Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

June 2009 Archives

Web Content Editor: Description Details for Cornell College


Web content on your website will improve if you invest in staffing a web content position. That's been a message in my Writing Right for the Web seminars for years. And that's the reason I include job descriptions for position like this on the blog.


This entry comes from Dee Anne Rexroat, director of communications at Cornell College. How well does she think this position has worked? "We redid our site from square one almost two years ago, and added a full-time Web Content Editor, and that position makes all the difference."


Dee Anne had just sent along a link to show how Cornell has adopted the blog format for online press release presentation. Visit to see the strong results of that change.


If you haven't yet moved in this direction, perhaps these details from Dee Anne will help you move things in that direction. Yes, budgets are tight. But websites remain the core of your online communication strategy. For strong marketing impact, you can't afford not to have capabilities like this on your marketing team.


Web Content Editor Position at Cornell College 


Postition Summary:


This position provides content creation, content management, and strategic external and internal communications services for Cornell's website. Oversees content of the official, top level pages of the college website, and provides support and guidance to departments and offices on their web presence. Coordinates and collaborates with all departments of the college to ensure new and migrated content is accurate, up to date, and represents the college well to all constituencies.


Principal Duties and Responsibilities - (Essential functions of the position) 


    1. Collaborates with the Director of College Communications to develop effective strategies for communicating through the institutional Web site.
    2. Researches and writes original material; edits existing material, including reworking material developed for other college communications in a way that makes it effective for electronic media; proofreads text for electronic media; and monitors new and existing pages for accuracy and timeliness.
    3. Collaborates with the Director of Media Relations, Director of College Communications, Admissions Office, and others to develop and select images, video, and other visual/audio representations of campus activities for the Web site.
    4. Oversees content of official college pages--pages with the purpose of speaking for the college and its official programs and departments and not for individual members of the college community.
    5. Works with "information providers" who are authorized to contribute content as part of the college's content management system to help ensure that they publish content that meets the college's standards for quality and style.
    6. Monitors and analyzes electronic-media usage patterns to help ensure that the media is effective in supporting institutional priorities. This work involves collaborating with colleagues in Information Technology to use applications that measure and monitor e-mail and website traffic.
    7. Oversees work-study students; collaborates with consultants, staff, and faculty to fulfill goals and objectives.
    8. Performs other duties as directed by the Director of College Communications.


Education and Experience:


Bachelor's degree, preferably in English or journalism or related field.


Demonstrated success in writing for electronic media, particularly in writing layered information for the Web. Experience in communications including demonstrated experience in research, writing, editing, and copy editing as well as writing for publication on deadline.  Demonstrated working knowledge of web management and design concepts as evidenced by creation of website content, creation of special web projects. Work experience in higher education, liberal arts specifically. Experience working with content management systems.


Knowledge and Abilities:


Knowledge of journalistic practices and their application to the web environment, general knowledge of web application issues, knowledge of best practices for website design and presentation, knowledge of content management systems and their use in the web environment. Understanding of supporting application platforms and software and related issues.


Ability to develop and execute web communications strategies that balance substantive content, visually appealing design, high levels of usability, and integrated technologies. Ability to implement basic marketing and communication principles in creation of new web pages. Ability to initiate ideas, develop concepts, review web site management and design process and ensure professional standards and high quality with all communication efforts. Ability to assess web communication needs of internal clients and suggest appropriate measures to meet these needs. Ability to identify, organize, and accomplish tasks in priority order, and keep several projects moving ahead simultaneously--all with a minimum of supervision. Ability to keep information confidential as necessary.


That's all for now. blending social media and reality marketing is a place that most, if not all, colleges and universites appear to wish simply didn't exist.

  • Yes, it is a form of social media where college students can share their experiences about their faculty with anyone who wants to read them. The site makes it easy to add new faculty evaluations and to share content with friends.
  • And yes, it helps define the world of "reality marketing" by noting that not every professor at every college is a super-star dedicated to student success in the classroom.

At two recent conference presentations, I've asked the audience if any of their schools link from the official website to RateMyProfessors. I get the sense that people are shocked that the question is even asked. That's no surprise. One response summed up the feeling: "I'd get fired for doing that!"

Few Faculty Rated as "Poor Quality"

Here's what's funny about the prevailing attitude. In every case where I've visited RateMyProfessors, there have been very few faculty who receive "poor quality" ratings. Most have either "average quality" or "good quality" ratings.

