How do you use SEO in your niche Higher Ed site?

How do you use SEO on your niche Student Affairs (#SAChat) or Higher Education (#HigherEd) website?

One of our roles at Multicultural Student Programs and Services (Follow us on Twitter, too: @msps_nd) at the University of Notre Dame is to manage creative social media content for our multicultural student affairs niche and to build an integrative infrastructure through some print, as well as social media copywriting and communications networking.

Buzzword. Buzzword. Buzzword.

But I’m looking for feedback on how much stock to hold in a media and communications strategy built for a niche department like MSPS, whose mission is “Fighting for Racial Equity”—which can get into some tough doo-doo—but whose aims might, for SEO trafficking (and “competition for resources”) purposes, be better written as something like, “Love and Diversity and Inclusion and Hugging with special visits from the office Unicorn.”

So it becomes weirdly almost a moral dilemma for our office and me.

On the one hand, we need to be explicit about exactly what we are trying to do: Provide academic achievement, career placement, and leadership development programs and services to students of color; and provide everyone rich learning opportunities to explore things like race, identity, power, and privilege—all in an effort beyond lip service to level an inherently and structurally unequal playing field.

On the other hand, that can sometimes scare the crap out of people and we’ll never get folks to connect with us online (or anywhere else, for that matter) if we yell too much about bringing down the Man.

So, yes, it’s a much broader issue—a tenuous balance game we’re always playing.

But specifically, right now, I am wondering about other student affairs and higher education niches and how best to create and implement a dynamic social media management and network communications strategy using search and SEO language to serve similar areas without feeling forced to water down the office mission.

And I go back and forth so much in both my professional and personal life I feel like I am developing a complex. Fighting words over here; let’s just everybody get along over there. But in this seemingly endless competition over resources that goes on in Higher Education, we need to be able to communicate and to influence more traffic to our sites or risk any number of resource cuts, right?

This is what we’ve got going right now:

News Blog
Student Blog

So how do we/you all better leverage a department and office communications strategy with a niche topic like Multicultural Student Affairs (#msachat)?

Stop Creating, Start Curating

This is not my idea. Someone else thought of this already.

The amount of information created and made available through new and social media now is stupefying. If you know where to look and how to look for it you can find vast and epic amounts of data and programming and information and analyses and stuff on anything you want. And the amount of data and stuff you can find on anything you want cannot be consumed by your brain in the course of your lifetime, let alone an academic semester.

So how do we keep searching for new and better ways to help us curate information in higher education and student affairs rather than compete with each other over the creation of new content? How can your multicultural affairs department, for instance, effectively receive the best information “out there” about things like race relations, privilege, identity, and power? And then how can that information be curated—edited—and redistributed to your students?

Establishing clear “input” channels of communication through social media like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs from other academic and like-minded units on and off campus is helpful to begin to gain a much more complete understanding of the kinds of information, programming, and activities that exist out there already. There are fine folks in History, Africana Studies, Student Activities, Anthropology, whatever—across the country—who are doing and saying wonderful things that can be used to support a multicultural educational mission.

Twitter and Facebook lists are awesome. Blog rolls are equally as helpful. To know where information exists, from whom it comes, and how to get it via new media at all times are significant skills that Higher Education professionals must have now in order to be effective in this world of fast-paced, high-content information—the world our students take for granted.

Whether or not the information you receive aligns well with the department mission is where the curating comes in. Funneling tweets and blogs through a multicultural affairs website, for instance, means very close monitoring of information. It also means constantly evaluating the most effective ways to share and to distribute the information most relevant to your purposes.

And I suppose assessing this kind of programming is slightly more difficult. How do we measure or count how well we curate? And while this question warrants acknowledging, I’m also of the ilk that doesn’t really care.

Because I know how I learn—how I have always learned. And especially when it comes to difficult and challenging topics related to race and identity, power and privilege, I am going to acquire knowledge piecemeal, over time, and in the areas and modes most commensurate with my personality and learning style. I have to believe students are learning, developing, and transforming in the same way.

And that means we have to know how to find and share information through the media, to curate what’s out there and share it most effectively.

This summer, let’s work on our office communications

A good challenge for any social science, ethnic studies, or multicultural student affairs entity on a college campus this summer should be to reimagine office communications.

These days it isn’t always necessarily about whether or not you’re the best at what you do. It’s about whether or not you’re able to communicate your mission and your relevance in the most effective and efficient ways.

You have to be able to explain quickly and cleanly why you and your office matter or else people and especially students are going to conclude that you don’t.

  1. Blog it and/or Facebook it. Then tweet it.

    While we were all attending the latest webinar or roundtable or conference session called something like “Managing Social Media in Student Affairs” or “New Media in Academia: Where Do We Go From Here?” or “Twitter: Does it Hurt?,” the rest of the world was… simply living their lives on things like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Blogger, whatever. These are just part of our day now.

    Deal with it.

    Blog your information. Get it out quickly and cleanly using any variety of fast-acting blogging platforms. Share what’s going on that week. Share information about an award or a professor or a class or a lecture series. Have a student write a story about herself or about a peer. Get a weekly poll going or post editorials about faculty research, programming focus groups, or socially relevant issues like poverty, racism, or sexual orientation. Make it engaging and interesting and topical and make it fast.

    Then post it to your Facebook page.

    Then tweet it.

