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Volume 18, Number 1
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Q + A:
Tech Messaging

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Tools and Tips for Online Communication

Campaign Monitor E-mail marketing software created specifically for designers.
campaignmonitor.com

Dopplr “Monitor the movements of top people in your field using Dopplr,” says Liz Danzico. “Invite them to speak when they’re planning to be in town.”
dopplr.com

Emma An e-mail marketing and communications service for distributing mass e-mails, forms and surveys. myemma.com

Google Alerts “Set up Google Alerts so that you will be notified whenever new Web content is created about your faculty and students,” says Alice Twemlow.
google.com/alerts

Google Analytics A free service for tracking usage and visitor data on your Web site.
google.com/analytics

Mint A tool providing in-depth information about who is visiting your site and what they’re doing while there.
haveamint.com

The continuing cultural and professional expansion of online communication has resulted in rapid and deep changes to many of the fundamental operations of an institution like SVA. From the move toward online application and portfolio submission to the increasing availability of distance-learning opportunities, the use of networked technology has in many ways increased efficiency and widened access to the College.

As technology-driven approaches become the norm in higher education, social-media tools such as Facebook and Twitter and communication platforms such as blogs are also radically changing how administrative offices and the departments communicate with prospective and current students, alumni and the general public. Eric Corriel, a multimedia designer at the Visual Arts Press, spoke with several department chairs and administrators at SVA about how they are using these technological tools to get their messages out and how those messages are being changed by the technologies.

What do you find most compelling about the new opportunities presented by social media?


Liz Danzico, chair, MFA Interaction Design Department
I think a lot of people have a tendency to be afraid of these tools, but the reality is that they’re nothing more than networks of people. Instead of having a single point of communication you have hundreds of thousands of points of communication. The opportunities are tremendous.

Debbie Millman, chair, MPS Branding Department
Not to mention that many of these tools—Twitter is a great example—give you an easy-to-reach, captive audience and tremendous visibility. Twitter comes to you; you have to go to blogs and Web sites. Twitter is a great thing for a brand, because it allows the brand to simultaneously reach farther and in a more intimate way, which is truly an incredible thing.

Joe Cipri, executive director, Division of Continuing Education
A great challenge for CE has always been how to cultivate a sense of community. CE students are part-time students and generally do not have a dedicated space in which to interact with peers or faculty. My aim is to use social-media tools to create and foster a community where we can interact directly with people and where people can interact with one another.

Michael Grant, director of communication
At the end of the day, as a college of art and design, we are all united in preparing artists, writers and designers to excel and contribute to the culture. As ‘curators of information’ in that culture, we try to find the right place, format and distribution channel for pieces of news or bits of information. Whatever content we’re putting out has to demonstrate who we are in some way, and now there are even more channels through which to transmit that message.

What are your thoughts with regard to Facebook? Are you using it?

Steven Heller, co-chair, MFA Design Department MFA Design uses Facebook and Twitter a lot. They’re the gold standard at the moment. That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. The more you can get the message out—assuming you have something to say—the better.

Alice Twemlow, chair, MFA Design Criticism Department
I find using Facebook to be a pretty clunky experience. With it, I have no control over appearance, design or presentation. I use it because it’s an essential part of my students’ lives, but I prefer to send e-mail so I can control the design and appearance.

Danzico
We use Facebook as a marketing tool, much like everyone else. But if we said we’re not going to send postcards through USPS because mailboxes are ugly, what kind of message would we be sending? Mailboxes can be seen as fantastically ugly, but that doesn’t mean we’re not mailing things. Facebook may be ugly for sure, but that doesn’t mean we’re not using it—it’s the distribution channel we have.

Cipri
Facebook is a great distribution channel. In fact we just initiated a new advertising campaign to increase awareness about our courses among speakers of Spanish. Previously we’ve taken out traditional print ads in various Spanish-language newspapers to reach this demographic. By using Facebook, we are able to identify Spanish-speakers between the ages of 18 and 44 in the New York metropolitan area. Prior to launching the campaign, our ¿Hablas Diseño? Facebook group had 43 members. At the end of the 30-day Facebook campaign, 788 new members joined the group (facebook.com/SVAHablasDiseno).

