Academic Division, University of Illinois at Springfield
Corporate Division, Network Solutions
Category: Online Reputation Management
University of Illinois at Springfield
In 1998, the University of Illinois at Springfield, a small Midwest liberal arts university, sought to find a new student base through online education. The ultimate goal was to create a successful online program with a national reputation for quality and access that would bring new students to the university and allow our faculty to teach by using the new online formats. Our challenges were many, but perhaps the most difficult was how to distinguish UIS in a highly competitive field.
In the beginning, online education was perceived as sub par, or less than “real” campus-based education. This was as true nationally and at other institutions as it was at UIS. The Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) played a prominent role in establishing Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN) as a legitimate educational delivery method. UIS was fortunate to be on the ground floor of the Sloan Consortium initiative and build our program based upon the quality pillars established by Sloan-C. The pillars, not represented in any particular order, are cost effectiveness, student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction, access, and learning effectiveness. Centering on these values has elevated the reputation of online learning on a national level and, at the same time, at UIS.
However, as online learning grew and became more accepted by institutions of higher learning and the public, the number of those offering online classes and programs has grown at a staggering rate. As stated in the first paragraph above, distinguishing our program in this vast field has become one of our greatest communication challenges. We continually find that new programs and initiatives have entered the field. We are sought out by others to share our best practices, which, of course, adds value to our program: yet, we realize this increases the competition and fragments our potential gains.
Non-traditional students were the target market for enrollment in online education at UIS. However, the audience we needed to reach to building a national reputation goes far beyond that of just the students who might enroll in classes or online programs. These other audiences included the university community, accrediting agencies, system administrators, online learning peer institutions, and the public.
As online courses became more popular, two critical audiences became internal ones: students and faculty: students because they needed high quality and faculty because they needed reassurances that teaching online or blended courses can be as effective for students as on-campus courses in some cases.
1. Build the UIS brand in online learning on a national level.
2. Tie the reputation of online learning at UIS to quality and access.
3. Distinguish our online initiative in a sea of competition.
4. Increase student enrollment without robbing our campus classrooms
The size of our school, the importance of faculty, and the value of our educational dollar as a public institution set us apart from most. We are small with a dedicated faculty and staff who have always centered the educational mission of UIS on student learning. We have a long history of being a leader in offering high-quality yet affordable education to our geographic region – central Illinois. We needed to represent these features over and over in as many avenues as possible.
We started by offering a few online courses. Then we created eight online degree programs. With that successfully done, we received a grant to create additional online degree programs, for the total of 17 we now have.
A strategic decision was to have our full-time faculty teaching most of the courses, so that we could tell students whether you are online or on-ground, you will have the best teachers we can offer.
At first we could only build our national reputation by traditional means. In the beginning, we distributed flyers to feeder community colleges in order to build awareness of our program. We then moved to web promotion. We developed an international following by creating two highly successful blogs sites, described in detail below, which could be syndicated by universities and publications world-wide. We chose a platform for e-learning which could quickly be adopted and had easy appeal. We developed “e-tuition,” which meant that online degree-seeking students could enroll without paying the normal out-of-state tuition rates and without paying all of the customary fees that on-campus students are assessed. With each new tool, we tracked the trends in educational technology and higher education and sought out intersections where technology and public awareness could break down resistance and compel the story of online learning access and reach. Because of our size and through careful monitoring and listening, we would work to consistently be first in adopting technologies which would break down geographic barriers that inhibit higher education.
Also, we created the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning (OTEL) and a well-trained staff to support both faculty and students in the deployment of online courses. OTEL’s director, Ray Schroeder, made a strategic move to create a blog about online learning and attend national conferences. He also became very active in the Sloan Consortium, giving UIS considerable national exposure. Eventually, Schroeder himself become widely sought out as a speaker and national expert in online education.
First and most importantly, our message has always been and will always be one of quality and access. We centered our efforts on making sure this single message was represented in every publication, press lease, presentation, website, grant application, announcement, and document. The value of having a single well-represented message cannot be overstated especially as competition continues to enter the field.
Second, we promoted our own numbers and growth. We have been intentional in our approach to getting our word out. From the beginning, we have focused our efforts both internally and externally. This does not have to be extensive or pricy. Many times, a simple chart of our growth represented what was happening in our online programs. The numbers are dramatic, with 25 to 30 percent growth every semester for the last 20 semesters. They are so dramatic; they tend to speak for themselves.
