The following is a guest post by Jessica A. Krywosa, Director of Web Communication at Suffolk University. Jessica blogs at Viraligious© and you also connect with her through Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. This is the first of the .eduGuru Blogger(s) Search Contest.
I’ll admit it: I’m a newbie. When it comes to understanding the politics of the higher education atmosphere I’m just losing my green. Spending the last 10 years in college access marketing, I’ve been humbled by stretching a dollar via grassroots and internet outreach. Making the move to actually sitting at the institution has been challenging, but the same integrated marketing tactics apply.
What’s important to understand is the need for a combination of grassroots and web outreach. Some may argue that these have become the same tactic: that social media is the updated version of grassroots outreach. Marketers should consider that both are needed in order to ensure reach and maintain branding to all audiences, regardless of race, income and level of technological savvy.
Why Grassroots Outreach?
Anyone in non-profit work or those working within the confines of a small budget have had to get creative. In order to communicate your offerings to subsets of your audience, you need to understand where and how they communicate. The importance of this is not only in getting your message across, but in getting it there in a trusted way. For many audiences, this could be in person, via community or faith based organizations, or through specific thought leaders. This is mimicked in most social media efforts.
Many non-profit organizations create specifically targeted campaigns to subsets of their audience. They go door to door or provide information to people at churches or community nights. Especially effective is enlisting someone who represents the community; someone that they aspire to be. Most times this is not a celebrity, but a real person. A great example is the Vermont Start Where You Are Campaign.
Creating Grassroots Effects with Social Media.
Social media are by nature grassroots organizers. They provide a way for communities, not only to interact, but to form around topics. If your target audience communicates via social media, it only makes sense to include this as another channel to engage in conversation.
Remember that the rules of marketing always apply: be sure to do your research. It’s a shot in the dark to simply create profiles or groups in social media if you won’t be reaching the audiences that you intended. Simple research can be done via survey, focus group, or social media research. A little effort goes a long way when beginning on such an endeavor. Another example is Delaware’s Yes You Can Integrated MySpace Campaign.
How Do You Measure Success?
With both in person and virtual grassroots outreach, success may not be obviously quantifiable. By setting benchmarks, it will be easier to see how your efforts have moved the needle or not. Be sure to use both qualitative and quantitative measurements. Numbers of students, families and others involved in the behaviors you are hoping to influence (applications, visits, etc.) are only one measurement that should be monitored. Results of brief attitudinal surveys, increased levels of community engagement and blog posts or press clippings should also be tracked.
The important thing is to remember that the overall gain of community outreach in whatever format or combinations you choose is the overall power of the community itself. You are only a member taking part in the conversation, not the one controlling or steering it. Your job is to listen, communicate, and be helpful. Once you master these strategies, the community will build upon itself, and ultimately become its own success. By using both in person and social media strategies you expand your reach, coolness factor, and strategic two way communication. This will not only provide an outlet for your target population, but it will also give you information to change they way you provide these, and other services.