Consider my most recent venture to Boston University as an example to use in an upcoming webinar. The site makes it easy find faculty from an academic area of special interest. In this case, I checked the political science faculty at BU. Here's what I found for 48 faculty members listed:

  • 33 had "good quality" ratings
  • 11 had "average quality" ratings
  • 3 were listed as "below average"
  • 1 had no ratings at all

That seems a pretty good peformance to me, maybe even higher than expected. All in all, these are professors held in high esteem by their students.

Students, especially those with high academic profiles, are keenly interested in academic majors. Imagine that the BU admissions page included a link to so that visitors could easily see the overall ratings as well as the comments available on individual faculty. That, it seems, would buy credibility in a world skeptical of the usual marketing language used in higher education and elsewhere.

The reality, of course, is that not all faculty are great. Personally, I'd be quite comfortable enrolling as a political science major at BU based on the RateMyProfessors reviews.

And yes, I understand that linking to from official websites isn't going to sweep the land. But take some time today to check how your faculty are viewed at this site by your students. You just might find people that you'd like to highlight in some other way in your marketing efforts.

If by any chance your college or university indeed links to RateMyProfessor, let me know. That would make a great Link of the Week selection.

That's all for now.



National Merit Scholars: What do the numbers say about brand strength?

National Merit Scholars enrolled each fall are for many colleges and universities an important indicator of their brand strength among high achieving academic super-stars. These students end up enrolled at relatively few schools. Many of the schools are happy each year if they enroll just two or three Scholars. National Merit Scholars pay no tuition while in college.

In 2008, 8,486 National Merit Scholars enrolled at 219 private and 149 public institutions.

Is the number of National Merit Scholars enrolled a serious indicator of brand strength in higher education? Simply looking at the number enrolled doesn't tell us much that we don't already know: Harvard College, for instance, was at the top in 2008 with 285, followed closely by University of Texas-Austin with 281. A host of schools (173) enrolled 5 or less.

But there's another way to look at what National Merit enrollment tells us about brand strength, particularly among especially prestigious academic names: how many National Merit scholars had their tuition paid by external donors and how many were paid by the host school itself. Harvard contribued none of its own money to enroll those 288 freshmen, while UT-Austin provided the funds to sponor 213 of its 281 scholars. In other words, if schools were ranked by the number of National Merit scholars they had to pay for themselves, rankings would look much different.

The Top 20 National Merit Schools: Who Pays for Tuition?

Consider the 20 schools that enrolled at least 100 National Merit Scholars in 2008.

Only 5 of the 20 did not sponsor any scholars themselves:

  • Harvard College, 285 scholars
  • Yale University, 213 scholars
  • Princeton University, 175 scholars
  • Stanford University, 147 scholars
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 114 scholars.

Based on this measure of brand strength, these are the superstars in the quest for National Merit students.

The other 15 reach 100+ status by sponsoring most of their scholars themselves:

  • Arizona State University, 143 of 169
  • Georgia Institute of Technology, 70 of 105
  • New York University, 100 of 127
  • Northwestern University, 191 of 239
  • Ohio State University - Columbus, 98 of 120
  • Rice University, 104 of 169
  • Texas A&M - College Station, 119 of 161
  • University of Chicago, 148 of 222
  • University of Florida, 134 of 166
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 106 of 142
  • University of Oklahoma, 147 of 178
  • University of Southern California, 216 of 254
  • University of Texas - Austin, 213 of 281
  • Vanderbilt University, 107 of 147
  • Washington University in St. Louis, 161 of 228

Opting Out of the National Merit Academic Arms Race

It is also obvious from scanning the list that some schools with high academic prestige elect not to increase the National Merit Scholar numbers by adding their own resources. Perhaps they believe their brand reputation is strong enough to not need the boost of additional National Merit winners. Consider this sample:

  • Brown University, 88 scholars
  • Carnegie Mellon University, 27 scholars
  • Columbia University, 74 scholars
  • Cornell University, 66 scholars
  • Dartmouth College, 78 scholars
  • Duke University, 99 scholars
  • Georgetown University, 46 scholars
  • UC-Berkeley, 85 scholars
  • University of Michigan 57 scholars
  • University of Pennsylvania, 98 scholars

Most of these 10 schools (and many others) would enroll more National Merit scholars if they added their own funds to the available scholarship pool in the same proportion as 15 of the top 20 listed. If National Merit Scholars enrolled is a measure of brand strength, it makes sense to subtract the "institution-sponsored" students from the total when comparing schools on this list. 

For more details on the entire group of 368 schools, visit the National Merit Corporation's Annual Report.

That's all for now.


Social media and student recruitment: Expanding Interest Among For-Profit Schools

Back last night from the Career College Association conference in Orlando, where I was part of a panel discussion hosted by Google on "Building Your Online Student Community" about the potential and the pitfalls of integrating social media into overall marketing activities.

At breakfast before the session we briefly discussed differences in marketing and recruitment approaches between the "for profit" and the "not-for-profit" sectors of higher education. We covered the usual points... including a more sales oriented approach on the "for profit" side in which admissions representatives play a different role than what is customary according to NACAC guidelines that most "not-for-profits" follow.

Fear of negative comments

At the actual session, one element was evident that overlapped boundaries:

  • People are not yet comfortable with creating a social media site and opening themselves up to possible negative comments re the experiences of their students.

Interest was high... people were standing along the back wall of the room. And my sense was that many and maybe most in the room sense the inevitability of social media conversations. They will take place whether sanctioned or not. Might as well have them occur where it is easiest to monitor them and where satisfied students are more likely to contribute positive responses. Might as well build sponsored sites.

Staffing and ROI Concerns

Two other points of interest surfaced:

  • What are the new requirements for staffing social media marketing activities?
  • How do we measure the ROI?

All in all, an interesting morning and for me personally, a introduction to a segment of the market that I don't often visit.

Thanks to fellow panelists Clay Gillespie of Career Education Corporation and Joe Charlson of Education Management Corporation who reviewed what was already happening among their schools. And thanks to Google moderator Sam Sebastian (a very major Ohio State fan!) and Deb Powsner who admirably herded the cats and managed the details.

University of Phoenix has a strong social media presence, although few can match the resources of that goliath. Nevertheless, expect to see more CCA members moving more strongly in this direction as social media in the marketing mix continues to expand. 

That's all for now.


Reed College, Tuition Discounting, and the Future of Private Colleges & Universities

Reed College is controlling the tutition discount rate by increasing enrollment of new freshmen who can afford a $50K per-year cost without an increased college contribution.

NACUBO last released a tution discount report in May 2009, based on a survey for discount rates for the entering freshmen class in 2007. At that time, NACUBO reported little change from the previous year. The average discount rate based on responses from 253 private sector schools was 39.1 percent, up slightly from the 37.8% of the previous year, as reported by 367 participants. (Should one wonder what was happening that so greatly decreased the respondents?)

Since most schools don't talk much in public about their discount rates, not everyone understands quite what this means. Simply put, many colleges and universities are not getting anywhere near the published tuition price from the enrolled freshmen class. On average, they received just over 60 percent of the "sticker price" charged. The rest went back to the students as scholarships and grants to "discount" a cost that students and their families either would not (merit aid) or could not (need-based aid) pay to attend a particular institution. How much wiggle room is left for even higher discount rates?

The current economic plague has put new stress on the discount rates at private sector schools. We've heard quite a bit about application and deposit rates that suggest that enrollment at many if not most private sector schools is strong despite the current state of the economy. What we haven't heard much about yet is the impact on the discount rate.

If you're a betting person, expect the average tuition discount rate to rise. The question is how much capacity individual schools have to raise it to maintain enrollment numbers and academic profiles without pushing already stressed budgets to the breaking point.

Reed College: Limited Admission for "Needy Students"

Reed, for instance, was just favored by this New York Times headline: "College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students." Reed can no longer afford to admit as many students who need "tution discounting" without serious cuts in other parts of the college's budget that the trustees are not willing to make. As a result, the economic profile of Reed freshmen in 2009 is about to rise. (Reed College president Colin Diver has published a letter to alumni and parents about the NYT article and Reed's overall policy on financial aid awards, which never included merit awards.)

Expect more changes. Expect that not all colleges can meet the challenge of controlling the discount rate while reaching previous goals of enrollment size and profile. A likely result? Fewer students or a higher admission rate the lowers the academic profile. NACUBO reports that in 2007 the colleges with the highest discount rates were those with the lowest tutions and lowest enrollments. They face the greatest challenge.

The NYT article reports that Reed is hoping for a rapid economic improvement so that the current financial aid changes are only temporary. While we all hope for that, I'd not bet on it as a strategy for the future for private sector institutions.

That's all for now.




Online Marketing: No place for blasts and drives

Online marketing was the key topic at last week's Aslanian Group conference in Chicago. Nearly 80 people from colleges and universities of every type gathered at University of Chicago's Gleacher Center for 2 days of presentations and discussions.

A small but significant point stuck in my mind on the way home: in a marketing world where the customer is more in control than ever before, terms like "Email blast" and "driving people to the website" don't make much sense. Here's why.

