a Blog Make a College Brand?”

  1. Very comprehensive look at the challenges and opportunities the blogosphere creates in terms of building or enhancing institutional reputation. I think Travis makes all the right points.

    I very rarely “pitch” bloggers blindly, because as a blogger myself, I get pitches all the time and many of them are way off-base. (The Bad Pitch Blog is a pretty good, and entertaining, resource to mine for examples of how not to develop relationships with bloggers, although occasionally that site also offers an example of PR folks who do it right.)

    In addition to doing the legwork to know which bloggers might be interested in your news, it’s important to make sure your news is findable. One easy way to do this is to make sure your campus’s news feed is available via Google News and similar news site aggregators. You can add your news feed to Google News by going to http://www.google.com/support/news_pub/ and clicking on the “Submitting Your Content” link.

  2. Andrew, The Bad Pitch Blog is awesome – that’s the first I’ve heard of it. On topic, I like how it has the AdAge ranking and Alltop score. That right there tells me I’m looking something that has value to many other people.

    Also, that’s a really nice, helpful hint for Universities adding their news feed to Google News. What a great directory that is, in a world with so many.

    Assuming the individual blogging links to their Twitter account on their blog, I typically always visit that and check out what types of followers they have and what lists they are a part of. Simply being followed isn’t necessarily and indicator of quality or relevancy, but usually by checking what lists an individual has been added to, you can get a pretty good feel for what they’re all about.

  3. Thanks for the great blog post … and the subsequent comments. Love that Bad Pitch Blog.

    Although when creating a community blog, the boundaries shouldn’t automatically rule out bad language or talk of sex, drugs, or drinking. Theses aspects, whether we like them or not, are a part of college life for many people.

    Perhaps it’s more appropriate to encourage a healthy, open discussion on the topics — frowning upon discussion that may highlight or brag about such activity. The reality is if a college blog is to be worth its while, it needs to be authentic. Talk of sex, drugs or drinking (for some) is a part of that experience and shouldn’t be off limits.

  4. Thank you Andrew, Stephen, Patrick, and Davina for the great comments.

    Andrew – The Bad Pitch Blog has some classic stuff on there. Some great examples of what not to. Boilerplate example from a couple days ago. Where do you find these blogs? Google News is a good tip to help get your news out in the open too – Google has so many free tools to use that are often overlooked.

    Stephen – the Alltop and AdAge score/rankings are another good example of finding out what is important to other people. If there are are ranking or award badges on a blog, that tells you that people are reading it and like the content. The note about the Twitter account is spot on too. It is a good reminder to not just look at how many are following them, but who is following them and what they think of the blogger.

    Patrick – true about the boundaries. The boundaries would have to be discussed and agreed upon internally and would be relative to the university or college. Just depends on how far down those “rabbit holes” each school is will to let their bloggers the topics. Some may allow the healthy discussion, some may say to nix all talk of the subject. Personally, I am on the side of healthy discussion.

    Davina – excellent point. A blog is just one tactic in a marketers overall strategy. Before starting a blog, marketers would have to ask – is a blog on strategy with my marketing goals? would the topics be on strategy? what are my goals for the blog? and so many other strategic questions would have to be answered before considered a blog.

    Thank you all for such a wonderful discussion. Eric, I hope this helps you out, let me/us know if you have any additional comments or questions.

  5. This is a nice overview of how blogs fit into a college’s overall communications mix. Social media channels are powerful tools for building relationships by increasing two-way communication among communities. But the fact remains that they are only tools, and the key to success is in knowing how to use them in a way that complements your communication strategy.

  6. Travis – Re: Where do I find these blogs? I have no idea. At one time, before Twitter came along, I used to spend more time surfing around for interesting, relevant and otherwise entertaining sites. Bad Pitch was one I discovered somehow in my searches, and its voice and subject matter just resonated with me. (I’m still a PR/media relations guy at heart.)

    Stephen – The AdAge 150 was the topic of some gnashing of teeth among a few higher ed bloggers almost two years ago. In a blog post on the lack of higher ed presence in that listing, I issued a call to arms for my fellow higher ed bloggers to join me in trying to get more representation in that list. I posted a follow-up the next day after my call to arms received a substantial rebuff. But the higher ed marketing/PR blogging landscape has changed and grown significantly since that initial discussion. (This blog, Patricks’ blog and Davina’s blog didn’t exist back in those days.) Maybe it’s time to resurrect a discussion about the merits of such a ranking system for marketing blogs.

    But not today. Not by me, anyway.

    Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

  7. Pingback: Blog Worthy

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