Saturday, May 9, 2009

Marquette University: Telling, Not Selling

I've been doing a lot of research on what higher education is doing with social media to engage students, prospects and alumni. And I just have to give some kudos to Milwaukee's Marquette University (MU), because they are at the top of the heap, not just locally but nationally. It's a great example to share with clients and others who are looking for what social media "should" look and feel like. 

Today's butt-cover statement: MU is not my client. Actually, Alverno College is a client of my employer, so I suppose this post could get me in trouble if anyone overreacts. Keep in mind that 1) Alverno College rocks 2) this is my personal blog and has nothing to do with my employer and 3) I'm not commenting on the schools, just social media. (Oh yeah and I have three blog followers, so how much does it really matter?) 

That said...Marquette recently got quite a bit of play for using Twitter as a teaching tool. Social media is clearly not a bolt on to the communications plan - it's become part of the curriculum. 

The biggest strength of Marquette's social presence, though, is it's highly authentic and likeable human personality. The guy behind it is Tim Cigelske, or @Teecycle_Tim, a 2004 graduate of MU's School of Journalism, former Montana bellboy and US Airways baggage handler, AP correspondent and newspaper reporter, turned Communication Specialist. I'm thinking there's something huge owed to the fact that Tim is a content-creator by training and by trade, not a "marketing guy".  

Marketers take note: Tim's not selling. He's telling.  Telling strategic stories.

If you want to show someone how to engage effectively on Twitter, you could show them Marquette's Twitter stream. (If you want to also show them how NOT to engage on Twitter, you could show them the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Twitter stream. Ouch.)  

Marquette's Facebook fan page, likewise, is a great mix of news and events with stories about individual people - what a concept! In January 2009, they launched a Facebook Class of 2013 forum dedicated to fueling conversation between current students and prospective ones. While this might seem like a no brainer, it seems to be out front in the world of higher ed, from what I have seen so far. 

And - proving once again that many of the best social communications happen by sheer serendipity, if you haven't seen the video of graduating Marquette students "Shouting" goodbye, definitely check it out. I found it to be pretty emotional (though a bit too long for my personal taste). This is completely student-generated, with no influence from the communications folks, I'm told. And it shows, in how much it is felt, not acted. But the point is, the communications team "gets it" and helped this video spread to it's over 5,000 views to date. I wonder how much great, "free" content higher education is missing. 

The only thing didn't necessarily get is why the only blog I could find for Marquette was the Law School Faculty Blog. According to the latest report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 50% of private college and universities have blogs (though I speculate that probably 90% of them suck). So, it seems like they might be missing an opportunity to build their personality even more and add some depth to the conversation. And, given their brand strategy of "Be the Difference", there's definitely opportunity to use social communications to build that position while also building community. As "Mr. Cigelske" stated, "We've got some things in the works. You've got to just keep thinking big." 

Way to go Marquette. Even though one of the humans I personally couldn't care less about is Danny Gokey, nice job with the social stuff. 

What do you think of what MU is doing? Have you seen any other great higher ed stuff?  


  1. Sue, I'm trying to promote 2 trade shows for my employer using Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. Facebook corporate pages have been sort of a mystery wrapped within an enigma to me. It's great to see such a shining example of how to do it right! MU's approach to storytelling - while at the same time conveying useful information to its "fans" is outstanding. I printed it out and made lots of notes about how I can adapt what they've done to my efforts.

  2. Thanks so much, Chuck, that honestly makes my day. If something I do helps out even one person, that is so awesome and keeps me going. If there is anything else I can do to help definitely let me know.

  3. Social media is like Plunko on The Price is Right. You start in one place and gently get bumped and nudged until you've experienced all sorts of things/people/topics/etc. you never thought you'd like. Now that's cool.

  4. Is it Plunko or Plinko? Since I haven't seen Price is Right in decades I had to google it, but regardless, it's a nice metaphor. That I-have-no-idea-where-this-is-going feeling is exciting and fun. Anyone who isn't learning about and doing this stuff is really missing out on the best thing to happen to marketing in a very long time IMO.

    Thanks for taking the time to read/comment - I do appreciate it. I learn something from everyone.

  5. It is "Plinko" and not Plunko"... my bad!

  6. Sue

    Great post and welcome to the world of blogging. I would say that you might want to pop over to iTunesU and see what U of M - Milwaukee is doing there.. very good use of iTunesU and branching out beyond the 'traditional' social media sphere.