In higher education, in order to build a national reputation of worth and value, national leaders in the field must recognize your efforts. To that end, we have promoted the online programs at the University of Illinois at Springfield through the established avenues of presentations to local, state, and national conferences, writing papers for local, state, and national journals, and working on local, state, and national committees. Our OTEL staff travels extensively to present at conferences in the United States and Canada on online education issues. We average 30 presentations a year at conferences. In doing our presentations, we always have a consistent message of access and quality.
We also accepted outreach projects, such as working with the Illinois Department of Public Health, which needed ways to train ambassadors for its BASUAH (Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV Aids) program. These programs helped us reach local, state and even national press.
Through “collaborative classrooms” at different universities, we also knew we could foster human exchange beyond the traditional on-campus methods most often experienced by today’s student. Students thirst for this type of exchange. Online learning is a natural sell in a global world. We looked for ways to emphasize the good that naturally occurs in online learning at UIS to our many audience strands. One of our more successful programs is a teaching partnership with Chicago State University (CSU), located about 200 miles north of our UIS campus. CSU has a minority enrollment of nearly 94 percent while UIS had a minority enrollment of around 11 percent. To bridge the gaps and bring more diverse discourse to our classrooms, the two institutions applied for and received grant dollars to support teaching partnerships between our two institutions This initiative gathered a lot of regional press, including recognition as a best practice by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. It has led us to form a new, geographically diverse consortium of seven higher education institutions focused on improving online learning around the country. Each institution looks to the partnership opportunities to strengthen their online enrollment success. As our online reputation has grown, so too, have the opportunities. Online faculty members have formed a Community of Practice in online learning. They have published and presented in their specific disciplines related to online learning to such an extent that UIS is now in the process of creating a Center for Online Learning, Research and Services. In the summer of 2008, we hosted seven other universities from various parts of the U.S. that wanted to learn how to implement a successful online education model.
In order to build our academic reputation, we have also applied for and have received numerous grants and awards, which put a spotlight on the activities of our institution at a state and national level. For example, in 2007, UIS earned the Sloan Consortium’s award for “Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Teaching & Learning Programming.” This is one way of saying that Sloan-C considers UIS the best in the U.S.
Most unusually and perhaps most important of all, Schroeder publishes two daily blogs. One focuses on online learning, the other on educational technologies. The impact of these blogs is important. There are more than 3,000 RSS subscribers to the online learning update and education technologies blogs. If you type the phrase “online learning” into Google, the blog comes up with a rank of 3. If you type the phrase “educational technology,” it comes up as the second listing on most days. The ranks change occasionally but have remained consistently at or near this level for several years.
This clearly enhances UIS’s reputation as a leader in online learning. Online education is frequently misunderstood, even today. Educators, legislators, and the public often confuse online education with non-interactive correspondences courses. As technologies and techniques change, the field as a whole must continue to publicize the story of online education; how it is done, what is involved. Also, some students believed that online courses meant an “easier course,” as if not as much work needed to be done.
Finally, faculty learned quickly that teaching online can involve more one-on-one time with each student than occurs in a classroom, because much of the interaction and communication with students is one-on-one electronically.
We employed a number of tools. Due to the nature of what we are promoting many of them are web-based. They include: blogs, listservs, websites, social networks and portals, Blogger.com, Blackboard, and Elluminate. It might sound too good to be true, but it is here: The entire faculty, staff and administration of the university have been involved in promoting our online efforts to the public and to the students. We have enjoyed outside influence and support from the University of Illinois, the Sloan Foundation, the Sloan Consortium, Ameritech and others.
Several paragraphs about our online prowess are in the Chancellor’s “stump speech,” and our chancellor, provost and other senior administrators nearly always mention our 16 online degree programs and their popularity when giving speeches.
As mentioned earlier, we also created OTEL to provide faculty and student support. We created “online coordinator” positions in the colleges to assist students and faculty with particular courses and various kinds of technical support. And on the UIS web site, online education is regularly featured as one of our strengths. Also, the president of the University of Illinois system, B. Joseph White, spreads the word. In a major address, he mentioned a UIS student who was deployed to Iraq and still managed to continue his online studies from the war zone.
Distinguish our online initiative in a sea of competition.
Increase student enrollment without robbing our campus classrooms.
In ten years, online education at UIS has grown from a single class offering in 1998 to 17 fully online degree programs. Over that time we have received more than $3 million dollars in grants to build our online programs. Online students at UIS are now a substantial part of our enrollment. Twenty-four percent of students registered in the most recent year were online majors; 28.8% at the master’s level. Thirty-six percent of credits generated were online; 45.6% at the master’s level.
