Joel Goodman and Jon-Stephen Stansel are joined by Eddie Francis, Director of Communications and Marketing at Dillard University. Eddie discusses his work in HBCU Comms, building communities, and provides advice to predominantly white institutions on caring for their Black communities.
Communicate Constantly: Lessons from HBCU Comms Transcript
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Welcome to the Thought Feeder podcast. I’m Jon-Stephen Stansel. And with me as always is the illustrious Joel Goodman. And with us today is Eddie Francis. Eddie is the Director of Communications and Marketing at Dillard University, Louisiana’s oldest historically Black university. He began his career in higher ed at Southern University at New Orleans where he built the university’s brand, including the development of its first institutional logo, a redesign of suno.edu and an unprecedented television advertising campaign, and SUNO’s social media platforms.
His bachelor’s degree is a mass communication from Loyola University, New Orleans, and he is a master of Professional Studies candidate at Tennessee State University. When he’s not working on Dillard’s brand, Eddie’s hosting his podcast, For Our Edification. Thank you for being with us, Eddie.
Hey, thanks a lot for having me guys. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Yeah, really excited to have you here. You know, we’ve talked on Twitter a little bit and you know, this is kind of the first time we’ve got to interact somewhat in person, in this digital format. But, I really love what you do and what you talk about on Twitter and our interactions are always really positive.
And, and one thing I noticed, one reason I wanted to bring you on the podcast is almost every time we talk on Twitter, I see use the hashtag #HBCUComms. Right?
And it occurred to me. I don’t know that much about HBCUs, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and I need to fix that. And I think that that’s true for a lot of us who don’t work in that, that area. So to start us off with what should those of us who don’t work at HBCUs know about them and what lessons can we learn from them about marketing and communications that we can apply to our own schools and better serve the needs of our students?
Well, the first thing I would say is don’t beat yourself up about not knowing that much about HBCUs. We make up less than, I think, 3% of the college marketplace overall. And you know, I’m not, I’m not a product of an HBCU undergrad. Although, you know, my dad graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana, an HBCU, my mom got her master’s from Xavier, and I have lots of relatives who went to other HBCUs such as Southern, Morehouse, Spelman.
But for me, you know, just to give you a bit of personal history, I grew up in New Orleans, a predominantly Black city, about 60% Black, went to a Black elementary school, Black church, I went to a Black high school. So when it came time for me to look at a college, I wanted to see some other folks and I really, really wanted to learn about other types of people. And so believe it or not, when I actually worked at my first HBCU, there was a learning curve for me. Even though, even being in a Black fraternity, there was still this learning curve.
And one of the things that I learned, especially with my wife, who my wife is a product of an HBCU, she graduated from Hampton, one of the things I learned, she did her dissertation, on, on, fundraising capacity-building at HBCUs. And just by listening to her and thinking about the experiences that I had when I worked at SUNO, when I worked at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, and even before getting to Dillard, one of the things that really, really, I think, trips a lot of people up about HBCU is they learn the hard way that you have to at least have, if not an understanding of, you at least have to have some deep appreciation for history, sociology, and a study of race relations.
All three of those things converge when it comes to HBCUs because there is so much packed in. So much information. And so the combination of these institutions making up such a small portion of the college landscape, the fact that you really realize that when you start to learn about them, there is so much context to the history, there’s so much context to race relations, there’s so much you have to understand about sociology, that I think it’s really understandable that a lot of folks may not necessarily understand or know too much about HBCUs.
But the thing that people really should know is that, there, there are a lot of conversations about HBCUs and a lot of the conversations that we have are about the importance of narrative and the importance of owning that narrative. And I think a lot of colleges and universities, regardless, go through this, I think a lot of two-year colleges go through this kind of conversation, you know, of asking, what’s our narrative? How do we own this narrative? But I think at HBCUs, one of the big things that people can learn is that we focus so much on that because there is so much history. And then you take a look at the types of students that we serve in a lot of cases. A lot of times our colleges and universities will serve students that are about, I don’t know, the population will be 80 to 90% Pell-eligible students.
So a lot of them come from these backgrounds where we really, really have to understand who they are, we have to understand where they come from, and what that does is it really speaks to how we have to serve them.
So by the time it hits the Marketing and the PR landscape, by the time it gets to us, we’re sitting here going, okay, so how exactly do we do tell this story and how do we tell this story in a way that’s competent? How do we tell this story in a way that the students are gonna feel appreciated? That, you know, that they, that they don’t feel like there’s some sort of product or something like that. Or they’re not some sort of, you know, some sort of experiment, but I will say this, Ever since I have, been at Dillard, one thing that I’ve, I’ve adjusted as far as my, practice of PR, marketing, and higher ed comms, is paying much more attention to internal communications.
And that’s, and I think that’s something a lot of people really don’t include a lot of times as part of a PR, competency. Because our students are very, very vocal about telling us when they feel that they are not being communicated to in a transparent way or an authentic way.
And, you know, and I got called to the carpet by, you know, by a student once and, and she was just like, listen, you know, this COVID thing is really crazy for us and we feel like we’re not hearing enough from a university. So what’s going on? If y’all don’t have any answers, say you don’t have any answers. And so I think those are a couple of things that people can really learn from what’s happening in our world. I think just understanding the importance of narrative, but then also understanding that part of your strategy needs to also be tweaking your internal communications plan.
That’s an excellent point. And I think that’s something we all can learn from right now. Specifically with internal communications, cause I think with external communications, there are so many layers of approval, right? That, you know, we have to get from director of communication all the way up the chain, sometimes even to presidential level. But internal communications, how many people at our campuses have access to send a full faculty, staff, student email without any sort of approval?
And, and I don’t think we often understand that internal communications quickly become external. Those communications get screencapped, shared on Twitter. And I think you’re right, you know, about, you know, students being very quick to respond on Twitter and tell, tell us, they don’t think we’re doing a good job.
So, so how do you improve those internal communications?
Well, I think one thing, number one, listen to the students. that is the biggest thing. Listening to the students and listening to their families. You know, students, again, I really thought this student brought up an excellent point in saying, if you guys don’t have an answer, just tell us you don’t have an answer right now. And of course, there’s that part of me that goes, “Yeah, but if I tell you I don’t have an answer, then what are you gonna say?
And so, and so you sit here going, they’re going to blast us on Twitter if we say they don’t have an answer. But her point was, at least you’re being honest, because one of the things I really love about the students that we have at Dillard is that they’re really good at saying things like we know that we have some bad apples who get on social media and say some out-of-pocket stuff. We know we got them and you know what, administration? Just don’t let them sway what you’re trying to do, because you have a lot of good students who understand what’s going on. And if we don’t understand, we want to understand. I think the students, I think they show a pretty nice level of emotional intelligence, in that way, with us.
And so I, I know that our president, you know, Walter Kimbrough, you know, who on Twitter famously, the @HipHopPrez, I know that he’s really good about going back and forth with them and, really establishing he’s established some great rapport with the students, but I think, um, I think it’s really a reflection of how much he has done to really communicate with them, honestly, to communicate with them transparently, but then also to be authentic in how he delivers news to them.
And so I think that’s really something that’s probably the biggest thing I think with internal comms is to realize that you’ve got to listen to your audience. You gotta listen to your customers, and you’ve got to let you gotta let them help you guide things in a certain direction.
Now. All that being said, you still have to have some kind of a plan or you still have to figure out what you’re going to say, how are you going to say, when are you going to say it? It still does take, even though we hate it sometimes, it still does take pouring over this one sentence in an email going, “do we really want to say this, this way?” And you know, of course right now with us living in this pandemic world, now it’s a bunch of people pouring over one sentence for about three hours going back and forth and email and, or getting on a Zoom session and, and, you know, you’re sitting here going, okay, when is this ever going to get out? Because we have to get this out.
Yeah. And that’s where, where you kind of strike that tricky balance of crafting your message and getting it out on time, where I think having some of those, those kinds of preloaded, “we’re working on it,” messaging where “we’ll get this out to you soon. We don’t have an answer for you now, but we’re putting it together,” and being transparent about that can be really useful and buy you a little more time. But also endear you to your audience a little bit, and kind of temper it down a little bit, where they go, “okay, they’re listening to us. We know something is happening, but.” so so many times I think people are quick to ask a question, like, what are you doing now? And it’s like, well, we just found out about it five minutes ago. Okay. Give us a second.
And ain’t no, in this pandemic… one of the things that makes this pandemic and I, I know, I know you talked about this ad nauseum and I’ve talked about it ad nauseum, but I think it’s worth repeating almost every single conversation that every comms professional has. And that is, this thing, if you’re a Star Trek fan, this thing’s like the Kobayashi Maru. Okay. I mean, there is no winning this thing. And the best thing you can do is figure out how you’re going to make the best of a horrible situation.
I remember one day I was talking to my team and I said, listen, guys here’s what we’re up against. There are three positions I would not want to have in this university right now: President, Vice President of Institutional Advancement, and Vice President of Business and Finance. I wouldn’t want any of those positions because the president is almost always going to be wrong, even though he is making the most competent decision he can possibly make.
