Given assessment work fosters partnership between many areas, one area I want to highlight is marketing. Considering existing connections between academic programs and student affairs areas, marketing may not be an immediate area considered for assessment collaboration, but there is great potential for mutual benefit (I’ll get to that in a bit). Moreover, marketing is an ever-changing area as efforts for institutions continue to shift and expand given the increase in applicability and use of social media, websites, and institutional message being shared across various mediums.
Just about any assessment guide will reiterate the importance of sharing assessment results (Maki, 2010; Palomba & Banta, 1999; Suskie, 2009; Upcraft & Schuh, 1996; Yousey-Elsener, Bentrim, & Henning, 2015), but institutions still struggle in this arena internally. The likelihood and willingness to share assessment information externally decreases exponentially. In general, institutions may fear sharing what is perceived as negative data, sharing information out of context, or may believe they are not allowed to share information externally. Assessment and Marketing can help work through these barriers or misconceptions:
- Data is neutral – it is not good or bad. Even if results are below established targets, there is still beneficial information to be shared in such a circumstance. There should be action steps or changes to be made to improve results. There may also be new insights gained from examining the data. Plenty of productive or “good” information to share out, without having to carrying a negative or “bad” tone.
- Intentionally craft your message. Effective sharing isn’t just sending out the report or spreadsheet of data. One should identify the audience, the medium and manner with which intended audience is most likely to engage with the information, and then which parts of the process or results will matter in the message. In other words, you are in control of the context in which you provide the information!
- Know institutional (and beyond) guidelines, rules, and policies. It’s important to understand institutional guidelines and considerations exist with respect to sharing data internally or externally. Be sure check the source of that information, too. Some folks believe or heard they can’t share anything externally without obtaining multiple levels of approval and legal scrutiny. While that may be the case in some situations, it may not apply at all to your survey about student satisfaction with campus activities.
Where the above elements may seem tricky, utilize your campus experts for assistance. Assessment folks can help interpret data and maximize the meaning and use from results. Marketing professionals can help with the rest. They’re subject matter experts in crafting messages and communicating with target audiences. They also know the rules, considerations, and processes for executing on any formal sharing. One might be surprised at how much freedom is granted to a department to share aggregated assessment information internally, as well as externally. Be responsible with any such freedoms and leverage content experts to help your sharing be effective.
A partnership with assessment and marketing isn’t just one-sided. Any time I’ve talked to marketing areas at institutions, while busy, they’ve admitted to being consistently content starved. In other words, they are always willing to hear or consider new content, especially if it might generate new engagement from different audiences or support any existing institutional campaigns or strategy. For institutions with multiple active social media accounts on multiple platforms, marketing folks may also be looking for specific types of information to share in different formats, so coming with ideas can lessen the burden for their work.
Marketing folks also appreciate working with assessment people given the nature of the content. Sharing information backed directly by data carries weight as it isn’t just opinion or second-hand messaging. Assessment information also provides an opportunity to link a single article/post/tweet to another institutional source (e.g., department website, institutional report) which may further drive attention, engagement, or other institutional message for the given audience.
Speaking of audiences, marketing areas target many populations, audiences, and stakeholders. This is great from an assessment standpoint for two reasons: 1) they may look to present the data in new/different ways given a particular audience and 2) it can spread content and introduce information via new communication channels. Such collaboration can amplify the voice and reach of an area, while also increasing opportunities for engagement across the institution.
Finally, it’s worth noting marketing departments have their own goals and objectives. As such, they can be an area with which assessment can engage to collaborate on projects or share complementary data sets. Interactions can also spur new questions or topics for assessment or evaluation work.
If you haven’t already, introduce yourself to your institution’s marketing team. Find out if there’s someone who could be a go-to contact for you and pick their brain with your ideas. Explain the work you do and look to understand their role, as this will help you both to think about opportunities to support or collaborate with one another. I hope such action leads to a fruitful relationship, but more importantly, increased effective sharing!