Whitman Updates Advertising Strategy with Social Media

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Illustration by Julie Peterson.

Illustration by Julie Peterson.

Starting this year, Whitman College is increasing its presence in the fast-paced social media world. Whitman is integrating social media into its advertising strategies in order to help Whitman reach a larger audience of prospective students, current students and alumni

Whitman has demonstrated its commitment to new social media approaches by increasing student involvement, including commissioning Film & Media Studies students to create commercials for the school. Whitman has also created two new positions this year specifically for social media strategies. Director of Digital Communications Kristen Healy joined Whitman this past August and Digital and Social Media Specialist Sarah Corley began in September.

“Using social media in our advertising and communications in our strategy creates a more authentic voice. Obviously we’re supposed to say good things, we work for Whitman, but having social media from the students is a better portrayal of Whitman’s personality,” said Chief Communications Officer Michelle Ma.

These social media forums include a TwitterLinkedInInstagram and Facebook for the college. Each medium is used to reach a different demographic. Twitter is used for a more universal audience, LinkedIn targets professionals and an alumni network, Instagram targets prospective and current students and Facebook is geared toward family members, specifically parents.

The need for the two new positions became apparent over the past year or two as prospective students have increasingly researched colleges through online forums.

“I think that because there is a movement toward more web presence [and] everything is moving to digital … the job was necessary. I would argue it is just becoming more necessary in the past five years and it has become more of a need for everyone, not just colleges,” said Healy.

Having these two positions is useful to the college because it allows for a broader depiction of everyday life at Whitman.

“Our presence is like a digital view book. Students can get the picture version of that.  It’s a lot of where our target audience is and it’s important that we be there and answer any questions that we have and show that through our online presence” said Corley.

The newest addition to the advertising campaign is the @ourwhitman Instagram account, which exists alongside the @whitmancollege account. The @ourwhitman account exclusively features photos that are taken by students. In this format, one student takes over the @ourwhitman account for a week and posts photos or videos once or twice each day.

“Its really hard to convey in paid adverting what is different about Whitman. We talk about intimate relationships, small staff-to-student ratio, hands-on learning, essentially the liberal arts. So I think these stories and photographs really tell people what is different. You can tell based on everyday happenings portrayed by students,” said Ma.

The new Instagram account is geared toward prospective and current students. Having this account run by students allows a student perspective to come through in the college’s advertising.

“I was told to depict Whitman through my eyes. I was told to really take photos as if it was a day in the life. To make it more personal, that was the communications goal in order to target prospective students,” said first-year Meghan Ash, who took photos for the @ourwhitman Instagram account.

Through these new social media approaches, the Office of Communication hopes to reach beyond the Whitman sphere to a greater audience that might not yet know about Whitman.

Because Whitman’s dedication to a digital presence is new, the success of the shift will only be clear in the years to come.

“I think it has been really successful within the Whitman community, but I don’t think it has reached the community outside of Whitman yet. It’s really popular among Whitman students, but I don’t think it has reached its full potential,” said Ash.

The challenge with social media that Whitman faces, as many other colleges do, is trying to keep up with the changing field of online media.

“I think one challenge is just focus. There are so many things you can do and you have to choose … do we need to Snap Chat [or use] Tumblr? What ever we do, we need to make sure it reflects Whitman authentically. Our goal is try to make this place come alive to prospective students and our audiences,” said Dean of Admission & Financial Aid Tony Cabasco.

Another element of the student-led advertising for Whitman are the recent commercials made by Whitman students. Students made four videos to draw in prospective students considering Whitman as well as larger schools.

The theme of the videos was the intimate and personal learning experience Whitman offers its students.

“I think it’s an authentic representation of the creativity that our students share and what Whitman fosters.  It also showcases that Whitman is capable of giving students the freedom to create,” said Professor of Film & Media Studies Robert Sickels.

These videos were also used to bolster Whitman’s online presence.

“The [film and media studies] Facebook page alone got 12,000 hits in four days. It’s of increasing importance to have a better online presence, a more intriguing, more evocative one. It’s a way to further separate ourselves from the competition,” said Sickels.

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