Institutional Advancement, everybody’s going up to him and going, okay, when’s the money coming? Gotta go raise get some money. Hey, just go to the Gates Foundation. They’ll give you some money. Like everybody thinks that fundraising money, (snaps his fingers) it just magically appears.
And then for business and finance, this person is in a position of figuring out, am I going to have to cut stuff? What am I going to have to cut? How’s this going to work?
And so one of the things that, that I really think that president Kimbrough has done, that has been great, he’s brought students under the tent and he said, “Hey, listen. This is how this works. This is how higher education is right now. It’s not just Dillard, it’s everybody. What do you think?”
And the students have been able to talk through that sort of thing. And so that does carry through onto social media when we have this, this small army of very emotionally intelligent students who are able to communicate with other students, Calm down, just calm down. we’re all gonna get through this.
And right now, one of the things I’m most pleased with, I’m going to brag on the students really quickly, but one of the things I’m most pleased to see Dillard students doing is that they are sending these serious Mask Up messages to each other. Oh, you know, wear your mask. Wear your mask. You know, if you don’t do this, not going to have that on campus. And so I, you know, so I think that’s what a lot of those conversations are looking for right now, but that also guides how we’re doing internal comms.
I think that transparency portion is super important, you know, with your president being able to be that open and willing to bring the students into the conversation and tell them, you know, this is what’s happening. We have some ideas of how to deal with it. What do you think?
And we’ve seen this in every industry too. That was what happened at the beginning of the pandemic with a lot of business leaders, they were going to their staff and saying, we may not be able to stay open, these are our options. And the ones that have been successful and have, kind of thrived as much as they can during the pandemic are the ones that, took into account everyone that has a vested interest in the organization. That’s really cool.
And I think what we’ve seen a lot in higher ed is Leadership that’s not being as open as I think they could be and not being as transparent and inclusive of their students as they could be, and of their faculties, as they could be.
And I think that level of friction is what has caused a lot of the negative conversation that we see on social media or, like in, in Georgia, the faculty uprisings in the Georgia State system and all that kind of stuff. I think it’s just a, it’s an important lesson for everyone that transparency and inclusion and, I think it comes down to humility, too, right?
It’s like, you know, it’s a level of being able to say, you know, I may be right, but I don’t have to use that as a power device over everyone. I can bring other voices into it and let them speak into it. And maybe there’s a better way to do it. And if not, at least everyone feels a part of the process.
And that diffuses a lot of the anger and frustration that I think people have when they’re just sitting in the dark or don’t feel like they’re participating in something that’s important to them.
Joel, I’ve heard you say on a couple of episodes that higher ed tends to operate from a space of fear.
And the first time I heard that I DMed J.S., and I was just like, yes, somebody understands! Because we do, we do operate from a space of fear. And I’ve really given this a lot of thought lately that, you know, in, in comms, you tend to have a lot of people who come from the private sector into higher ed comms and what you have with these competing attitudes about how to get things done.
Because in comms, there are a lot of risk-takers. You know, we’re sitting here going, go for it, just go for it. Let’s see what happens, you know? and, and, and especially those of us who came from the private sector but then in higher ed, and I used to be so highly critical of this, but I understand it more, that there’s so much to lose.
And so, for instance, in the pandemic right now, you have so many students who are saying, if my college goes online in the fall, I’m going to sit out and, you know, you’re sitting here going, are you really going to sit out? But then you can’t take that for granted. You just can’t.
So, As frustrating as it can be because again, I’m a risk-taker, but as frustrating as it can be for me, I can understand how so many colleges and universities are going to sit there and say, listen, listen, we have to read it really, really go through this, and we have to really, really figure this thing out before we say anything about what’s going on. And we have to say the exact right thing.
And then it turns into, well, do we address the students on social media or do we address them internally? And I’m sitting there and going internally, internally. No, social media is not the email. No. Internally. (laughs)
And that’s the other reason I brought up internal comms is that there’s such a need for comms departments to really think about what their internal communication strategy is going to be because I’ve seen it too many times. And I think I’ve heard, I think I’ve seen you tweet about this, J.S., and I, and I think I’ve heard you say it also that when people start relying on social media to be the medium to communicate with students, then you run into a problem because then too much your stuff is out there. But then also it’s an invitation for the students to kind of cut loose a little bit and, and you’ve kind of lost control.
And you have to then as an administration and as leaders, you have to maintain some semblance of control, so you can and do the business of the institution. So, again, as frustrating as it can be for me, I do understand why so many administrators do operate from that space of fears, but you know, I still try to nudge them along a little bit, as much as I can.
