Best Practices for Improving College/University Reputation and Brand Recognition in the Digital Age

After the second world war, cold war ushered the era of government sponsored research. Government funding built and sustained higher education institutions. Workshops, conferences and journals ruled. Few media giants made and destroyed brands. As cold war came to an end, he world order changed. Governments reduced their research budgets. Hundreds of media channels were born. Internet was privatized and commercialized, Google came into the picture, social media flourished, and smart phones revolutionized communications. Academic capitalism funded by diverse corporate sources took on a new urgency. Power was distributed.

As the world order changed, a new set of rules emerged to build and manage the reputation of colleges and universities. Becoming known as a college of consequence now takes talent, discipline, money and digital smarts. Born out of our experiences in serving higher education institutions, here are the seven best practices for improving college/university reputation and brand perceptions in the digital age:

1. Invest in Branding
Leading universities invest in their brand and refresh it periodically to keep it resonant with society. In our view, a brand is the sum of all experiences, be they virtual, experiential or architectural interactions. It is the DNA of an institution that affirms its purpose, defines its core values, creates distinction and is the foundation of its reputation. Successful colleges are revisiting their brand once a decade.

2. Celebrate Heroes
Reputable institutions know that the real hero of their story is their students, alumni, faculty and partners — with the institution being the enabler of their heroic journeys. Their never tire of telling their stories. If their people are involved in consequential endeavors, the institution will naturally build a reputation for being an institution of consequence.

3. Transform Flagship Publication to a Print/Digital Hybrid Publication
Successful universities reimagine their print university magazine as a print/digital hybrid publication. Instead of publishing it bimonthly, quarterly, biyearly or annually, they rollout stories digitally on a weekly schedule, SEO-optimizing each for search engine rankings and promoting them on social media. They are effectively weaponizing each story based on the institution’s thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital. They supplement the digital publication with a leaner and nimbler print publication. Read “Why Your Alumni Magazine Should be Both Print and Digital.”

4. Create Thought-Leadership Blogs
Most reputable universities are encouraging their presidents and thought leaders to create and manage thought leadership blogs. Read “Best Practices for Establishing Thought Leadership.”

5. Create and Hold New Symposiums and Conferences in Areas of Competitive Advantage
As knowledge multiplies and is refined, needs emerge to foster fresh conversations in those new niches. Leading universities are funding their leading faculty to create and manage new symposiums and conferences in emerging and niche topics.

6. Create New Centers of Excellence
Top universities create porous walls between the institution and community partners. They are connected with the vitality of external communities including corporations, non-profits and civic organizations. They are creating new centers of excellence that fuse community and academic interests.

7. Engage in Image Advertising Campaigns and Highly Selective Sponsorships
The strongest higher education brands reserve a portion of the marketing and PR budget for image advertising and highly selective sponsorships designed to shape the image of a distinctive, positive and memorable brand.

As more universities face demographic, endowment and government funding challenges, their pursuit of market-like activities will expand. The smartest ones are investing in protecting their intellectual property, marketing their unique thought leadership, building their brands and dominating Google and social media.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to fortify the reputation of your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.