Student communications should run like a tattoo shop

By the power of Netflix, I’m burning through an average of 4 episodes a night of Miami Ink; a reality TV series featuring a tattoo shop, absurdly talented artists and a whole lot of semi-staged drama.

Tattoo artists have that special something

Six seasons of Miami Ink has taught me a tattoo shop works like this:

  1. Customer comes in with idea/printed Google Images/photo/Microsoft Word clip art.
  2. Tattoo artist works with customer on design.
  3. Tattoo artist sketches a (much better) design.
  4. Customer is excited.
  5. Tattoo artist creates work of art.
  6. Customer is ecstatically happy.

Apart from raw talent, how do you explain the outstanding results? They care.

They care enough to be honest with customers. Enough to educate them about why their idea sucks. Enough to work with them on a perfect solution.

I asked myself, “do I care enough?”

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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in student communications


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So? cial media in higher ed

How about those “top ten universities on social media” lists?

Sounds like I’m a standup comic and that’s my opening line to a joke. Those lists are.

How not to “engage” … or segue. Source: Mashable

I didn’t consider these lists worthwhile reading when I first entered higher ed communications. Seventeen months later, this stuff is still appearing like it’s news.

Why are we celebrating numbers of likes and followers in 2012 and why aren’t more of us questioning the term “engagement”?

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Social media for Student Services

Enrolment Services and Student Development and Services web content is evolving. Our content strategy will help students make connections between academic achievement, physical and mental health, involvement, and career building.

Student Services units will be represented within themed micro-sites, housing content based on student needs, not unit names. (Full migration to take place in 2013).

This new framework presents the question – should units continue to run separate social media profiles?

I’m leaning toward a central Student Services presence on social media.


All for one and one for all

Arguments against:

  • Some units have the resources and desire to speak to their own distinct audiences.
  • Some have existing online communities.
  • Some include social media tactics in their communications strategies.
  • Some have student contributors and that consistency is different to the tone and voice central Student Services channels will have.
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This is what lazy student communications looks like

Students tell us we send far too many irrelevant and impersonal emails to them each week. I can sympathise.

I see what you did there. You teamed literal coolness with over-used slang to relate to young people

I study a masters degree online with the University of Canberra, Australia (UC). I never read emails from UC, but thought I’d do a little research.

What did I find?

Emails that made me:

  • feel like a number
  • want to unsubscribe (but I can’t)
  • not want to read any emails from my university because it’s all spam, right?
  • go to and leave a negative review
    (okay, this was for academic reasons, but the day-to-day communications pushed me over the edge)

Some standout subject lines include:

“Quit Smoking Seminar”

I’m not a smoker (fact). I never have been (throwing in that line in case mum reads). Is it necessary to send this event out to the entire student body? Of coure not!

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Where we #FAIL our students

While shopping at Hollister over the weekend I laughed as every employee tacked on the line, “be sure to follow us on Twitter” as customers turned to walk away with their new denim shorts. It took everything in me to hold back a, “why?”

I pulled up the Hollister Twitter stream to see for myself. I’m often disappointed with brands on Twitter and didn’t expect much, but with every employee spamming departing customers with a “follow us” request, I imagined they’d be running a social media campaign … hardly.

My dislike for cheap requests for retweets aside, after reading their stream I confirmed I’m not their target audience:

RT if you’re shoulders are too cute to cover up! #SummerStrapless

RT if you’re #TakingItEasy this Summer in the hottest laidback tops!

Just chilling with #HotLifeguards ;) @GillyHicks

Remember, everyone buying Hollister gear is hearing the robotic, “be sure to follow us on Twitter”. At least forty percent of the twenty-strong queue were older than me. Soooo it begs the question, why are employees asking forty-year-olds to follow @HollisterCo?

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Let me share this whole new world with you

Student Communication Services at the University of British Columbia (UBC) was once a production shop. It went through significant changes before Janeen Alliston came on board last year remodelled the unit and its culture. We’re going to transform student communications at UBC.

One of our team meetings – ice cream boosts creativity. True story.

With Janeen’s leadership, the team now operates as an agency, where each of her Communications Coordinators provide strategic communications support for one to two of the fourteen student services units.

This team structure means we can match students’ information needs with each unit’s communications priorities, we can do away with competing messages and duplication, and we can organise communications in a way that is meaningful to students.

This blog post wouldn’t be possible without Janeen’s hard work and mind-blowing vision for student communications so please credit what you’re about to read to her (really, a lot of these words are hers).

Don’t you dare close your eyes

We have the data and we’re prepared to use it. Two key research pieces have helped us develop our new approach for communicating to students:

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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in student communications


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The five stages of having and losing an office

Workspace is a hot commodity in my building at UBC. Outside of having a part-time workstation, I’ve drifted from desk to desk, never achieving personal attachment to a space and the peace that comes with it … until a week ago.

1. Joy

Multitasking like a boss

I’ll never forget the day my Director offered me an empty office. I had a door and a window, not something one takes for granted, though essentially I was able to sit with my team, at my own workstation, with a butt-load of screens.

Have you ever noticed hotels including “opening windows” in their amenities list? I thought it was funny to note that, until I went without them in a government building. “Opening” is key.

I knew the office was a temporary solution to a larger office accommodation challenge (the next reality TV show on HGTV), only I didn’t know how temporary.

2. Increased self-worth

Almost instantly, I felt more productive, more focused, and more professional. I may have reached self-actualisation for a brief moment.

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