Six Questions

Six Questions with Rachel Reuben

Rachel Reuben: higher ed digital marketing rock star.

Rachel Reuben has been a marketing communications and web professional in higher education for 15 years. At Ithaca College she is responsible for the communication, recruitment marketing, and client marketing services groups, as well as the newly formed creative services unit. Prior to her transition to Ithaca College in July 2010 she was the Director of Web Communication and Strategic Projects at the State University of New York at New Paltz for nearly 14 years. For more information, visit her web site at

1. You’ve talked a lot about strategic social media use. What changes are you observing in how people use social media?

It seems the paradigm has begun to finally shift: many in higher ed finally see the value of social media as a legitimate marketing and customer service tool. Just two years ago I was still attending and speaking at conferences where individuals were still largely skeptical.

2. What is the most significant shift college and university marketing & communications departments should make to better serve their audiences and institutions?

I think more people should place a higher value on metrics, particularly web analytics. There’s a tremendous amount of information and value that can lead to resource allocation and strategic direction buried in all of that data, when set up and used properly. There’s a lot of power in there. Some may find they need to shift their focus to the mobile experience, or at least make it a higher priority. Some may find a huge amount of their traffic is coming from Facebook that leads to certain goal completions (such as filling out applications, registering for events, donating, etc.) and should pay more attention to the content they curate there.

3. What’s O.S.S., and how do we deal with it at work?

Oooh Shiny Syndrome! We’re in another bubble reminiscent of the late 90s and early 2000s (is that what we’re calling it??) with new sites, tools, services and apps popping up weekly. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and buzz, but more important that we take a critical approach to their assessment and value. They may not be around tomorrow or next year, so would you want to hang your hat on a major initiative or strategy to affect one of your institutional goals?

Ask some basic questions:
How will this site/service/tool/app help us achieve one or more of our goals?
What is the adoption rate like?
Are demographics available yet?
Are they a match for one or more audiences you’re targeted?
Do you have the resources to support this ongoing?
Often it’s smarter to stay on the pulse by observing what others are doing, using these shiny tools as your own playground to get acquainted with it, and using them as a listening post if applicable.


4. How important is mobile to what you’re trying to accomplish?

Ask Dave Olsen []. I kid. (Well, not really.) Mobile accessibility and compatibility is now expected, not a “would be nice” feature. Our audiences expect at least basic information to be accessible on mobile devices, and there’s becoming a greater expectation to be able to conduct transactions on mobile platforms as well. It’s a key area that is continuing to grow, mature, and change every time Apple drops a major new product into the marketplace it seems. Again, I’ll point back to data — at the very least someone from your institution should be regularly looking at your web analytics and see what size of your traffic is accessing various aspects of your site from a mobile platform, and start from there.

5. Many institutions still have one-man shops when it comes to web. What advice can you give communications managers on advocating for resources for the web?

Drink lots of wine.

Though I’m only half kidding, I can’t even begin to imagine a one-person shop any longer. It was acceptable in the mid/late 90s as HTML and CSS were still in their infancy, we were still getting a handle on how we could measure web site usage and effectiveness, etc. The web has completely outgrown any one person. No longer can the web be managed by a jack of all trades. You need people who specialize in designing for the web (not just print, and it’s not an easy move from print to web, but that’s another conversation), you need writers/content strategists who understand how to best write for the platform, you need people who understand user experience and information architecture, you need marketing strategists, and you need programmers. And that’s just scratching the basic surface.

In some of these one-person shops, they’re also the only one handling the institution’s social media accounts, they’re attempting to find time to squeeze in review of marketing analytics, they’re the email marketing coordinator, they’re managing servers, and so much more. That’s just not practical, and that kind of splintered focus will not do the college or that one person justice. The web has grown far too big to be managed by one person. Fight the fight. The web is not new, and it’s not going anyway. And drink some more wine. ;)

6. Are you noticing any new trends? And if so, which ones should communicators pay attention to?

Responsive web design, mobile and content strategy have been the hottest topics buzzing in higher ed circles in the past year or more and shouldn’t be ignored. But, I am particularly interested in the trend to do more with web analytics than just spit out useless data such as “hits” to pages, and believe marketers and communicators (to an extent, depending on their specific focus) should pay attention to this area. While this isn’t a cutting edge trend, it’s being talked about more and we’re learning a lot of information can be gleaned from this data. As I mentioned earlier, when the proper segments and goals are set up, there is a lot more that can be done with that data to help make strategic decisions about content, navigation, where you put your resources, and more. Communicators would also benefit from diving in to keyword search reports, both from their local search engine and from the major search engines on the web. There’s a lot that can be learned about what terms people are searching for and what pages they are landing on, and how you can optimize content accordingly.


6a. Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?

Oh goodness. My boyfriend is going to hate to be associated with me for admitting this in such a public forum — but I’ve never watched either. Gulp. There, I said it.

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By Donna Talarico

Donna Talarico, a Red-Stapler-winning HighEdWeb presenter and volunteer editor for Link, is an independent writer and content strategist. She is the marketing columnist for Wiley's Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners, and her work has also been published in CASE Currents, The Guardian Higher Education Network, and elsewhere. From 2010 to 2015, she told the Elizabethtown College story as part of an award-winning marketing and communications team. Always a storyteller, before higher ed she worked in print and broadcast media, and for a leading eCommerce company. She is the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, a bimonthly creative nonfiction journal and small press. She loves road trips, board games, greasy spoon diners, and words.

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