Special UB column about PR 2.0: Interview with Silandara Bartlett-Gustina, News and Web Specialist at the Rochester Institute of Technology

April 20th, 2006 Karine Joly 1 Comment

Last December, I conducted several email interviews to prepare my column about the new world of Public Relations in higher education for the April 2006 issue of University Business: “The Brand (Brave?) New World Of Online Public Relations.”

Silandara Bartlett-Gustina, News and Web Specialist at the Rochester Institute of Technology and one of the bloggers behind The Tiger Beat, RIT News Office blog, answered these questions last December.

1) Why did your department decide to launch its blog? What are its goals and target audience?

We decided to launch The Tiger Beat after one of our IT professors, Liz Lawley, gave us a presentation on blogs and their purpose, how to use them, how to keep up with them, etc.

I proposed the idea of University News having its own blog to my bosses with the idea of reaching people in a different way.

As a PR office, we get the word out about RIT’s experts and the projects that they’re working in a variety of ways with the aim of reaching a diverse audience. Obviously, we want prospective students and their parents to hear about RIT and the great things going on here. We also want to reach current students and their parents, alumni, potential donors, the general public, our trustees, faculty and staff.

Much of our efforts are focused on the media – locally and nationally. Having a blog cuts out the middleman and gets our message directly into the hands of people who are interested. Plus it allows us to join the conversation with other bloggers. And as more and more people – especially those in our target audiences – look to blogs for information, we need to be part of that.

Plus I think it’s important to humanize the PR department. We have a great group of folks at RIT University News—fun personalities, real people, not a bunch of PR flaks. All of us have a media background, whether it’s print news, radio or TV. So we’ve been on the other side of the news release. But we don’t get to let that personality come through in our formal press releases. The blog is a chance to let our PR guard down a little and let people get to know us.

2) The Tiger Beat seems to be a group blog. How do you make it work?

All of the writers at University News can post to the blog. Each person has an account so that their posts are attributed to them. As with any project, some people are more enthusiastic about it and embracing of it than others. So some people (like me and our co-op student) post all the time. Other people post semi-regularly, others post occasionally, and others still haven’t quite yet made it to the new frontier.

By having a number of people, and a number of levels of interest, you get a variety of posts fairly regularly. My hope is that we’ll each develop our own voice and wind up with a well-rounded blog.

Right now, I end up posting a lot of events that are happening on campus. As we get more comfortable with blogging and with what we want to say and how we can say it, I think it will develop into a more intimate look at PR in higher education as a whole with specific ideas revolving around RIT.

3) How do you measure the efficiency of such a tool?

There are a few ways:
We keep an eye on our stats, on the number of people actually visiting the blog.
We use feedburner to track who’s picking up our RSS feed.
We read our comments and see who’s commenting and what they have to say.
There’s also trackbacks and searches through technorati and similar engines to see if anyone’s talking about us (or even aware of the blog’s existence).

Our blog is pretty new. It really went online publicly in June or July of this year—right at the time I went on maternity leave. After I came back, we started to pick up steam, then had a few technical issues to work out. There’s still a lot we’re thinking about, working on and wrapping our collective heads around. We just upgraded Movable Type and are dealing with spam comments and trackbacks a lot better. Plus we redesigned the blog so it doesn’t replicate the main University News site and is more an entity of its own. We’ve given it a soft launch so far.

4) Do you refer journalists from mainstream media to the blog? If not, do you offer information via RSS feeds?

We haven’t yet. Our main focus isn’t to get mainstream media journalists to the blog – we already have channels to get information to them: e-mail, press releases, the phone. We do offer the blog via RSS as well as all of our press releases. We’re currently working on segmenting our press release RSS feed into colleges/categories (e.g. science, engineering, student life, events, computing, etc.) and adding new RSS feeds such as our news hits.

5) Do you monitor what bloggers write about your institution? Do you pitch them? Do you respond to /comment on their blog posts? Any interesting examples?

As our blog is still in its infancy, we’re just getting into this aspect of it. But yes, we are starting to monitor what other bloggers write about RIT and that’s how I hope we’ll really join in the conversation – by commenting on their blogs and using trackback to talk about those posts on our own blog. Whether it’s to set the record straight, add our own point of view, let our professors comment on what’s being said about them, or add new insight, I think it will be a wonderful and really interesting way of continuing to get our news out there.

We’ve had some good pick up on blogs in the past (although no great examples spring to mind right now, of course) and we’ve talked about pitching bloggers, though no one’s actually done it yet. We’ll get there.

When I researched blogs and what other universities were doing, I found higher-ed blogs and I found PR blogs, but I didn’t find any blogs by PR folks in higher-ed. (If there are any, let me know. I’d love to read them!) So we’re forging a new way here for the most part.

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