    Then later that day or later that week, tweet it again.

  2. Build your own relevant campus social network.

    Dig out the password for the office Facebook account that your undergrad intern started for you back in August. Log in. Then instead of simply posting the date and time for the upcoming “Mocktails” event and blaming students later for not showing up, use Facebook’s search capabilities to locate and “like” every page of every one of your campus student affairs offices and academic departments that share a similar mission.

    Find the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and blogs for every one of the undergraduate and graduate student clubs and societies your office supports and share their information on your own page. Create a network of trust and collaboration by commenting on other offices’ blogs or retweeting student clubs’ articles. There are a lot of great things going on on campus. Seek them out, share them, and be a source for information relevant not just to your office, but to your office’s total mission.

  3. Stop saying the word “branding.”

    We’re not cattle. I do appreciate a consistent message and a consistent image and a consistent color scheme for your posters and your website and your specialty “cause” bracelets—but we need to meet students half way.

    Because while we’re scheduling brainstorming meeting after brainstorming meeting in order to decide on the exact wording of our mission and the positioning of our logo on our new letterhead and our social media “terms and use policies,” students are already going to our classes, attending our programming, reading or not reading our emails, and communicating with or about us on Facebook and Twitter whether we’re there or not.

    “This”—communicating effectively, that is—has to be second nature; it’s not always so formally a “strategy.” We don’t wake up in the morning and map out our talking points and intended interactions for the day ahead, so don’t be afraid for your official office social media strategy simply to be: “Be a normal, communicating human today. The end.”

  4. Think about how you use the internet. Then just do that.

    No millennial is hopping onto your office website every hour to check for new office updates—and probably neither are you. That means that while there may still very very occasionally be a time and place for formal press releases on your department website, we need to do a better job communicating daily the same ways everyone else does.

    If nothing else, this has got to be more time-efficient. I think at some point during this past academic year (or maybe it happened years ago and I’m behind, too) there was a profound shift from it being worth higher ed pros’ time and effort to update webpages, manage mass email clients, and design mail newsletters, to now it being more efficient to network and to share our information and our message through the myriad of social and new media available.

This isn’t probably the most formal or the most complete list we could come up with. But that’s also kind of the point. Especially when you’re dealing with social science, ethnic studies, or multicultural affairs content like we are, there’s always room for debate and conversation and our ways of communicating these are seemingly infinite nowadays.

But that means we have to use them. Because—and this has very serious resource-allocation implications for many of our departments and offices—assuming we already walk the walk, if we can’t also “talk the talk,” nobody in this new-media-age will ever know.

“Because it’s fun” is not nearly enough.

I’m sitting at home on a lazy Sunday afternoon reading a bit of light child development theory and – Hey, my wife and I are expecting our first child in a few months and I’m a dork. What do you expect?!

Anyway, I’m sitting at home on Sunday reading about this cat named John Dewey who had some things to say about early childhood education, specifically the differences between “Education” and “Mis-Education.” And anyway I’m sitting here reading about how to structure an effective developmental learning program for a two-year-old by creating activities that:

  • Are based on a child’s interests and expands upon their existing knowledge and experiences.
  • Help to develop a new skill or skillset.
  • Add to the child’s existing knowledge of their world.
  • Prepare the child to live more fully.

Specifically, the short section I am reading suggests that just because a child’s activity is fun, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are engaged in any kind of learning.

Of course, there is a time for fun and a time for learning—but it got me thinking about—what else?—race and education and how college students learn. Hell, how any of us learn.

Luckily, I decided, I can answer most of the questions about my own multicultural education programs in higher ed that John Dewey asked about early childhood education activities:

  • How does the program/activity expand upon what students already know?
  • How does the program/activity help students to develop new skills or skillsets?
  • How does the program/activity help students to know more about their world?
  • How does the program/activity challenge students to live more fully?

Not bad questions to ask, are they? Especially when we start talking about programs that get after difficult, challenging topics like race, racism, white privilege, social justice, poverty, and racial equity?

Oftentimes, we know, we see or hear about programs in student affairs that were implemented or were allowed to continue because “It’s fun,” or because “Everyone likes it,” or because “It’s what students want to do.”

Similarly, we know, we also see and hear about programs in student affairs that were not implemented or were changed because “Talking about race is depressing,” or because “It made students too uncomfortable,” or because “Students don’t want to talk about racism.”

The similarities between childhood education and higher education are that they both intend to encourage new awareness and knowledge about the world and new skills to live more fully.

And I don’t understand my job as one that is supposed to coddle anyone.

So I guess I’m trying to say that the childhood education thing has got my mind turning about how to continue to structure more deliberately programs that build upon what students already know about these difficult topics, that encourage new skills at awareness and interaction, that develop new knowledge about the world, and that prepare students to live more fully.

And I don’t intend always that these programs or events will necessarily or exclusively be “fun,” but they will be things that students want to do and need to do for the sake of doing them and for the sake of learning. And if they don’t, then I’ll take it to mean that I didn’t do a good enough job preparing the program in the first place.

Because if we can make a two-year-old do something simply by structuring the right educational environment for them, we certainly can make grown 18, 19, 20, and 21 year-olds think about their world in ways that will prepare them to live more fully, as well.


*The book I’m musing about here is Theories of Childhood and is written by Carol Garhart Mooney.