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What's Trending in Higher Ed Digital Communications? An #eduWeb18 Recap

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Just like that, eduWeb 2018 is a wrap. Many thanks to Chris Barrows, Joel Brenner and the rest of the eduWeb team for another fantastic event, in sunny San Diego no less. It was a great opportunity to learn and to connect with colleagues, who all face similar changes in the world of higher ed digital communications. The conference included dozens of interesting sessions that offered actionable takeaways. I wanted to highlight a few themes and sessions that I found particularly interesting and timely.

Social Media

While social media is always a hot topic, this year provided some interesting insights on two particular themes– crisis management and using social media to create brand ambassadors.

I attended several informative sessions as well as a great workshop from University of New Mexico’s Benson Hendrix on social media crisis communications. The key theme? Every institution needs to have a plan worked out and identify roles and responsibilities before a crisis situation actually occurs. Trying to figure out a communications strategy during a crisis, well, just creates a new crisis in the scramble to manage the situation.

Many people talked about the concept of creating micro influencers and brand ambassadors on social media. I gathered interesting ideas from higher ed institutions and service providers around using social media to build a base of supporters. It was suggested to engage influencers and brand ambassadors for your college or university as early as the high school stage.It would be worth your time to check out these presentations; they’ll all be available through the eduWeb 2018 mobile app.


Data and Analytics

Data was a huge theme this year. I heard about everything from effectively using Google Analytics and other analytics platforms to get real insights on your audiences and how your digital communications are performing. We often encounter institutions that have one or more analytics tools in place to collect data, but that data is not being analyzed or used to make adjustments to the website, email campaigns, or social communications.

This year included several sessions focused on actionable ways to make better use of the data you’re likely already collecting, from automating Google Analytics reporting, to understanding the student journey, to making very specific adjustments to your web presence based on deep data insights.

GDPR and Data Privacy

While not as sexy of a topic, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is having a huge impact on marketers in all industries. This regulation applies to any organization that collects or uses personal data from citizens of European Union nations (like those prospective international students you’re recruiting).

The GDPR imposes strict rules on getting consent and disclosure on how you use personal data that you collect. For more background on the GDPR and how it impacts higher ed, check out my blog post on the topic.

At eduWeb 2018, Bob Johnson presented an informational workshop on complying with the GDPR as well as the coming wave of similar data privacy and security regulations in the US. The state of California is now working on data privacy legislation that’s patterned based on the GDPR. Other states have similar measures in the works, and it’s likely that the federal government will move in this direction soon as well.

Data privacy is not an area where marketers want to be caught off guard. Penalties for non-compliance can be stiff, and how you comply can also have a significant impact on your ability to effectively market to your prospects.


We hear from prospective students over and over about the impact of video content on their perception of an institution. It’s the best way to immerse students in your institution’s student life, culture, and programs before they even step foot on campus. I recall speaking with a student during one of our research projects that said she decided where to go to college largely based on the content of that institution’s YouTube channel.

Many institutions struggle with producing quality and timeline video content. That “Welcome Video” you shot three years ago just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Fresh, timeline and bite-sized video content is key. William Peace University’s Ian Dunne and Chris Newman provided actionable tips and strategy during their session around how a small team at a small institution can generate a substantial amount of high quality, engaging video content. You don’t need a huge budget or an army of staff to make it happen. Check out some of their work on

Web Design and Strategy

Although web design and development are certainly not new topics, some interesting themes came up this year. One of those is how to effectively connect with multiple, distinct audiences.


This subject is noteworthy now since in many parts of the US, demographic shifts have resulted in fewer high school grads, and hence, fewer traditional-aged students enrolling at colleges and universities. But the silver lining is an increasing number of working adults are going back to school to complete their undergrad degree, pursue a graduate degree or to seek certification.

Those institutions focused on effectively engaging adult/non-traditional learners will be better positioned for the future than institutions solely or heavily reliant on traditional undergrads. When it comes to how your website promotes your institution, traditional and non-traditional students have different information needs. To learn more about engaging non-traditional students, check out our white paper: Web Strategy for Non-Traditional Students: Why Higher Ed Must Adapt to Engage Adult Learners.

DeSales University’s Kristin Laudenslager and I presented a case study of how we’ve approached the needs of these different prospective student audiences through a redesign of the DeSales University website, which is slated to launch this August. Check out our presentation in the eduWeb2018 mobile app. It’s called Multiple Audiences, Distinct Needs How the DeSales University Website Was Redesigned to Meet the Diverse Needs of Undergraduate, Graduate and Adult Learners.

Building Relationships at eduWeb

EduWeb is a great learning opportunity, but also an excellent forum to share ideas with like-minded colleagues, and to connect with partners and resources to expand the capabilities of a college or university digital marketing team. Case in point, at eduWeb 2017, we were first introduced to DeSales University, kicked off a website redesign several months later, and came back to eduWeb 2018 this year to present what we’ve learned from the experience as we prepare to launch the new site in coming weeks. I would definitely call that an eduWeb success story.

It’s been a great experience for us and I would love to connect to hear about your eduWeb 2018 experience.

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