It’s like family news. You were saying like talk to people internally. It’s like, if you get engaged or your, partner is pregnant or whatever, like you tell your family first, you know, you, you discuss or, or when you, you know, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re down on your luck, you lose your job, like you, you talk to your family first, you, you bring them into it and get their opinion and, and get their support. You don’t. Just go out and blast that news to the world necessarily, you know, are these, I mean, most people do it that way. And I think that’s because, you know, family’s important.
And, as much as I have some issues with higher education campuses being like families. Cause I think there’s some other baggage that comes along with that, but it’s true. Like the people that are closest to you and are closest to the organization are the ones that should be involved in. Maybe it doesn’t have to be in decision making, but, you should tell them first, like, you know, like communicate to them first.
I think we have to be careful too though. Let’s say using the family metaphor you get pregnant or, get engaged and you share that with your family. Five minutes later, you’re tweeting that out. And I think the same sort of thing is happening with, our communities on campus.
You know, that email goes out and immediately people turn to social to start sharing their thoughts on it. So we have to be cognizant of that, the way those dominoes fall, and brace ourselves for it.
But if you do it in reverse, your family is angry at you, your students are angry at you, your faculty’s angry at you, your staff’s angry at you because, because you didn’t tell them, you just, you just kind of blurted it out.
Yeah. And I really do think of internal communications as, I think of it the same way, the way, you know, I thought about it in the private sector because, in the private sector, you’re looking at it as informing your teams and then also informing your customers, but you’re doing it in a way, again, that you are somewhat in control of the information that you send out and it’s, and it’s something that you’ve thought about. And you’ve also thought about how you’re going to respond to whatever comes along. So you’ve worded it carefully. and I think the same thing applies to higher education. I just don’t, I’m not sure in higher ed we’ve thought of an internal communication strategy that way. other than, you know, (laughs) send the email out and they’ll understand.
So, yeah, I think, and it’s so funny. We had this very conversation. I laughed about the family comment because we had this very conversation. We know you’re always going to have the students who say, “you said this place is like a family, but there’s something wrong.” And, and a couple of us in the administration joked one day, it’s like, we never said we’re “kind of” family … I mean.
So, we all have challenges. So, but I think, I think there’s a conversation to be had there though about when you communicate to families and students, “we are like a family,” I mean, that’s really nice on the surface. Everybody wants to be a family, especially, in midsize to smaller schools. Everybody wants to be a family. But, are you really? But by using that word, are you creating an unrealistic expectation for some folks? So that’s why we’ve had a lot of conversations about talking more about being a community. And then even with community, we get into these long conversations about, okay, but everybody is a community too, so what do we do now?
That’s one of the things that we’ve been talking about is how do we talk about that sense of connection that folks have on campus and how do we do it in an honest way?
Well, I’m glad you bring that cause this is something I kind of want to talk about in our discussion here about, you know, one thing I’ve noticed and you recently surveyed your students about what preferred social mediums they like, and it was Twitter. And one thing I’ve noticed about our students, and particularly our Black students on Twitter, is that there is this strong sense of community that they form on Twitter. Like when I do my social listening and I see these interactions and, that they’re reaching out to communities on other campuses. And, and there’s this cross-communication that, that I, I don’t see from a lot of our other students.
And, I love it. I think it’s just, it’s, it’s just everything I love about, Twitter is happening in these communities. So how can we as communicators better foster these, these communities with our students, and even be a part of them? Or should we be a part, you know, I’m big on interacting, but there’s also, you know, certain spots where I think, okay, maybe this is not where they want a university voice to be.
So providing that balance, but, encouraging those communities to, continue and, foster that.
Yeah. You know that, and it was interesting cause I was looking at that question and, and I was wanting, and I kind of struggle the word foster because with Black students, I’m going to think quickly back to my experience when I was in college and you know, a Black student at a predominantly white institution and for us, we have to form this community. And the reason we had to form this community is because a lot of times we didn’t feel heard. We didn’t feel understood.
And it was always so funny to me whenever, the fraternity system, whenever we would have these conversations because when I joined Alpha Phi Alpha at Loyola, I was actually part of the third line ever in the history of the chapter. and there were only three, national Panhellenic council chapters, divine nine chapters. So it was us, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta, at the time I was there. And I remember that the members of the predominantly white fraternities will come to us and ask, “Well, don’t you think it’s kind of racist to have a Black fraternity and a Black sorority?” And we were sitting there like, no!
First of all, half of y’all wouldn’t let us in if we tried. And then the second thing is, we know what happens in some of your houses. We’ve heard some stories from the few Black members who were in there, but then the third thing is why can we not have our own space to discuss issues that are important to us? And that’s what these organizations serve to do.
