engagement metrics, initiatives & other programs

Digital Marketing & Higher Ed: A chat with Kevin Renton of eCity Interactive

As an Engagement Specialist at Tassl, I’m charged with putting together the pieces of the alumni experience in a way that tells a story of engagement. A unique part of our job here at Tassl is to always be exploring excellence in higher education, finding the people and organizations that are reshaping the industry.

One such company that’s certainly delivered is eCity Interactive, a Philly-based Digital Marketing Agency with an impressive list of university clients including UPenn, Rutgers University, and Pace.

More and more aspects of our lives are moving online, and Higher Ed institutions are no exception. One facet of that transition is the frontier of online storytelling: using video and other content to capture the attention of your audience while stirring them towards action.

Providing a unique, personalized experience for your college or university’s stakeholders has shifted from a nice-to-have to a must-have in recent years, which makes partnering with the right digital agency more important than ever.

So needless to say, I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Kevin Renton, Director of Business Development at eCity, to talk about...

  • Why he enjoys working with Higher Ed clients;

  • The unique challenges that Higher Ed institutions face when it comes to engaging alumni online;

  • The idea of “Content Shock” and how to break through to your alumni with personalized messages;

  • His vision for the future of content creation/broadcasting in Higher Ed.

What do you enjoy most about working with Higher Ed clients?

Working with Higher Ed clients and getting a different view from different institutions. It’s fascinating how there are a lot of similar pain points, but the challenges and goals of a client are almost always unique in some way.

Finding those different challenges for different institutions and then building a partnership to help them conquer those challenges is probably my favorite part of the job.

What do you see as some of the unique challenges your customers face in Higher Ed?

One of the challenges of institutions comes from the way they are structured. Maybe Marketing is separate from the Alumni Magazine, which is separate from the [academic side of the] school, which is separate from Admissions.

They have different goals, but there’s a commonality there and if we could just get the content brought into one place where we could manage it and oversee it and get data out of it, we would all have meaningful data that’s actually going to help us.

That’s a major challenge for schools because the content is in all different places and pockets as well as the data. Just getting that data for them is a big challenge.

You had mentioned "Content Shock" as a hurdle that anything being posted online must overcome. Can you explain what you mean by that?

“Content Shock” is best described by these statistics: The average US consumer spends about 60 hours/week consuming content-- a massive number. But the rate at which the amount of available web-based content doubles at something like every 9 to 15 months.

So the amount of content is constantly doubling, but the individual you are trying to engage with only has that finite amount of time and attention available, and they’re already kind of maxed out.

So what can Higher Ed institutions do to get over that hurdle?

There must be a sincere effort towards “delighting your customer,” which means going that extra step and doing something that’s going to surprise somebody.

You need to do something that’s just 10x better than what anyone else is doing because you need to surprise them to make them feel ‘wow, that was a real, personal engagement.’

It can be small like a social media mention or retweet, but to make it personal, to make it human... it’s quite challenging.

What trends are you seeing out there in regards to Alumni Engagement?

A lot of our customers are now interested in the Inbound Marketing methodology or framework based on personalized experiences for users.

In the past, they would communicate with prospective students or alumni or donor relations folks using Outbound Marketing: Print advertising, cold calling or conferences and email blasts.

Now they’re asking: “how can we do something more meaningful with our content and get it to a place to bring people into the content--whether it be the alumni magazine or the main website or a newsletter.”

It seems like understanding what the Alumni want to hear about is important to making a connection, correct?

Definitely. The average person is receiving about 80 emails a day. Once you’ve found the alumni you want to reach, the next hurdle is making it personal!

55-60% of emails that people are getting are business solicitations, so you must ask, "how do you then get to that point where they’re opening OURS, they’re engaging with it, maybe even replying to it?"

If you could set up the perfect content structure, how should a school structure themselves to provide the best digital experience for their alumni or students?

This is a technically difficult problem to solve. I think you need to have a central content hub, where any content that’s going to be published needs to feed through this content hub and then it can be published from there to the appropriate real estate or even external real estate.

From an SEO point of view… Take a university that has 12 colleges, and say one specific college is creating some great content about a research project they’re working on. The other schools or the university want to publish it for their Alumni Magazine or featured on their Online University page, but that is going to flagged as duplicating content. So there’s an example of a technical SEO problem there that you would have to deal with.

If you had a central hub and then you could manage where a specific piece of content is going to be published, it only needs to go in one place and then you can track that data.

People probably aren’t going to come in through your home page anymore to find this content. So if you’re going to create an article about your research and it’s on a particular page of your university website, they’re going to throw those search terms into Google to find the page. They’ll be brought to your research article and it doesn’t necessarily matter where it is, as long as it’s been published and SEO maximized so you can go in and get that search data.

Lastly, it has to be quite open, where somebody from a school can just come onto this platform and just use it to send out their content and you must make sure that it just doesn’t become a bottleneck or gatekeeper. Has to be a platform for all the different schools can use it, and then the hub will enable your content to get where you need it to be and most importantly we can get the data from it.

Thanks again, Kevin, for a little education in the digital experiences that are shaping the future of Higher Ed!