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How DePaul University is Preparing for a Digital Future
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Jeff Carrion of DePaul University

How DePaul University is Preparing for a Digital Future

A digital media specialist weighs in on the past, present and future of web content at universities.

posted July 26, 2012

In a recent post, we quoted Michele Pistone, of Villanova School of Law, who described the current model of higher education as “medieval.” That may be the case in the classroom, but at DePaul University, the administration is focusing on the future. Two years ago, they hired Jeff Carrion, who serves as their first Digital Media Specialist. Carrion walked into an empty room and faced the monumental task of creating a department that could keep up with agile small businesses and well-funded corporations on the world’s foremost information hub: the Internet.

Where do you start when you have a blank slate? With the help of another new hire, a web content administrator, Carrion started by outfitting his new department with computers, editing software, cameras and hard drives. A videographer and editor by trade, he was living the dream of every technology geek in the world as he perfected his workspace.

The only place to go was up. As they built a presence on social media sites and began creating content and engaging readers on DePaul’s websites, the audience grew by leaps and bounds. As Jeff said in a recent phone interview:

Readership was very low, things were very slow; there wasn't a lot of interest in it. There wasn't much going on. Viewership, views, Likes and fans have skyrocketed because of the flow of content we've provided. We've seen year-over-year increases in the several hundreds of percents.

Any university would be thrilled with such an improvement in their web presence, and much of DePaul’s success, thus far, is rooted in Carrion’s forward-thinking approach to content:

The distinction between creating, publishing and engaging — it’s all the same thing these days. It all happens at the same time, and you have to be concerned with all of that from the moment you create anything. In the office of public relations, we have five people who all have their hands in publishing to social media and engaging through social media. We really see it as something that’s very necessary to do these days, and something that we really make a strong effort to do. We think we’re really leading the rest of the university, in a lot ways, in those efforts.

And that isn’t the only way his team is leading the university. Carrion now offers demonstrations to other departments on how to use social media effectively and how to use tools like Google Analytics to improve views and engagement. He is constantly creating not just text content but also videos and photos, which can be seen on a daily basis on the school’s sites. Although he says the administration is occasionally concerned about their Web 2.0 approach, he is getting the support he needs. To the growing number of people listening, his case is very clear:

You just really can't be afraid of that these days, because you're not going to get the engagement. If you do social media without engagement, it isn't social media, it’s just plain media.

Digital media is the very way we communicate these days. Like myself, a digital media person may come into a media relations department, a public relations department, a marketing department, where you are going to have people who have been there for a long time who are used to the "old school" way of doing things: sending out a press release, writing it up in its proper format, sending it out to the news outlets in town, calling the beat reporters trying to get your story out there.

Digital media, in my opinion, has gone beyond being a luxury. It’s a requirement. You can't just put out text, you can't have text with one picture. Things need to be media-rich, things need to be social, things need to be engaging. There needs to be video, there needs to be photos. That’s what draws the most views and engages the most people. You can't say things anymore, like, "Social media is the future," because social media was the future five years ago. Now we are in that future, and now it’s a requirement.

Now you need to look at ways to genuinely engage with people without gimmicks, because people are wise to that sort of thing. You can't be afraid to put your content out there. You can't block everything you put out about your university behind a password.

Nothing speaks to the success of Carrion’s approach more than hard and fast analytics. Since 2010, traffic on the Newsline and Newsroom sites has increased from 1,394 visitors per month to 6,272 per month this summer. That’s an increase of 349 percent. Facebook fans have increased by more than 158 percent, and DePaul’s YouTube channel has racked up an impressive 25,000 views.

Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of the university, created Carrion’s position in the last round of strategic planning, and the team is vital to their strategy moving forward:

Our president really values public relations, media relations, social media and digital media. We need to have the proper resources, we need to have the staff, we need the budget, and we are given the reins to do what we need to do. We're not being held back, which is great. And it’s not something you can probably say for a lot of other places.

DePaul’s willingness to jump headfirst into the new age of digital media is a testament to the university’s values. As technology continues to drive media consumption on smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops, expect to see more talented leaders like Carrion being scooped up by smart colleges. Check out Jeff Carrion’s work at newsline.depaul.edu, newsroom.depaul.edu, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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