And it’s the same thing that happens when you have a Black chapter of the, Oh, when you have an undergrad chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Society of Black Engineers, you know, you have these chapters because Black students need this sense of community. Because I remember vividly, even though for me, it was 25, 30 years ago, I still remember vividly that it was very frustrating to think that I wasn’t really being listened to. And to also think that even, if somebody did listen to what I say, would they actually act on what it is I really wanted? And that’s, and that’s really something that, I think a lot of us, really, really need to pay attention to, especially with Black students in predominantly white spaces.
I mean, I often think about “Concerned Student 1950” from the University of Missouri and I’m thinking, okay, we’re five years down the line. What have the improvements on that campus been like? Are Black students really being listened to right now and I, and I really really hope the answer is yes, I really hope Mizzou has done a lot of things to show so that they are really working with Black students and listening to Black students. But even more than that, they value the presence of Black students.
And I think for, I think for universities, you know, really, doing something as far as, kind of taking the ball from here, I mean, I think this comes with your internal comms strategy. Communicate with these students directly. let them know you have heard what they said, acknowledge their concerns, and actually listen to their concerns.
I think one of the mistakes that, some of the administrators at predominantly white institutions make is that they’ll quote-unquote, “listen” but they’re not really listening. They’ll say we’re going to do a listening session, but they’re really there so that they can let the Black students know that they know there’s a problem. And as sincere as they may be, it just doesn’t mean anything if the students don’t feel that they are actually being listened to.
And I think also if you see what’s happening on social media and you want to take it from there and do something very real with it, I think it also helps to help students understand what the policies of the institution are. How those policies, how those Diversity and Inclusion policies are being carried out. And I think also giving students a seat at the table. Don’t just tell them that you’re going to go back to the ivory tower and do something about it. You know, let the students have some kind of voice.
And I think that’s so great, you alluded to this earlier, Joel, that you think is so great that that president Kimbrough gives these students this space and that’s really, it’s, it’s interesting. When I was doing those focus groups, J.S., one of the things and this word came up about five times. Students talked about having access to the administration. And they felt that that was a big difference-maker for them. They felt that they had something at Dillard that their peers at other institutions just don’t have.
And it doesn’t have to be the president before someone in the administration, to grant Black students access and to actually have real conversations with them and to give them a plan to say, this is what we’re going to do, knowing that these students are going to graduate. But you have to, you have to at least find some way to communicate that, Hey, even after you’re gone, this plan is still going to be happening. And I invite you to check in with us and to see how things are going.
And I think for Black alumni, what really, really gets to them is if they felt that they weren’t listened to, they felt that nobody heard what they had to say, they felt that nobody was really serious about what they had to say, and then five years after they graduate, they start getting the donation appeals. And that angers, that angers a lot of Black alumni from predominantly white institutions. And a Black alumni weekend won’t do it. Okay? You know, giving them crappy seats in the end zone at the football game, that’s not going to do it.
There has to be some real action behind it and the administration has to show that they are serious about making some sort of change. And no, a vice president of Diversity and Inclusion? That won’t cut it either if there aren’t some policies, some actionable policies that, that D-and-I officer is able to put in and able to get a seat at the table and actually make happen.
So it just can’t look pretty, you know, and it can’t be, I’m just going to sit here and listen to you for a while and make you think that you know, that I’m doing something. Black students really need to see something happen.
I think that’s nail on the head right there. And one thing, you know, we’ve really encountered lately is some of the hashtags that are going around, of, of students sharing their, their experience. You know, there’s the #BlackAt-, and there was a #BlackAtMizzou there’s Black at, you know, almost you just, you name it, that university had that, hashtag or the #BlackInTheIvory hashtags where students were sharing their experiences of racism encountering on campus.
And those conversations were happening on social media. So how would you suggest universities address those concerns? Should these conversations be on social media? How do we let those students know that one, we are listening, but also change is going to come from that?
You know, I really think if you’re going to follow one hashtag and really, really investigate it, #BlackInTheIvory would be the one. Because that’s where you run into some of the most hurtful things you’ll ever read. I mean, we’re talking about people whose scholarship has been flat out plagiarized, and there has been no penalty. No penalty whatsoever for people taking their work.
And these are all a bunch of folks who have gotten together and said, I thought it was just me. I thought this just happened to me. I didn’t know this was really happening and you’ll see the same thing in the Latino community. You’ll see academics in the Latino community, they talk about the same issues. And so I think one thing, and I’m gonna use Black in the Ivory as an example, I think if you see that someone has done some scholarship, and they’re being locked out of conversations or somebody just flat out just taking their stuff, I think one thing that needs to happen is that they need to know that the penalties for people who are plagiarizing their stuff are gonna be just as harsh as anybody else.
