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The Rule of Cool (Part 3)

The manifesto continues. I've definitely started to ramble a bit aimlessly. The final part will be posted tomorrow, mercifully.

In case you missed them, here are parts one and two.

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Too Cool for School?

Students attend a particular college versus another for a variety of big, important reasons: geographical proximity, price, academic reputation, family allegiance, peers, etc. I will never, ever place social media among these goliaths.

But I won’t undersell its role either. Today, in 2014, there might be no more direct way for an institution to connect with prospective students, current students, parents, and alumni (yes, even those old folks too) than through social media.

The problem? Everyone else knows it too. Competition for attention is fierce in the social media space, and attention spans these days ain’t what they used to be. To get noticed, you’ve got to stand out. (I’m just going to go ahead and assume that people reading this are smart enough to know the difference between standing out in a good way and standing out in a bad way.)

With that in mind, our goal should always – always! – be to create content that makes people say, “It’s so cool that a school did this!” Our goal is to make people care about what we post, to talk about it with their friends, to share it online, to spend time with it... not just chuckle and scroll past.

We want to make prospective students intrigued, current students reassured in their college decision, and alumni proud of their alma mater. Being cool creates cache, it builds up good will, and it makes people anticipate the next thing you post. Being safe and bland makes you a big bowl of vanilla pudding.

You know this to be intuitively true – some brands are interminably boring on social media, droning away about their own brand while occasionally trying (and failing) to generate some engagement with tired old gimmicks like open-ended questions, fill in the blanks, and pointless calls to action. But other brands, brands that really get it, regularly post things that make you gape and say, “Wow.” Which one do you think gets more people paying attention to it? It’s an easy answer.

Ultimately, the concept of embracing cool is one of the most potent things we can tap into as higher ed marketers. If we can be powered by the third rail that is hip, we can do tremendous things: mold views about our school among prospective students, current students, and alumni; foster feelings of pride and nostalgia about our school; and establish interest from people who have no direct association with our school.

Consider the digital denizens of 2014. Surrounded by marketing at all times, they crave things that feel authentic and exciting and real. Even if, ultimately, it’s marketing in sheep’s clothing.

So why not give it to them? Why not spend time creating thoughtful content that’s for them, not for our bosses? Why not take the time to do things like this and this and this and this and this and this? All of these examples successfully achieve that elusive hipness because they are genuine and unexpected and different and make you feel something.

You know how the coolest people you know are the ones that don’t even try to be cool? The same is true in social media. If you just keep your eye on the prize of producing content that people actually want to spend some time with, you’re inevitably going to hit on things – be they art projects, organic user-generated content, genuinely funny video, etc. – that are cool. Because cool isn’t generated… it just is.

The Rule of Cool (Part 4)

Music at Midweek: Pink Martini