15 Takeaways From My First Carnegie Conference

Carnegie Higher Ed Feb 04, 2015 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Carnegie Conference 2015 is in the books, and by all accounts it was our best yet. Being new to Carnegie, I was very interested to see what the conference would be like, having heard from my new colleagues that it is unique in the higher ed space. It truly is.

With only 150 or so attendees, the Carnegie Conference is an intimate experience—there are no separate tracks or concurrent sessions. Attendees registered because they were interested in the specific lineup of speakers, which was fantastic, and at the end of the day discussions at dinners and socials were enriched by the fact that we’d all had the same or very similar experiences throughout the day.

It was different than any conference I’d been to. Not different like “better” but different like “valuable” (okay, maybe better). It felt more like a seminar or workshop, with a relaxed pace and ample opportunity to engage with presenters and fellow attendees, leading to tangible takeaways you could apply on campus.

Here are 15 things from my notebook:

  1. Seems like a no-brainer, but good content is really, really important. Even in this online attention-span-starved world, words still matter. They set the tone for your institution.
  2. I love this equation from Ann Handley (@annhandley): useful x empathy x inspired = great content. Note that it’s multiplication—if any of them equal zero, the content suffers immensely. Tell great stories across your platforms, and constantly strive to create useful content. Ask yourself: what would my audience thank me for?
  3. Data, data, data. All the speakers harped on data. Know your data and use it to inform your work, from where you direct your resources to what content you produce. Without data, it’s just an opinion.
  4. Oli Gardner (@oligardner) is hilarious and really smart. His session on landing page conversion was outstanding. Most landing pages are terrible (98%, according to his presentation), so if you can create strong landing pages and a clean path to conversion, you can really set yourself apart. An acronym to remember: NSAMCWADLP. Never start a marketing campaign without a dedicated landing page!
  5. If you’re not paying attention to attention ratio, you should be. As attention ratio goes down, conversion goes up. More on that from our very own George LaRochelle.
  6. “Submit” is the worst possible conversion word you can use. Find a better call to action.
  7. The Wistia Learning Center series is great for offices on campus with limited video resources.
  8. Chocolate chip bread pudding is amazing!
  9. Branding = Reputation. To differentiate your brand, you have to get out of “fact land” and appeal to emotions. Choosing a college is an emotional experience.
  10. Scott Ochander (@TWinnovator), the VP of Enrollment and Marketing at Manchester University, has a truly unique approach to branding that personifies the institution. His “Brand Cave” model is intriguing, and he’s had tremendous success with it at Valparaiso and now Manchester. He’s got a company you can learn more about too.
  11. Joann McKenna, VP for Enrollment Management at Bentley University, has a 42-inch screen in her office with real-time data comparing the current class to five-year historical trends, sliced and diced any way she wants it. Having just left an admission office, I know how crucial it is to have access to that information and, sadly, how rare a setup like that is. Bravo, Joann!
  12. I love this line from Google’s Justin Cutroni (@justincutroni): data is an enabler. It allows you to take risks and measure results real time.
  13. Google Analytics can be overwhelming. Here’s a great resource to learn how to put them to use.
  14. Obviously mobile is taking over and has been for a while, but having a mobile-friendly site is very important for improving SEO. Google doesn’t like you if your site’s not responsive, and you really, really want Google to like you.
  15. Another great question to ask yourself: would I be proud to show this work to a friend? If not, try to do better.

For more conference bits and chatter from attendees, search #CarnegieConf on Twitter.

We hope to see you at Carnegie Conference 2016!

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