Because one of the things that you hear about, some of the things you see in the #BlackInTheIvory hashtag you’ll see people say, well, somebody thought that I plagiarized something and I had to sit through a hearing. I had to sit through these academic dishonesty hearings and all this stuff. But I know for a fact that someone else who was white did the same thing and nothing happened to him. And they’re sitting there like, yeah, you know, Turnitin was like at almost 90% with this person and nothing happened to him.
And so. You know they’re having these, conversations that really, I don’t care what color you are, you gotta get angry when you read them. And so I think what colleges and universities need to do when they see this sort of thing happening on social media, number one, again, they have to acknowledge that they saw it. They can’t act like they didn’t see it. They’ve got to acknowledge that they saw it. And I think, when they do reach out to students directly or alumni, even, directly, they’ve got to say, we saw this hashtag on social media, we saw this conversation happening. Cause that’s the only way they’re going to prove that they actually paid attention for a lot of Black students.
And then again, besides the actionable steps, as far as, you know, bringing folks to the table, I think also penalizing other folks and to be blunt, penalizing white students or white alumni who were doing some dirty stuff, penalizing them!
And Black folks have got to know that these folks are being penalized just as much. Because they’ve got to see that the policies are being carried out equally. And those are some of the biggest things that I see, those are some of the biggest complaints that I’ve noticed.
My wife has her Ph.D. And so she has stories because she got her Ph.D. from an elite university and she has stories from colleagues of hers. Same thing, people saying, you know, I was actually looking at something and I was applying for this grant and it was with this foundation. And somehow my scholarship got to this foundation and they’re passing it off as their own stuff.
And so, you know, those are some very, very real conversations. And of course, there’s nothing you can do when you have a, you know, some kind of foundation doing it. What can you do? But if it’s called out, somebody’s gotta have their backs. And, and, and it would help in that case, let’s say this person went to that institution and said, Hey, I just need you to know I worked all this time to do this dissertation. I defended, you told me it was great. Now I see this outside institutional organization using it. I need you as an institution to have my back on this. And I need you to tell folks this is so-and-so’s work, this is what it really is, you know? And, and at least if the institution has that person’s back and says publicly, somehow, this is so-and-so’s work, then at least, at least the students can say, or at least the alumni can say, Thank you for at least try and thank you for at least showing that you care about what happens to me and my scholarship and what happens to my work.
So I think one thing to point out because, J.S., you alluded to Twitter specifically. And when I talked to the students about why they, why they love Twitter so much. And it was funny, I talked to a focus group of 30 students, 26 said they prefer Twitter. It wasn’t even close. I mean, and it was so funny. I brought up Instagram and it was just like, meh, and then Snapchat, they said, “Ha, ha, ha. That’s old data, that’s played.” And then I brought up TikTok and they said, “that’s funny.”
But I think what it is, is that Twitter provides this community because there’s the immediacy of communication. I think the, I think just the raw interface of it. You can look at these comments and you can just go right down a line and say, I can’t believe I’m not the only one going through this. Somebody else is going through this, you know, look at this hashtag we are all dealing with this.
And, and I think, for our students, it gives them this opportunity to also communicate authentically with one another. I think for them, and it’s really funny because they, they will, our students will come to us and say, Yeah, I made a complaint and nobody listened and we’re like, okay, well, who did you complain to? It’s like, “Oh, it’s on Twitter.” And I’m just like, okay, did you, did you email so-and-so about it? And, and some of them are like, well why would I do that? Who’s going to listen to me?
So I think what happens is that they start to believe that if nobody else is going to listen to me, Twitter’s gonna listen to me. And I’m going to have these people who are they’re going to surround me, and they’re going to say, I know what you’re going through. I’m going through the same thing. I have the same problems and nobody is listening to us.
So even if it’s something, even if their perception might be a little off about the university’s responsiveness, it’s still that sense of community and I think it’s still for them having a place where they know other people are going to listen to them.
That’s absolutely fantastic. And I’ve got a million things I want to ask and add because you just touched on so much there. So, so first. I want to applaud you for surveying your students and doing, doing the data-driven. Cause so few people do that. And there’s just this assumption that we know where our students are on social media, and that it’s at the same on. And we put them all on the one. We want to put them all in one box. We want to say, Oh, well, all the, all the young kids are on TikTok right now, we gotta start a TikTok account, but it’s different for every campus.
