WikiBrands in Higher Education


misty shore








The world is opening up, and that’s a good thing. (Don Tapscott) 


In their 2010 book Wikibrands, Sean Moffett and Mike Dover argue that with the advent of the social web, it’s no longer the purview of a company to articulate and define its brand – it’s what people say about the company that defines the brand. The implications for all organizations and sectors, including education, are huge.

Institutions of higher learning expend considerable resources on branding, but for the most part this follows traditional marketing channels. And where social media is integrated into organizational branding, it tends to be used as more a corporate communication tool than a meaningful way to engage with students or prospective students. Reputation management is a big consideration. How do you control your brand if you open up a “comments” or “review” page on your website?

A recent investigative reporting piece focusing on healthcare invited Canadians to rate hospitals, and while popular among the public (see story), was sharply criticized – by hospital administrators (though not by patients, see story).

Whether we like it or not, there are multiple outlets for review and commentary, and these are more likely to be adopted when the “official” website is perceived as promoting versus informing. When I choose a hotel do I trust a corporate website or visit TripAdvisor for candid ratings and reviews? Why should it be any different in selecting a college or university? The stakes are a lot higher, and information = power, or at least the illusion of such.

The drive towards inside-out organizations is premised on the notion that we – organizations – get more from sharing than we do from secrecy. This is a big culture change for education. It’s radical. Although high-level data about high school and post-secondary outcomes are publicly available, specifics (e.g. course evaluations, students’ comments and reviews) are not.

Here’s the thing: In a very short time frame complete institutional transparency is going to be expected. As a matter of course. If we don’t provide it someone else will be happy to step in and do it for us. And they get to keep the ad revenue from the high click-through rate: RateMyProfessors is only the beginning.

As Don Tapscott puts it: “Institutions are becoming naked, and if you’re going to be naked … fitness is no longer optional. If you’re going to be naked, you better get buff.”

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