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Building a Brand

News & Features | February 14, 2011

Tufts projects a self-image that directly affects how the general public perceives each and every student of the University. Tufts’ reputation will control how we will be perceived by our employers and our coworkers when we graduate. It will determine the type of students who apply to be  — and potentially become — our peers. The people who manipulate Tufts’ brand have the responsibility to keep that image true to the actual Tufts experience.

Every person, club, company, and school has its own “brand” from the public perspective. Everything and everyone is perceived a certain way, and the more people latch onto that perception, the harder it can be to shake. Just like that of an individual, the reputation of an organization can determine everything about its success. Tufts has to work hard to promote and maintain its own brand.

What does someone think when you say you go to Tufts University? Every impression, statistic, memory, or gossip people may know about Tufts defines just how they will view you as a Tufts student. It’s the definition that people conjure at the mention of Jumbo – our reputation – that multiple teams of Tufts employees are building on a daily basis.

The Tufts publications website reads, “Over time, strong, consistent graphic components become invested with meaning through association with images and ideas. By following this system, we all contribute to the university’s reputation.” When a student tells someone they go to Tufts, the University wants to make sure people have a positive reaction. They want to ensure that individuals are intrigued and impressed by Tufts’ name.

By far the best way to seamlessly integrate Tufts’ image into people’s everyday lives is through the internet. “Internet branding” is the newest and greatest way for Tufts to help manipulate its own representation. Thus, Tufts turn to social media channels.

A group of individuals known as Tufts’ Web Communications does just this, running the online social media in the name of the University, acting as the masterminds behind the Tufts University Facebook page and Twitter account. The photos and videos that decorate Tufts’ Facebook page aren’t just ornamentation, they’re also the results of detailed planning and strategy.  Same goes for any of Tufts’ tweets, from those about Zombie Apocalypse Weekend to trending topic “snow playlist.”

Georgiana Cohen, the manager of Web Content and Strategy for Web Communications, spends a lot of time planning the posts for the Twitter and Facebook accounts in Tufts’ name. In addition to her strategizing, Cohen believes strongly in the power of being genuine. “The more honest and engaging you are as an organization or a brand,” she said,  “The easier it is to have an evolving and open dialogue as needs or priorities change.” Tufts isn’t in the business of looking like anything other than what the campus actually is.

Cohen believes social media outlets hold great significance for Tufts. “Twitter and Facebook are dynamic channels and help to extend the reach of the Tufts brand,” Cohen said. “Both of these channels allow more people to learn about what’s happening at Tufts and engage based on their interests.” Cohen said she is always happy to see different student organizations at Tufts creating online groups for their clubs and activities, and getting involved in the online representation of the school.

To Cohen and the rest of her team, they are simply an extension of what the rest of the University is working towards, not an entirely separate endeavor. What Tufts wants to share with the online community is fundamentally no different from what we want to share through other channels—we want to engage audiences in the Tufts story,” She stated. “We aim to create successful online communities via social media through effective content and showcase what is interesting and distinctive about Tufts.”

Lisa Gregory, the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications collaborates with Web Communications and Public Relations to find effective ways to reach out to the Tufts community. “Our goal is to generate a brand impression through all Tufts communications so that we can foster relationships and build community,” Gregory said.

“Through a mix of new media and traditional print channels, we tell stories which highlight the unique Tufts experience. We feature cutting-edge research, student life and events which help to create our public image.” Gregory’s department is responsible for marketing strategy as well as print materials, such as viewbooks and brochures, that help enforce the branding of the University.

Gregory emphasized that while there are other, non-internet channels for telegraphing their message, often the internet mediums are the most accessible. “Many have their first Tufts experience through our web and social media channels, so they have to be effective,” she explained.

The most important community that Tufts is concerned with, is the audience of prospective students. As a result of this, Tufts has links to the Facebook and Twitter accounts prominently displayed on the Undergraduate Admissions webpage. One prospective student for the class of 2015, Saira Weinzimmer, said that when she thinks of Tufts, the words “creative,” and “unique,” come to mind, in addition to “competitive” and “fast-paced.” Any Tufts admissions officer would be pleased to hear that, as would the staff of Tufts’ Web Communications and Marketing departments. The more students perceive Tufts in this way, the more applicants the University will receive, giving the admissions officers a more varied selection of students to choose from. This effect could explain the fact that the applicant pool for the class of 2015 has been the largest yet.

Weinzimmer went on to say that she thinks of Tufts as “a great school full of quirky individuals.” Though she doesn’t gather much information from the Twitter and Facebook accounts, she said she spends a lot of time on the Tufts website, “to look at recent research projects Tufts has been doing, as well as to get more of a glimpse of the spirit of the school.”

It wasn’t just the social media that gave her the impression of Tufts she possesses; she also cited the format of the Tufts’ application essays as a giveaway to the uniqueness of the University. “The prompts are designed to allow for creativity and free expression,” she explained. “I think this shows that Tufts strives to recruit and produce students who aren’t just stellar academically, but are also original, innovative thinkers.”  Weinzimmer continued, “I believe Tufts recognizes [the] type of person who will make a difference in the world.”

Tufts Marketing professor and CEO of Kaon Interactive, Gavin Finn, had a lot to say about online branding and its benefits for Tufts. “People think [branding] is what someone creates as their own image,” Finn said, “but really it’s how other people think of you. For Tufts, it’s all about what position [the school] wants to occupy in the higher education market, and the experience that creates that image.”

Over the past few years he’s worked at the University, Finn believes Tufts’ image hasn’t changed much, but rather that “access to the image has become more prevalent.” Facebook and Twitter make information about Tufts readily available to anyone online. On top of that, social networks are designed for feedback and interaction, so there’s no mystery about how the internet is responding to Tufts’ brand. When a student “likes,” re-tweets, or comments on one of the University’s posts, that reaction acts as a measure of the media’s success. Finn explained, “You can quantitatively monitor how well it’s working; that’s the good thing about these channels.”

But it’s important to keep in mind that word travels fast– even offline. “Consumers talk to each other outside of the media outlet itself,” Finn pointed out, “It isn’t controlled by Tufts or other audience members, it’s them talking to each other, outside of the control of your message.” Finn believes that this can be a positive force. “If you embrace the openness,” he said, “The audience might recognize that you aren’t trying to monitor what they know.” Ultimately, only so much is under the control of the Tufts staff behind the media channels and how they portray the Tufts brand.

Though he supports Tufts’ use of social media in building its brand, Finn offered a simple piece of advice. “Use methods that are appropriate to your audience, rather than trying to change minds,” he said, “Let them come to their own conclusions. You have to establish the reality first; build the substantive achievement and then use the marketing to show that.”