Grant
Admissions also recently started an interesting initiative by creating a Facebook page called School of Visual Arts: Student Edition where current students are essentially blogging about what it’s like to be a student in New York City, which is important for those considering coming to school here from out of town. I also find Facebook useful because I can see what kind of interest our content generates right away—people can ‘like’ a piece of content or comment on it. There’s a degree of interaction that happens there that we didn’t have access to before, which guides our thinking on what kinds of content is meaningful for people.

How about Twitter?

Twemlow
I find Twitter a fairly elegant and well-targeted tool for projecting what’s going on inside the department—who’s here, what they’re doing, what they’re talking about.

Millman
I use Twitter in very much that same way—primarily for really short, instant-commentary communication, such as any kind of public message. For example: ‘Applications are currently being accepted.’

Danzico
My assistant, Qing Qing, and I developed a content strategy guide for what we post to Twitter. We first imagine that every office conversation we have about faculty or department news could be overheard by someone passing by. Then, if we think the passerby would be interested in what we were saying, we post that news to Twitter.

Grant
That sounds like a pretty good content strategy. As a college we use Twitter to be more visible to journalists—to let them know what’s going on at SVA.

How are you using your Web site?

Twemlow

I had a scheduled launch date for the program and I knew I wanted the department’s Web site [dcrit.sva.edu] to be as automated as possible. The site underwent two phases of development. During the first phase the site was essentially a container for information about curriculum and the faculty and for some articles about design. Then we began to realize how important it would be for students to have a centralized place to archive their work and promote themselves. This insight dictated the second phase of the site’s development, which gave students their own profile pages where they can post their writings, blogs they write for, and Facebook and Twitter contact information. Every time a faculty member or student creates a blog entry it can pop up on our home page. This is a great way of keeping the site fresh with quality content. After all, there’s a reason why we selected our faculty and students—because they’re brilliant!

How are you using other online tools such as blogs, Flickr, or e-mail?

Twemlow
Our department uses Flickr to give a visual sense of the life of the program, the places we go, the people we meet.

Heller
In MFA Design, the blog is a testing ground for some students and an outlet for others. It’s a great place for our master’s students to write, comment, critique and share their research and observations.

Cipri
We went a slightly different route with regard to the blog. We established it not to promote the program directly, but really to establish another presence on the Internet. Our goal was to remain friendly and intimate and report on the New York art scene. We hired alumnus Michael Bilsborough [MFA 2006 Illustration as Visual Essay] as a blogger. Since it’s been established, we’ve gotten more than 1,000 unique visitors per month—a community that would not have existed without the blog. With regard to Flickr, we have well over 1,000 images of student work there. [http://flickr.com/photos/sva-continuinged]

Grant
It’s certainly important to find a good fit between the platform and the person delivering the content. It’s very easy to go wrong otherwise.

Do you have any advice that you would like to give to your peers who are starting to use online and social media?

Millman
I think that anyone not using social media to get the word out is missing a tremendous opportunity. This is a critical component of brand building. My advice to department chairs is to get a Twitter account, learn to use it—it’s not hard—and start tweeting. Each tweet can only be 140 characters long, so it doesn’t take a lot of time.

Danzico
I’d add that it’s important to know that the technology needed to implement these tools is not prohibitively expensive. Often the best choices are the easiest and cheapest things to implement.

Heller
I think the simplest thing is to start a news blog. Issue posts on a daily basis about what’s going on in your program’s field, then build from there. A news blog will at least get the department on the map, and it’s something you can promote as well.

Grant
With all the available communications options available to us, more than ever it’s important to step back and ask the question, ‘What am I trying to accomplish?’ There’s no point in communicating just for its own sake—not everything has to become a tweet or a Facebook post. At the end of the day, people getting together in a room is still extremely compelling. We have to make sure we’re doing the most we can to help people in our community connect with each other and be able to find other creative people. That’s real success.

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