Student communications should run like a tattoo shop

23 Jan

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?”

Photo by Ahmed Arup Kamal, 2009

Photo by Ahmed Arup Kamal, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

In higher ed, resources will always be spread thin and work hours will seem too few to accomplish “the real work”. I can sometimes feel overwhelmed and so I take projects back to my bubble cubicle and work on them alone. If you meet deadlines and deliver good work, is this caring? I call it “doing my job.”

The tattoo artists on Miami Ink work with their customers to educate them and improve uncoordinated designs. So, to care more I’ll:

  • develop communications guidelines with examples of best practice;
  • offer communications workshops for Student Services staff; and
  • share analytics and metrics with infographics.

But it can’t stop there.

Kickin’ it into third

More and more I’m caring about how other communications staff across campus are communicating to students. Do any of these look familiar?

  • You ask for a blog post and receive a PDF
  • You ask “what are your goals?” and get a blank look
  • Someone uses clip art
  • Someone uses Snap ITC (Comic Sans’ bitchy older sister)
  • There’s no call-to-action
  • Someone uses excessive punctuation because one question mark just isn’t exciting enough

If you solely focus on what you’re producing it will getting lost in the noise. Your work is a small slice of the student experience.

Sharing is caring

Share what you’re working on: the strategy, the process, the lessons learned. Blog about it, tweet about it, meet informally with other student communications staff about it. Learning from others and share your experience.

“Authority comes from the people you help”
– Brian Clark and Sonia Simone, Copyblogger Media and Authority Rules

Show your ink

Communications principles are not second nature for everyone, so don’t be afraid to offer advice. Tattoo artists prompt people for better ideas and interpret these into an improved design. Exactly the skill communicators need.

Rally a knowledge community in your insitution. If you want to improve the university experience for students, you have to care.

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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in student communications


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