More than 200 of our faculty members (including full-time and adjuncts) have taught online. Online faculty have traveled to many conferences based upon their research into online learning and are finding new funding sources through online teaching and training partnerships with outside agencies. And this spring, we received our first endowed faculty position in online learning.
Though we are growing, the students are not coming from our previous campus body. Online majors report mailing addresses in 47 states (not AK, ME, RI) and three Canadian provinces, 77 Illinois counties (out of 102), and 11 foreign countries. Fully 37% of online students at the University of Illinois at Springfield are from outside of Illinois.
Goal: Build the UIS brand in online learning on a national level.
Goal: Tie the reputation of online learning at UIS to quality and access.
It the last three years, we have achieved national prominence in the field of online learning. It began with Ray Schroeder, faculty and administrator at UIS, and Burks Oakley, faculty at UIS and administrator at the time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Schroeder and Oakley played a large role in shaping the “Sloan Semester,” which offered online classes to Katrina and Rita disaster victims after those hurricanes had displaced many students. This gave access to free education to those most in need. The purpose of the Sloan Semester was not to enroll students into our own programs, but to allow students disadvantaged and put in jeopardy of losing their educational motivation to continue.
In November of 2007, the UIS online programs were featured in NPR’s Morning Edition after a reporter learned about UIS through the Sloan Consortium and traveled to Springfield to check it out for himself. As a result of that broadcast, our online programs were featured in a number of news venues around the country. The publicity of that news event has focused attention on us in many ways. Chiefly, we are seeing many more visits and many more requests for information from institutions around the country.
Also, it is worth noting that in a major collaborative visioning process involving the campus community, alumni and local community – called the National Commission on the Future of UIS – the final report in 2003 identified online learning as an important component that would shape the university’s future.
Finally, it is also worth noting that to address the critical shortage of math teachers in Illinois, UIS received a special federal grant to expand its math teacher certification program via an online degree completion program. This has allowed people with limited access to college to become math teachers in Illinois by completing their degrees online at UIS.
Goal: Tie the reputation of online learning at UIS to quality and access.
Also, in November of 2007, we received national recognition in our field in receiving the Sloan-C Award for Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning Programs. See article http://www.uis.edu/online/awards.html As a final testament of our online programs success, an endowed professorship in online learning has been established at UIS. The position will allow us to add a national leader in online and blended learning, Karen Swan, to our faculty in December 2008.
A phrase we use at UIS is “local excellence, global impact.” This is how we operate, and this was our intention with online education.
By creating OTEL and 17 online degree programs, and by establishing our OTEL staff as national leaders in online education, UIS attracted thousands of students, the attention of thousands of blog readers around the world, and the national media and important regional media such as the Chicago Tribune. And we have won awards from the Sloan Consortium, which garners additional national recognition and publicity. All of this is implemented strategically and enhances our reputation as a leader in online education.
By providing excellent online out of a small Illinois university, we are having a national and global impact.
Category: Online Reputation Management
Network Solutions once was the sole provider of domain names on the Internet; however, it now competes in a crowded marketplace. While Network Solutions still manages more than 7 million domain names, it also manages over 1.5 million e-mailboxes, and more than 350,000 Web sites – in addition to providing a wide variety of additional services for small businesses. Still, many people think of Network Solutions as a monopolistic domain provider and are not aware of the many new and value-added services available. Many of online conversations about the company are based on outdated information. In fact, the company has excellent customer service, for three consecutive years our Hazleton, Penn., customer support center has been named a J.D. Power and Associates® Certified Call Center, providing “An Outstanding Customer Service Experience.” (For J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Certified Call Center ProgramSM information, visit jdpower.com.) In 2008, Roy Dunbar took the helm as CEO of Network Solutions and put a premium on communicating more clearly and openly with stakeholders. The social media outreach program was a natural outcrop of Network Solution’s focus on this customer service philosophy.
Network Solutions finds itself in an era where the voice of the individual, with his or her opinions and grievances, has been empowered by such technology as blogs, podcasts, online video and other online publishing platforms. Designers and developers are natural potential partners for the services offered by Network Solutions. However, this stakeholder community has a lingering negative perception of Network Solutions. Building a bridge with this net-savvy audience is an important goal. As a result, the social media team at Network Solutions was given this important task.