  • Driving people to the web. You can't drive people to your website like a well-trained sheep dog can herd sheep into a pen. You have to persuade people to go voluntarily to your site. Or hope that they find you in a search effort. And when they arrive, you'd better be able to engage them with the first 2 to 5 seconds with content they care about, or they will bounce right off your web page and back out of the pen. That's their choice and people are not reluctant to make it. "Persuasion marketing" is a term that deserves more attention.
  • Email blasts: The assumption here is that if we fire away at a target often enough we are going to hit it and create a desired action. This flies in the face of the direct marketing imperative that is behind a successful email program. Today, more than ever, we should send less email (and direct mail) but focus it more carefully and more personally for higher conversion rates from within a smaller group. "Blast" away and you're more likely to annoy people than anything else. Even people who might at first have signed up to receive your email won't take kindly to what comes from a "blast" mentality. 

Marketing really would be easy if we could "drive" and "blast" people to get them where we want them. Alas in higher education marketing, we can't do that. Let's show more awareness of reality and banish these inaccurate and silly words.

That's all for now.



June is upon us and official summer is not far away. Here in Michigan it is already not yet dark at 9 PM. Marvelous.

Social media marketing, for good reasons, is the rage of 2009. But as usual in the midst of any boom, caveats exist. Some are included here this month.

This summer has turned into a special season for webinars. Several scheduled from June 17 to August 11 are listed at the end of the newsletter.

Summer is also conference season. Join me at pre-conference workshops on communicating in the online world at either ACT Enrollment Planners Conference or eduWeb 2009. Details are at for ACT and at for eduWeb.

Join me on Twitter at and review 7 earlier presentations on SlideShare at

And now for your marketing news and notes for June.
Branding Budgets at Major Universities

AdAge has just noticed that higher education spends money on marketing. Not nearly as much as their total budgets would allow by industry standards, but enough to note that they "dabble" to the tune of $5.1 million, in the case of the University of Maryland media spend in 2008.

To see how much a few others "dabble," visit the AdAge article at

While not many schools are included here, it is nice to see numbers other than those for University of Phoenix ($15+ million). And it would be even nicer to see the media spend levels for the flagship universities in each state compared to their total budgets. Yes, dreaming. But it would be nice.

Like it or not, higher education is a competitive place and you cannot compete effectively without a realistic marketing budget.
Twitter Not Yet for Recruiting Teens

No doubt you have seen the recent reports about how admissions offices are moving to add social media to the marketing communications mix. And in general, that is a good and necessary step.

But for now, if you want to focus on Facebook and YouTube and leave Twitter for later, you can be comfortable with that as far as the teen audience is concerned. Most teens, it seems, are not enamored of the Twitter phenomena.

For details, check the article from Social Computing Journal at

And note that LinkedIn is mainly populated by people over 40 year of age. So hold any advertising plans for adult students much younger than that.

Things can change. But it is always a good to balance enthusiasm with facts to focus limited marketing resources in the best direction.
Twitter and Adult Student Recruitment

Given what we know about the age of Twitter users, people recruiting adult students should explore this option.

To start, read my brief reviews of how 7 schools are using Twitter for this market segment. The results at

Note that University of Phoenix came to this late, in mid-May. Since then, Phoenix has employed an aggressive update pattern (71 in less than a month as of June 2) and gained 309 followers. The review also includes UMass Online, Penn State World Campus, Harvard Extension School and other for-profit schools.
Social Networking Growth Advances in Age

You can be more comfortable today than just a year ago that efforts put into mainstream social media (Facebook and/or MySpace depending on your students) will pay dividends based on large participation increases among people over 29 years of age. See the details reported by Ad Week at

Remember that creating a social networking presence is not for the faint of heart. Let people have real conversations about what they like and do not like about your college or university. If you cannot bring yourself to do that, then best not venture into this world of true reality marketing.
Azusa Pacific Creates Mobile Web Options

What happens when people try to access your website from an iPhone or other mobile device? That can get ugly, can it not?

Azusa Pacific University has taken an important step in the right direction with a new mobile website that lets people access class schedule, athletics news, social media sites, dining menus, campus directories and more from an iPhone or an iPod. And, wisely, they are working on a new version that will allow access from other smart phones.

Visit the regular web at for details. If you have an iPhone, go direct to

Yes, Azusa Pacific makes sure that potential future students know about this as well. Start planning for your mobile website today. You will need one next year.
Google Analytics: 10 Myths to Review

If you have Google Analytics installed on your campus website but do not yet use it regularly, your expertise and confidence will benefit from this entry on The Official Google Analytics Blog at

My favorite was Myth #4: Results are not accurate. That is because I recently read an email sent to one of my clients from the IT department essentially telling her that she should not ask for analytics reports because the results are not accurate. Read Myth #4 for better insight into what is possible and what is not from any analytics program. Do not let anyone tell you not to pay attention to these numbers.

