As you begin to plan for your late summer and early fall training workshops that involve some digital communication education, I wanted to share some information regarding a common thread through most of my association and campus visits over the past year:¬†training inconsistencies. Of course, folks want some salient ideas that they can share on their campus and implement quickly… so today, I hope this digital communication training model example inspires you to review your current model and evolve it for the coming academic year. This model provides an overview to how I think and execute digital communication training for my students and staff.

The best way to share this would be (of course) through the venn diagram above ūüôā

Digital Identity

Step one in the model recommends that you and your department go through a digital identity exercise to better understand how folks find your department information online. This begins with google searches of your department information, an analyzation of its social media channels, and a branding exercise to find inconsistencies and move towards congruence. Additionally, raising awareness about one’s own personal digital identity through google searches of one’s name in quotation marks (e.g. “Ed Cabellon”) can help provide some important developmental perspective. If you want to make the process easier about keeping up with your department or own digital identity pieces, set up alerts on Google to email you regular updates. Most importantly, determine why you and your department continue to use various digital communication tools to begin with. This will help focus your efforts on what’s most important when faced with resource allocation decisions.

I still love using Erik Qualman’s “What Happens on Campus Stays on YouTube” as a common read regarding their respective digital identities, in particular the new rules of reputation.¬†This section of the book may provide meaningful conversation opportunities for you and your staff to have regarding their use of digital communication tools and how it relates to the work they do for your department. To help you move that discussion forward, here is a brief worksheet that might be helpful:Screenshot of a Digital Identity Worksheet for a University Department

Data Analysis

Step two asks you to consider your assessment efforts in the digital communication area and what metrics/data points are most important to help identify ¬†department successes. While not an exhaustive list, some¬†website data points you may consider important include: external referrers (including what type of devices/web browsers), time on site, peak hours and time of day, key search words/phrases, unique visitors vs views, most clicked content, etc. In addition, some¬†social media data¬†points you may consider important include: demographic data, number of shares, retweets, and comments, video views past ten seconds, external referrers, paid advertisement data, clicked content, etc. To further explore these data points, connect with your Web Services and/or Marketing & Communication staff to discuss what might be most salient for your department and university. Additionally, there are plenty of tutorials and courses on Google Analytics that can be very insightful. Familiarizing yourself and your team with various digital data points are critical to your department’s digital communication sustainability and growth.

Content Curation

Step three asks you to consider the creation of a content calendar that may or may not be cyclical, depending on your department’s communication needs. The content calendar could be an exercise at an upcoming department meeting where you ask the staff to go to a white board or poster paper and identify topics that should be shared on digital communication tools. For example:

  • September: Welcome Back, Being Part of a Community, Commuter Tips, Clubs and Organization Spotlights, etc.
  • October: Midterm Study Tips, Communication Tips, Wellness Focuses on Health and Financial Areas, etc.
  • November: Winter or Spring Registration Deadlines, Financial Aid (Scholarships, FAFSA, etc.), Study Abroad opportunities, Graduate School applications, etc.
  • December: Finals Preparation, Transitions, Employment Opportunities, Summer Internship Searches, etc.

Once your topics are solidified, consider other customer service touch points (e.g. in-office visits, phone calls, department emails, orientation, programs and events, etc.) where you intentionally document the types of questions you are receiving throughout each month and either augment or shift your monthly topics. Share these across your division to find overlap and possible partnerships. Develop web content (e.g. articles less than 500 words, screen grab videos, memes, information graphics, GIFs, etc.) for your department website and social media feeds that address all the questions and content you’ve identified each month. An important shift is to create primarily visual content (graphic and video focused) that points to secondary text-based web content. This content should supplement all your normal event and deadline related messaging that you may already have in place. Find students to bounce some of these ideas off of to verify your content plan.

Once your content calendar is set, create a digital communication plan with this content in mind by outlining each digital message, who your target audiences are, its purpose, frequency of posts, digital communication methods, target dates and times, and who is responsible. Generally, these are the graphics I use when going over digital message construction:

Broken out, each Digital Message should have: clear purpose, a visual element, a link to more information, and a call to action:

  • Each¬†Purpose should be: clearly written, measurable through some identified metrics, easy to understand, and shared with your team for feedback.
  • Each¬†Visual should: use high quality imagery (free or paid), be in four different sizes/formats for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and for websites, have no more than 30% of text, and if a video, should be captioned and less than 60 seconds.
  • Each¬†Link should: point to a mobile-optimized website, be shortened and personalized for branding (e.g. bit.ly/edrunsfalmouth or edrunsfalmouth.com)
  • Each¬†Call to Action should: generate a sense of urgency, garner excitement or inspiration, be easy to understand, and shared with the team for feedback.

