What the student affairs professional learned about marketing

Age of engage cover

Perhaps I have succumbed to the dark side. At a recent trip to the local bookstore, I found myself lured toward the business section, that mysterious zone beyond the computer manuals. I ventured there thinking I might find something practical about using new media – aka Web 2.0, aka Social Media, aka the LiveWeb – to engage students in the life of the University. (Yes, I am aware of the irony of going to a bookstore to learn about the internet.) What I found was Denise Shiffman’s The Age of Engage: Reinventing Marketing for Today’s Connected, Collaborative, and Hyperinteractive Culture, a book that I have found immensely useful in rethinking how we communicate with students.

For most of my career, I have shunned the M-word. I don’t do marketing. I do communications. I considered marketing the domain of the pushy and crass. I am not “selling” anything. But in the face of widespread disengagement in co-curricular activity among students, I turned in desperation to the world of business to find out how to “sell” the kinds of experiences we know provide meaningful learning opportunities and build lifelong civic participation skills.
What I discovered is that the dark side isn’t so dark at all. The Age of Engage chronicles the transformation of marketing from the “static, flat, corporate-created web” to the “interactive, social and user-created web” and explains why marketing’s new value set includes concepts of transparency, authenticity and voice. Gone are the days when the successful marketer simply pushed a message out, hid the truth and “listened” to customers through surveys and focus groups. Today, successful marketers engage in conversations with customers, involve them in product development, invite and publish feedback – even negative feedback. Sound familiar?

Replace the word “customer” with “student”, the word“company” with “university” and the word “product” with “learning” and The Age of Engage becomes highly transferable. Shiffman gives us a quick overview of all the Live Web tools – web logs, wikis, podcasts, tagging, social networks, etc — and then uses the remainder of the book to talk strategy — from how to rethink your value, to how to create a voice for your organization through vision and story. Lots of examples – from Apple to Wal-Mart – of both successes and failures help give this book credibility.

Since picking up The Age of Engage, I have learned, through a colleague, of another book on this topic: Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. I probably won’t get to that one for a while so if anyone else out there has read it, please comment.

— Deanne Fisher

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