By David McCabe
Josh Fitzwater almost missed becoming Kenyon’s director of social media by one day. He applied on a Sunday, and the application closed on Monday.
Then, the day he was scheduled to interview in Gambier was also his wife’s due date for their first child. He spent the whole day glued to his iPhone, prepared to get in his car and speed back to Columbus.
The baby wasn’t born until later, but he did get the job.
Now, more than a year after Fitzwater joined Kenyon, he and his colleagues have upgraded the College’s digital presence ﾗ most notably launching a redesigned version of its website in August. This redesign and refocusing signifies just how much the Internet, in all its social, cross-device glory, has come to matter to the way higher education is marketed.
The College now has a digital image that administrators say reflects a more genuine version of Kenyon. It’s an image they’re betting will appeal to Internet-savvy millennials who approach high-handed marketing with a mixture of skepticism and disdain.
The history of Kenyon’s presence on the web reflects how rapidly technology has changed the way the public consumes information. Just 15 years ago, Kenyon’s website was designed not for external marketing purposes, but instead accessed mostly internally.
As Internet access expanded, Kenyon.edu became the first stop for anyone interested in applying, recomending the school to a friend or donating money.
“A decade ago we realized people were coming to websites first,” Associate Vice President for College Relations Shawn Presley said.
In 2008, the College redesigned its main website with an eye-catching mosaic of user-submitted images. Still, the College’s Director of New Media, Patty Burns, was the sole operator of both the website and all other digital channels, while print materials received an outsized share of attention.
“I think our print looked fantastic, and it was very reflective of who Kenyon is, but digital was sort of like the forgotten child, so we wanted to match that,” Fitzwater said.
But another technological shift had already occurred that would precipitate the website’s next redesign: In June 2007, Apple released its first version of the iPhone. It’s creation triggered a cascade of smartphone adaptation that changed the way marketers reach people on the web.
“Say you’re sitting on a bus and someone says, ﾑWhere did you go to college?’ and you say, ﾑI went to Kenyon. You should check it out.’ They can do it right there,” Presley said.
The new website is responsive ﾗ all features of the site are fully accessible on any type of screen, whether a phone, tablet, desktop or laptop.
The redesigned site also features enhanced ways for the College to share the content it produces ﾗ such as stories about alumni with successful careers ﾗ and the content it has aggregated from around the Internet, including social media.
“By being able to pull in Instagram, student blogs, we can pull in things from The Thrill, the Collegian, you can have kind of a multiplicity of voices,” Burns said.
Even before the site launched over the summer, Kenyon had been engaging in a campaign to grow its presence on social media since it has increasingly become a gathering place for parents, alumni and students interested in Kenyon.
The various social networks, Fitzwater said, are generally used to connect with different constituencies. Alumni prefer Facebook, now pass? with teenagers, while Twitter is the network of choice for prospective students.
Driving the emphasis on content, officials say, is the idea that prospective students who grew up in the Internet age can better detect marketing pablum by colleges and universities.
“As prospective students become more savvy, and with the social media and all these different channels, they can kind of smell the spin from a thousand yards away,” Presley said.
While the College’s main focus is keeping the website current, Fitzwater says he hopes to expand the College’s digital footprint to more social networking and to help other offices and departments take their own brands online through social media.
It may not be an easy path, according to officials. “This is a place that rests on tradition, so it’s kind of meeting halfway,” Fitzwater said of balancing print and digital.
And while Kenyon’s messages are being integrated across more platforms than ever before, Burns emphasized that those messages ﾗ the value of a Kenyon education and the benefits of life here ﾗ will stay the same.
“Kenyon hasn’t changed: the channels for presenting it have.”
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