Also, here is digital communication plan example document we use at Bridgewater State University with our BSUlife Integrated Marketing Team and their clients. The Intersections

A:¬†At the intersection of your department’s digital identity and analysis of your digital data should be a strong level of congruence. For example, if you work in Residence Life and/or Housing and your intended audience are the students in the residence halls, ages 18-22, but your data reveals that the majority of your audience on social media are ages 44-54 living over 20 miles away from your campus, there is a problem! In addition, if you work in Student Activities and your leadership blog’s main search terms and phrases are “pumpkins”, “unicorns”, and/or “game of thrones”, then there might be a problem (unless your posts somehow tie those things to leadership, then you’re good!) Its important to take time regularly to make sure that your “why” matches your digital data and if its not, then pause, reset, and try again!

B: At the intersection of your department’s data analysis and content curation is the¬†map or key to future digital content. I find it helpful to take the digital data and see if the most clicked topics for the month were salient with our content calendar’s target topics. Also, organic conversation on social helps us get a sense for what some of our students are experiences, helping us hone not only our topics, but when and how often they are engaging online. Is our content mainly driving the conversation or is it something else, or maybe both? This is where student feedback on our content calendar is so important, because if the content is staff driven, there may be content segments missing. Identifying this map/key is a constantly moving target, so be patient with the process understanding that it may take a few years to find any common themes throughout your academic year.

C:¬†Finally, at the intersection of your department’s content curation and digital identity is your department’s¬†voice. In particular, is it in a¬†consistent tone, well written, and well cited? The more content creators you have, the more challenging it will be to have your digital content be in a consistent tone (e.g. formal vs. informal vs. funny). Yes, there will be times that your content voice will shift, but having someone review the tone of each post regularly is important for consistency. As your content strategy becomes more sophisticated, making sure that your content is consistently well written (spelling, grammar, etc.) and well cited are an important aspects to review before making posting it. Additionally, it should go without saying, but also ensuring the content is accurate is very important, especially when writing about other department deadlines and/or programs and events. Certainly, this intersection provides important perspective on what your digital voice is now and what you might want it to evolve to moving forward.

X: At the heart of this training model are all the engagement opportunities we have with our students online. The stronger we all are in these three areas, the better our opportunities for positive and educational online engagement for student recruitment and retention!

Sample Training Schedule:

Given this model, here is an example of a half day digital communication training schedule, topics, and key questions to explore:

Half Day

  • 8:30am: Welcome,¬†review of job descriptions and related guidance documents | What do we expect in this role?
  • 9:15am: Digital Identity Discussion (Personal, Department) |¬†Who are we as a department? How are we seen online? How have I personally, professionally and educationally used digital communication tools?
  • 10:15am: Break
  • 10:30am: Content Calendar – Brainstorm Topics |¬†What are most critical topics of conversation? What information is often missed, forgotten overlooked? How do we transform all of our text-based content on flyers and brochures into more engaging, digital content?
  • 11:30am: Success Metrics Discussion | What key performance indicators define our success, and why? Are these the same for both web and social?
  • 12:30pm: Next Steps, Develop Regular Meeting/Check-in Schedule |¬†What are the important skills we still have to teach and learn? How will we regularly communicate with one another and manage all these digital communication details?

Certainly, you will want to build in time for skill building on various technology platforms, such as Hootsuite (for social media teams), Adobe Creative Suite (for Graphics and Video Teams), Canva.com (for quick DIY graphic design), and many others depending on the sophistication of your digital communication efforts. You can build on the success of your training by scheduling regular meetings with your digital communication staff and inviting others throughout the university who do similar work to join in on your conversation. Provide leadership by developing communities of practice focused on effective and engaging digital communication to make your entire university better in these important efforts.

What are your best practices regarding digital communication training? Is it mainly focused on students or do you include staff and others? What other strategies, tools, tips, and/or data points would you add to this post for others to consider?

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