Just getting started? Review my most popular SlideShare presentation, Web Analytics, A Guide for Higher Education Marketers, at
Obama Makes For-Profit Sector Nervous

OK, maybe not the president himself, but folks in the Education Department are asking questions about how well schools in the for-profit sector are meeting guidelines on payment incentives for student recruitment and job placement after graduation.

How do we know people are nervous? A recent conference call with the investor community drew about 600 participants.

For more, listen to the Chronicle of Higher Education audio update at
Kindle Advertising Starts Soon

How soon will colleges and universities be advertising on Kindle?

Too soon to say, but if online advertising is an interest, be sure to read about the first venture planned for the Kindle, the popular Amazon e-reader. You can be sure that online advertisers will stay alert for reported results, including reaction from Kindle users.

AdAge reports the details at
6 Usability Testing Mistakes to Avoid

Whether you do your own usability testing or hire out the projects, take a few minutes to review the article by Jeff Sexton at

Also note the affirmation given at the start of the article to an inexpensive (how does $29 to start sound?) online usability testing service from As always, the key is interpreting the results. But if traditional usability testing is beyond your resources, explore the possibilities here.
Behavioral Targeting in Marketing: How Far to the Future?

For an interesting update on why and when behavioral characteristics may replace demographics in marketing campaigns, read From Utility to Futility: Demographics in Marketing at

The premise here is that online tracking gives marketers the ability to distinguish individuals within demographic segments who vary from the norm and thus capture otherwise lost opportunities by including them in advertising efforts. Mobile advertising, in particular, may benefit from this since people here are especially sensitive to receiving direct advertisements that do not interest them.
New from Google: Google Wave

If you hate hype as much as I do, you will be skeptical about people who say that Google Wave will revolutionize the way we communicate with one another online, especially with respect to email and IM. But wise marketers will want to pay attention to initial reports about the new Google tool that will be available later this year. After all, sometimes the hype is right or at least close to right.

One place to start is with the "Game Changing" review by Ben Parr at

Read through and make a note to yourself to follow along with further updates as they arrive. Expect loud buzz over the summer.
Managing a Boring Website

Is your website boring? If it is, it just might be a great one.

To make sense of that, read the New Thinking article by Gerry McGovern at
40 Websites: Stunning and Creative

If the idea of a boring website does not make your heart flutter, review this group of 40 at

Scroll down to #38 for the only higher education site included, the admissions site at Biola University.
My Upcoming Presentations in 2009

Share questions and answers with people like yourself who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Join me for one or more of these events!

June 4-5, Chicago, IL: Aslanian Group, Web Marketing to Adult Students: "Writing Right for the Web" and "Using Adult Friendly Social Media in Marketing." Enter "Bob100" as a discount code to save $100 from the registration fee. Review the sessions at

June 15, Orlando, FL: Career College Association: "Anatomy of a Student Community," Google hosted panel discussion. Conference details at

June 17, Webinar: Paper Clip Communications: "The Technology Revolution in Admissions." Session details and registration at

June 21-25, San Antonio, TX: College Sports Information Directors of America, Annual Conference: "Writing Right for the Web." Conference program at

June 30, July 8, Webinar in 2 Parts: Innovative Educators, "Student Recruitment in an Online World: Communicating with College Bound High School Students from First Web Search to Final Enrollment." Registration is open now. Review program and register now.

July 15-17, Chicago, IL: ACT Enrollment Planners Conference: "Student Recruitment in an Online World: Creating a Recruitment Communications Plan in a World without Paper: 2009 Update" (Pre-conference workshop) and "Rating Higher Education Websites: The Student Experience." Review the program and register at

July 20-22, Chicago, IL: eduWeb 2009: "Student Recruitment in the Online World: Communicating from First Web Search to Final Enrollment" (Pre-conference workshop). Sessions and registration at

July 29, Webinar: Magna Publications: "Crafting a High Impact Recruitment Website." Content and registration at

August 11, Webinar: Magna Publications: "Social Media Marketing." Details soon.

October 26-27, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin System, Adult Student Recruitment & Retention Conference: "Key Website Features for Adult Student Recruitment" and "Writing Right for the Web." Conference information is at

Increase ROI from your online marketing. Expand the writing, editing, and search marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on online marketing.

Contact me at
That's All for Now

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (
President and Senior Consultant
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

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