The target audience for this outreach program is web-savvy developers and designers who serve primarily small businesses, which is also an important demographic for Network Solutions. Developers and designers help companies and individuals shape their web presence. Web developers and designers are oftentimes small businesses too. They also happen to be the most vocal critics of Network Solutions. They tend to form into tight-knit online communities that share information, praise and criticism freely. This community, which is highly web savvy, could also ultimately be good evangelists for the company. We feel that success with this community should be the lynchpin of our online development goals and will lead to better relationships with the small business community as well.
Goals and objectives: Network Solutions had several objectives in their social communication program:
Address and improve Network Solutions negative online reputation
Improving and building lasting relationships with the developer and design communities
Better serve unhappy customers that choose to vent online with the goal of retaining them as customers when possible, and if not, leaving them with a positive impression
Enhancing and developing the new Network Solutions brand in online communities
Network Solutions’ initial plan was to address the communication disconnect in three areas:
Crisis PR Engagement: Though monitoring and quick response techniques the team quickly addresses issues about the company and provides technical assistance when needed through a customer service SWAT team.
Solutions Are Power Blog(solutionsarepower.com): Issues that came up over and over again, or major crisis situations, are addressed in the official Network Solutions blog to lend credibility and provide critical information.
Community Participation: Network Solutions team members actively extended their participation in social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, etc.
Crisis PR Engagement: The social media team put together a process to find and intelligently respond to mentions of Network Solutions throughout the web on a daily basis. The team also came up with a process to elevate posts that were urgent and communicate in a timely and orderly manner.
Solutions Are Power Blog: When the team saw that an issue kept coming up in forums, Twitter, or blogs, the team would write more comprehensive articles to explain the situation.
Community Participation: @NetSolcares has become a staple on Twitter, where the team, which is identified in the profile, quickly respond (in a personal manner) to concerns about Network Solutions.
How to adequately address the estimated 1,000 or so comments and mentions per month of Network Solutions in a cost effective and efficient manner was a challenge. Also, deciding who to engage and who not to engage was yet another concern. To address these issues, the team decided that Network Solutions customers having problems always receive a response, but sometimes behind the scenes. For non-customer complaints and comments, it is taken on a case by case basis. Sometimes we also choose not to respond based on criteria developed by the team.
Radian6 is used as the monitoring tool to gather information and respond appropriately.An internal system called “Voice of the Customer” is used to log both problems and praises. This is part of a more overall effort at the company and is not just aimed at social media interaction.We store shared documents on BaseCamp so that all team members have access. Use Google alerts to quickly identify trouble areasUse Search.Twitter.com, formerly Summize, to keep on top of Twitter replies and tweets in real time, Google Docs for team collaboration.
Livingston Communication, a PR and social media firm, provides a team of five to support the social media team at Network Solutions. The Livingston team makes recommendations and aids with strategy. The Network Solutions Social Media team is headed up by Shashi Bellamkonda, Social Media Swami. He reports to the head of Public Relations at Network Solutions, and has a part-time contractor to assist with the blog and the brand’s online presence. There is also a Customer Service SWAT Team of four to deal with consumer complaints and problems.
Tonality: The main quantitative measure so far has been tonality. Livingston Communication, using Radian6, analyzed Network Solutions presence on the web from January 2008 to June 2008 and found that off all mentions of Network in social media 58 percent were negative, 10 percent positive and 32 percent neutral. After stating the PR outreach in June, we analyzed June and July, 48 percent were negative, 32 percent were positive and 20 percent were neutral. There was a 10 percent drop in negative comments and posts and maybe more importantly, a 22 percent increase in positive mentions.
Address and improve Network Solutions negative online reputation: Clearly the overall perception of Network Solutions is improving and we expect it to continue to improve as we institute an already approved Phase II of our outreach campaign.
Improving and building lasting relationships with the developer and design communities: Currently we have 20 influencers ready to help us with content creation that we have reached out to over this time period. The results for this objective should continue to bear fruit in Phase II.
Better serving unhappy customers that choose to vent online with the goal of retaining them as customers when possible, and if not, leaving them with a positive impression: We have a number of exchanges with customers that have led to happy outcomes, overall we have entered nearly 250 Voice of the Customer comments since the inception of the program.
Enhancing and developing the new Network Solutions brand in online communities: Again, we have a recognizable face in the Twitter network and overall, positive comments have increased by 22 percent while negative comments have decreased by 10 percent.