Re-Evaluating Your Engagement Strategy: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now
CASE District I wishes to thank August Jackson for their generous commitment as our 2020 diamond sponsor of the CASE District I Conference Achievement and Accolades Awards program. August Jackson has been a CASE DI sponsor for four years.
Four months into the COVID era, rapid change has become the new normal. And in every conversation about it, the talk inevitably turns to: what are you seeing? What are others doing? What might happen next?
The best place to start is with acknowledging a basic truth: nobody knows for sure what comes next. That doesn’t mean, though, that the news is all bad.
Right now is, for all of its uncertainty, a great time to look deeply at your engagement model and question the assumptions on which it’s built, and see where today’s challenges are actually tomorrow’s opportunities. More digital, for example, can also mean more accessible, and hybrid models mean geography can be less of a challenge than it was. These are just two quick examples—all of the challenges we face right now, and all of the changes we’re making, can turn out to be good things with the right mindset.
Another way to look at that is to ask: how would I design my engagement strategy if I started from scratch today?
That can seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. You can break this effort down into manageable pieces that, when taken one-by-one, don’t have to overwhelm, but which will add up to significant progress when taken as a whole.
We’ve identified five things you can start thinking about, and acting upon, today in order to look with fresh eyes on your audiences, your goals, and your engagement.
1. Think About Your Milestones
In the early days of COVID adjustment, immediate needs naturally took precedence. Now that the frenzied early pace has (hopefully!) slowed, we recommend taking a longer view. Look at your next 18 months of milestones—significant dates including not only those you’ve already adjusted for but also things that might, today, still feel far off. How might the roadmap for the next 18 months look if you started designing it today, knowing everything you know now that you didn’t know four months ago? Evaluating your milestones this way can help shift you from reaction to action, and also help you see the possibilities in a new way.
2. Audit Your Events
We’ve found that many colleges and universities have a number of events on the calendar that started for good reasons but no longer make sense, or don’t have a justifiable ROI. These are hard things to evaluate and change as part of the normal day-to-day, but now that change has come from the outside, we recommend taking advantage of it.
On a basic level, we recommend looking at all of your events and evaluating them according to:
- Messaging opportunity
- Priority ranking
From there, consider where you can establish alternatives, where you can make cuts, and where you can get even more out of what’s currently working. There’s a great opportunity here to potentially do more with less, and at the very least become more focused and efficient with your approach and resources.
3. Audit Your Digital Assets and Content
Websites and digital assets have to work harder now. They have to serve their original purpose and also carry the weight of new virtual needs. So, ask: does your current website and digital presence do everything you need? Where are the gaps?
Similarly, with your content, do you have the kinds of stories you need to be telling in this new reality? With all of the current distractions, it is more important than ever to develop relevant interesting content.
What about your celebrity alumni—are they more available to participate in virtual events or help to tell your story in ways that would have been impossible four months ago (and might be again four months from now)? What about dormant creativity on your team—can you pilot a creative project that didn’t fit into the schedule before?
Now is the time to look at your communications library and get it working not only for today but for the future.
4. Define Success and Goals
What does success look like for you, and how will you measure it? This isn’t as simple as it sounds, so the idea here is to make it personal. What looks like a good goal in the abstract, or a means of measurement that works for someone else, might not make sense for you. For example, you might have a very broad, strategic goal of “better internal alignment and cooperation” or you might have a very specific, tactical goal like “50% more engagement with young alums on the west coast.” Look at what you need to improve upon, understand if it’s high-level or granular, and set in motion a program to test and measure ways to get there. Now’s the time to experiment.
5. Find Your Partners
Very few teams will be able to do all of the above on their own. What kinds of bridges might you need to build over the next two, six, 12, and 18 months to help you navigate change and get where you want to be? Apply this thinking internally at your institution, and equally to your roster of vendors and outside partners/agencies.
Change is always difficult even under the best circumstances. Right now, in the shadow of a busy and complicated world, it’s even harder. But the good news is you don’t have to figure it all out at once. By taking the five steps outlined above, and giving yourself and your teams space and time to see possibility even in chaos, you can emerge from this time having not only survived but having made necessary and important changes that will position you for long term success in a way that might not even have been possible four months ago.
From strategies for branding and messaging alignment to creative approaches to signature events, August Jackson’s dedicated team of philanthropic readiness and communications consultants understands the unique challenges of higher education communications and strategy. We’d love to talk with you. Visit our website to get in touch for a conversation today.
About the author(s)
Neal works as part of August Jackson’s consulting team to help clients understand and solve for their communications and creative challenges.