When I was at Texas State University, that was a Twitter campus. Every student was on Twitter. It was really very active and vibrant. I’d put up something and two seconds later, it was up to, you know, 200 likes and comments and all of this. At UCA it’s dead, but we can’t neglect it because there is a small contingent of students who, for them, that is their space.
And we can’t neglect that. We can’t have blanket solutions for social media, for every campus. We have to ask our students, we have to look at what’s going on before we act. And I think that that’s incredibly important to do.
And so few people do it. So, you know, kudos to you.
It was, it was, it was, it was so funny. I was talking to somebody not too long ago and it was somebody from off-campus and, we’re having this conversation about social media and you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then she goes, she goes, yeah, I know your students are really gotta be into Instagram.
And I said, no, not really. I mean, they’re active there, but they’re not as active there as Twitter. And she goes, Oh no, please. And I said, no.
She said, “well, what makes you think so?”
“Because I asked them.” (everybody laughs)
Because, because that was my biggest thing. I kept hearing people say, our students are on Instagram, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And the thing is so interesting is, you know, and it shows on Twitter. I mean, right now, Dillard has, Dillard is a campus of about 1200 students. So we’re a small campus, but we have over 10,000 followers on Twitter. And Instagram, we are at 60 to 62 something, but we’re under 7,000. But the place where we get traction if we want to put anything out there, if we really want to rally the students, Twitter is the place to do it.
And when I did my, when I did my survey, when I did the focus groups, I did a presentation for the administration and I went through this you know, I went through this whole thing with them about the importance of language and all this good stuff. And by the time I got to the social media part, I asked him, I said, so what, what platform do you think the students prefer? And everybody’s going, “Oh! Instagram. Easily.” And somebody goes, “no, it’s gotta be Snapchat,” and somebody, “no, no, no. It’s gotta be Instagram.” And they’re going back forth. And when I said Twitter, somebody almost said, “I don’t believe you.” Because, I, I heard it. I heard it about to come out of someone’s mouth. And I said, I asked them, I asked them.
And honestly, I didn’t believe in myself. Um, so, you know, and that was, and that’s why I was so glad I did the survey because I shut myself up about it. I was like, Oh, wait a minute. This is different. Now, this is way different. So we wound up shifting o social media strategy because of that, because of that student focus group.
And it’s such a simple solution: Ask them, like, they’re there.
I want to make the business case for this very, very clear. If you actually know what platform your students are on, you don’t have to give yourself extra work to do on these platforms where they’re not, you don’t have to waste your time and you can take that time and that energy and put it towards things that actually make a difference for your institution.
There’s the business case for it. Ask your students. It’s easy. Just ask them.
Yeah. And that’s, and that’s always my question. My question is always, well, what do the students think? We’ve actually been talking to alumni. Now, alumni tend to, they tend to prefer Facebook.
Yeah, that was, that was going to be my guess. (laughs)
But the one, the most underutilized platform for us was LinkedIn. And we have, over, when we started using LinkedIn, we had about 9,000 followers on LinkedIn. And I think right now we’re at 9,600 and that was a couple of months ago or a few months ago. And so it, the account was unbranded we hadn’t been doing anything with it. Now we have these highly engaged alumni.
You know, we’re getting something, you know, and I, and I kept telling everybody, I said, we are missing a boat on LinkedIn. We’re missing it. We’re missing it. And it was so funny, when we first had the conversation, folks are going well, who are you going to talk to? The parents? And I said, no, there are alumni. And there are potential donors there. We need to talk to them. We need to let them know what we’re doing. We need to toot our horns and toot it real hard and a lot because that community wants to know, why is your university worth the investment?
And so we have really, we’ve really amped up our presence on LinkedIn and it’s already, been something that’s really good for us in terms of reaching alumni and engaging alumni, but then also engaging folks outside of Dillard to, to get some interest in what we’re doing there.
I think a lot of institutions also forget that you have graduate or potential graduate students on LinkedIn as well. People that are professionals and already in jobs. They’re going to be on LinkedIn. It’s a great place to develop that area for recruitment and, and you don’t have to focus on just the social, social mediums.
You can look at the professional social medium.
Yeah, I love, I mean, I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn.
I’ve been nudging J.S. towards LinkedIn a lot. There, there are things I don’t like about LinkedIn in general, as far as the types of content that a lot of people post cause it ends up being very fake, very inauthentic. Or, or the, you know, the typical business, self-help type of stuff. I think that’s what rubs J.S. the wrong way, but I keep nudging him to be a little bit more active. And he’s getting great traction with his posts on LinkedIn.
It’s I don’t know. I’m gonna convince him one day.
