Friday, September 07, 2012

Telling HBCU Success Stories ... Condensed Version

On June 4th, I posted a long note on this blog, HBCU Websites -- Some Best Practices, that made the following assertion:
"As the manager of the Digital Learning Lab (DLL), I have visited each of the 105 HBCU Websites every week since 2003 in search of announcements about their academic achievements or upcoming academic events, i.e., announcements and events related to their teaching & learning, their research, and their community service. I then post links to these announcements on the DLL's "Gateway to HBCUs" Web portal and also add them to the DLL's searchable database."
In other words, the Gateway to HBCUs is a gateway to a growing collection of HBCU success stories.

In my previous note, I expressed my agreement with the emerging consensus that most HBCUs were not presenting their success stories effectively. But I also registered the following dissension:
"However, I disagree with most of the specific suggestions I have encountered as to what HBCUs should do to remedy this situation because most suggestions haven't focused on the most important tool for managing the public's perceptions of what HBCUs are all about ==> their Websites."
In 20-20 hindsight, it's clear to me that my dissension was too mild, possibly because my previous note was too long. So here's a no-holds-barred condensed version ... :-)

Blogs and tweets and Facebooks and whatevers don't have a fraction of the long-term impact and importance of an HBCU's Website. Websites are an HBCU's digital newspaper, the online searchable repositories of its records of success. Of course this means that HBCUs must recognize that whenever they do anything noteworthy, they should announce their achievements in press releases on their Websites and link the press releases to more complete reports wherever such reports exist.

If anyone wants to know what an historically black college or university has done in historical times long past, they should check out its pages on Wikipedia; but if they want full descriptions of what an HBCU has been doing in the last few years, they should be able to find out what they want to know by searching the HBCU's Web pages. Websites are the only medium under HBCU control in which they can tell their stories in their own words in fullest detail.
  • Whereas a Website reports an HBCU's news, its blogs are op-ed pages that presidents, provosts, deans, chairs, informed faculty, and concerned students and alums can use to express their opinions about the news an HBCU is making ... or not making.
  • Twitter is a marvelously flexible communications tool with many uses, but special emphasis should be given to its capacity to drive readers to an HBCU's Website by blasting a series of headlines to its followers that here and there provide links back to full stories on the Website.
  • Facebook is only searchable for a short period of time, currently only 30 days; hence this limitation disqualifies it as the ultimate repository of an HBCU's achievements. Moreover, its readers usually prefer summaries to full descriptions. So tweets can drive readers to an HBCU's Facebook page for highlights, but the Facebook highlights should link back to the full descriptions on the Website for readers who want to know what really happened.
  • Online HBCU Service Providers should be engaged by HBCUs as de facto partners in broadcasting the news of their success to the wider HBCU community and beyond. These dedicated media succeed or fail to the extent that they engage their readers' interests in positive news about HBCUs. (Readers can always get whatever negative news they crave about HBCUs from the mainstream media.) So HBCU success is their success, and vice versa. Needless to say, they are superbly adept at managing social media to attract the most attention to the stories they feature. Just as Oprah can turn any decently written book into a best seller, these digital entrepreneurs can quickly add buzz and bragging rights to an HBCU's achievements that no amount of its own blogging and tweeting and Facebooking could muster. Here's a short list of some HBCU providers that I am personally familiar with. Please note that appearance on this list is not an endorsement; nor does omission reflect a derogatory judgment:

    HBCU Buzz Inc ... @HBCUBuzz
    -- HBCU Career Center ... @HBCUCareerCntr
    -- HBCU Connect ... @HBCU 
    -- HBCU Digest ... @HBCUDigest
    -- HBCU Lifestyle ... @HBCU_Lifestyle
Finally, I pay my respects to the exceptions to my opening remarks that most HBCUs don't tell their stories well. Most don't, but some do, and they do so very effectively. One of the features on the "archives" page on the Gateway to HBCUs is a set of lists of the HBCUs that have made the most academic news (in my judgement, of course) in the last 14 days, the last 30 days, the last 90 days, the last year, etc, etc, etc.

Last 30 Days ...
Here's the Top Ten for the last 30 days on Friday, September 7, 2012. The numbers in parentheses are the number of stories that I found on their Websites that described their academic achievements and notable academic events in the previous 30 days.

Top 10 Academic Newsmakers -- last 30 days

Last 365 Days ...
And here's the Top Ten for the last year as of Friday, September 7, 2012. Again, the numbers in parentheses are the number of stories that I found on their Websites that described their academic achievements and notable academic events in the last year.

Top 10 Academic Newsmakers -- last 365 days
As you can see, many of the same names appear on both lists, with a few additions and subtractions. In other words, about 15 to 20 of the 105 HBCUs are making the effort, week after week, to tell the world that they are doing important things, things that still need to be done, things that might not get done if they didn't exist.

Related Notes: