How does one go about communicating promise and possibility to its students? How does one motivate donors to give generously in order to support these students? How is diversity not only welcomed, but celebrated? It took a website redesign to answer these questions more effectively. The newer, better College of Lake County (CLC) website was launched in July 2014 in time for its 45th birthday last Thursday, September 25th. It has come a long way since its start in 1967 when it opened its doors to 2,360 students paying tuition of seven dollars per credit hour. Forty-five years later, it now welcomes over 16,000 students from across the Chicagoland area and has an even wider reach through its online classes.
Responsiveness to students has always been a goal of CLC, and in 2014 it continues to be a priority. This effort to connect with the school community has taken on new approaches with the expansion of social media opportunities. It demonstrates what Helene Solomon (2014) encourages organizations to do: “to look at the big picture”. Solomon emphasizes “social media strategy should be carefully integrated” into an organization’s overall communication plan. So, in addition to its website, CLC maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin, and Instagram as part of this unified approach to using social media to reach out to the community. Like many other organizations, this cluster of social media venues creates connections in its messaging, with some content gaining depth and elaboration across outlets.
Its main website http://www.clcillinois.edu/aboutclc provides the “mountaintop view” of the institution—the big picture. It seeks to answer the questions most asked by those new to the community: who we are and what we offer. It emphasizes why the institution matters and how its work is supported by the CLC Foundation. By visiting this one page, a reader gets a feel for what it means to become part of CLC, and central to the page is a video accompanied by the text “Welcoming Everyone”. This is especially relevant because it is what CLC does.
Information about the CLC Foundation makes a case for supporting its efforts. Being the main fundraising arm of the community college, it tries to reach out to potential donors by conveying how effectively the college allocates its resources. Student testimonials throughout the website add interest to statements that explain why financial support is vital to the school community. A “Donate” button is prominently displayed at the top of the page.
The YouTube Channel
Made up of a series of 2-5 minute videos of students, faculty, or staff speaking about their CLC experience, this social media venue creates excellent promo material https://www.youtube.com/user/clcpublicrelations . They are quick, to the point, and have good production value. Its appeal to a more “text averse” audience is easily understood. By way of imagery and narration, these videos communicate the “who we are” and “what we offer” aspects explained on the website. Being able to see and hear about these aspects instead of simply reading them off the website highlights the power of video.
These allow potential students or visitors to “step inside” the campus and its classes, providing a glimpse of student life and potentially lessening the apprehension to register. Many of the videos show faculty who are friendly, welcoming, and supportive. They also cover campus tours, scholarship information, food options, honors programs, and the financial aid process. Because the YouTube channel addresses several basic concerns, and it does so in an engaging manner, it easily builds connection and resonance among its audience.
On Facebook and Twitter
These social media venues receive the most updates from the PR office—almost hourly. It creates overlaps in its content, with Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CollegeofLakeCounty allowing for photos, thus, elaborating on what might be only a 140 character tweet on Twitter https://twitter.com/clcnewsroom. Both venues present the “latest and greatest” happenings on campus: athletic and cultural events, institutional success stories—like the current transfer agreement with University of Wisconsin-Parkside, as well as useful pieces like the new on-campus device charging station by the library.
CLC tries to initiate interaction on Facebook by posting questions like: How is your fall semester going? What is your favorite class? However, student comments were few, so the strategy needs some reworking.
On LinkedIn and Instagram
These receive the least updates of all media venues, and because they do, it is not clear how they support the social media strategy of the institution. Perhaps this will become more clearly defined as a more unified PR and Marketing approach is constructed by the college as it hopes to respond more effectively to the demands of today’s educational and technological environment.
In his article about social media basics, James Howe (2014) asserts the need to make “social media a behavior” as opposed to simply using it to “push out information” or employing it to abide by “a set of how-to social media instructions”. He claims that to use social media more effectively means being able to integrate it in meaningful ways—to make it “part of how you behave in your day-to-day life as much as you interact with people around you”.
This meaningful integration is probably what every institution hopes to achieve, and CLC is on that trajectory as well. It aims to create a social media approach and a presence that students, staff, and faculty will want to incorporate into their day. Perhaps one that might even find its way into instructional, cultural, and athletic events as they happen, in order to bring the campus out to the public, and the public into the classroom, the stage, the art gallery, the soccer field, or the basketball court. It is a lofty goal, one not easily achieved. Yet, Solomon (2014) reminds communication professionals that “…success…doesn’t happen overnight” and to “…look at your social media process in two or three phases and apply appropriate goals and metrics for each”. Clearly, it will require time and monitoring of progress being made.
When social media becomes another layer of conversation within the active, energetic buzz of the campus, then at that point, it might be said that it is no longer just a strategy or an approach. At that point, it may have evolved into what Howe might consider “behavior”—a behavior that opens up possibilities for even greater responsiveness to its community.
Howe, J. (2014). 10 Social media basics every nonprofit needs to know. International Association of Business Communication. Retrieved from http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2011/1111/Howe.htm
Solomon, H. (2014). Social Media for Nonprofits. International Association of Business Communication. Retrieved from http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2011/1111/Solomon.htm