I just need to put the time into finding the proper voice there, because I think what we have to remember, is each network has its own language. And what’s working for me on Twitter right now, my kind of acerbic, frustrated social media manager screeds, doesn’t really fly on LinkedIn. So, you know, how can I, how can I take that same kind of idea and those same concepts and, and craft them in a way that, fits the voice of LinkedIn and develop, more of a, a suit and tie version of what I do on Twitter?
That is, that is a great, great point. Cause I’m the same way. I mean, what I do on Twitter, I cannot even begin to get away with on LinkedIn. So I have to, I have to shift gears so much mentally when it comes to what I do on LinkedIn. And, and my posts are few and far between. So I mean, I might post on LinkedIn once every two weeks sometimes.
I think for a lot of people on LinkedIn, they don’t care how often you do it. What they care about is what you do. And so they’re not sitting there going, Oh, he hasn’t posted in a week. He must be sick. I mean, it’s not anything like that. They’re just going, Oh, this is a good one. I really like this, and this is really thoughtful and this was very professional and this is, and this is something that I need, need to see today.
But Joel, I’m with you. I mean, the thing that does rub me the wrong way is that there are folks, they just, they just post stuff that, it just doesn’t work because they don’t realize that that is just not the forum to have that particular discussion.
It feels very spammy in a lot of cases. It’s like, come on guys, give me something worthwhile.
Yeah Yeah. You can get a nice can of spam on LinkedIn, sometimes, you can.
I think for the institution, though, we do have to post frequently. We can’t get away with, you know, doing once a week. I mean, we, we have to have something there every two or three days. And for me, normally for me, it’s news items or for me it’s alumni achievements. And the alumni achievements, that’s the big sell. I mean, that’s when we really get alumni excited, we recently had an alumna who became the president of York College and that post had such high engagement from alumni. and so I’m sitting there just fist-pumping, going, yes! Yes! Yes!
And to me, the best social media reaction, I think, I can get from alumni is when they say things like I am so proud to have graduated from Dillard. To me, that is the ultimate alumni compliment. Because if you can put something out there that makes them say that, then they’re engaged, they’re waiting for the next thing, and who knows, who knows? You might have an alumnus who becomes a faithful donor to the institution. Who knows what you’re getting out of it? But you just need to get them, you need to get them excited about having, attended, this college or university.
It’s kind of that service after the sale, sort of, you know, I can kind of compare it to like brand loyalty. Like my past three cars have been Hondas. If I win the lottery tomorrow, I’m going to go buy a Tesla.
But most likely my next car will be a Honda. But my university, I can’t change that. Like, I will always be an Arkansas State Red Wolf and, and I need to be proud of that, forever. Like, and what the university does to share what the university’s doing gives me that, feeling, that makes me, either likely to maybe not just donate, maybe, you know, talk it up and somebody else donates or, you know, it’s not it’s, we can’t just always think in dollar signs or, you know, tell my, friend that they should send their kid there.
You know, all of these sorts of things kind of build-up. And, providing that loyalty, that sense of pride for your alumni is a great thing.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
All right, Eddie. That’s amazing. We’ve touched on so many points and I feel like I’ve learned a ton, and I’m probably gonna be bugging you on Twitter with some follow-up questions here in a little bit.
But do you have any plugs? Where can people find you?
Well, the thing that I would definitely love to plug because I mean, this is a great opportunity for Dillard University and I love my employer. I love working for them. So I would definitely encourage everyone to look us up, dillard.edu and on Twitter, which is where we’re very strong, @DU1869 is how you can follow Dillard.
And if you want to follow me, I’m @eddiefrancis, you know, don’t be too disappointed by what you see from me.
No, it’s great content.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Yeah, thank you very much. But yeah, you can follow me on Twitter and of course, yeah, definitely look up Dillard University on LinkedIn. We are putting a lot of work into letting folks know what we’re doing, at Dillard and, and again, how, how great it is to be a part of the Bleu Devil Nation. by the way, bleu spelled B L E U , at Dillard. um, yeah, so definitely feel free to hang out with us. We love company come on down for a spell to Twitter with us.
Thanks so much for listening to the Thought Feeder podcast. If you have not subscribed yet, you can do that on Apple Podcasts or hit the follow button on Spotify.
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We want to thank Eddie Francis from Dillard University for being with us today. Eddie, thanks so much for bringing your insights and your passion and, and it was, it was fantastic. Thank you.
Joel, thank you so much. And, oh, J.S., I forgot to tell you, Theatre forever, man. I was a Theatre minor, so, Theatre forever.
Oh, awesome. Another Theatre minor!
I’m so outnumbered!
Thanks a lot, guys.
Thought Feeder is a production of University Insight.