For campus communicators, telling the Berkeley story is serious business

What are best practices for incorporating social media into a promotional campaign? When making a promotional video for your department or college, where can you find sound clips you can legally include in your soundtrack? Given limited staff resources, which social-media platform will give you the biggest bang for your buck? Are there shareable communications resources on campus?

social media panelists

Panelists Porter Gale, Louis Gray, Lindsay Gottlieb and George Gallate led a panel discussion, curated by Ram Kapoor of Public Affairs (at podium), on best practices in social media. An attendee tweeted the message at bottom as they spoke.

Some 200 UC Berkeley staff came together June 14, to raise such questions, exchange information and meet their peers at the Berkeley Communications Conference (BC2), the first large-scale gathering of campus communicators. The daylong, green-certified event featured campus and off-campus speakers, who shared insights on effective communications strategies and practices for the 21st century.

To promote an institution or project or to win a political battle, communicators need “strong vision, big ears,” said keynote speaker and UC Berkeley alumna Joan Blades. The MoveOn.org co-founder now leads two other civic-action efforts, MomsRising.org and Living Room Conversations, which aims to foster dialogue between conservatives and progressives.

“We can’t count on facts to change minds; emotions and values trump facts almost every time,” Blades noted, pointing to public skepticism on the human origins of climate change in the face of broad consensus from the scientific community.

Held in the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance, BC2 was sponsored by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs (OCPA) whose associate vice chancellor, Claire Holmes, discussed how best practices in communications can be leveraged to tell UC Berkeley’s story more effectively.

“We need to counter an emerging perception that UC Berkeley is on the precipice of decline,” Holmes said. “It’s no longer sufficient to work on the edges of this. It’s time to pull out all the stops, to work together and reclaim our story to counter those perceptions. We need to take back our story and change the narrative.

“We have an abundance of emotional reserves we can tap into, in a conscious, thoughtful and strategic way with all of our communications,” added Holmes.  “Individually, as departments, we are very well regarded. Together, as a university, we are invincible.”

Citing communications fragmentation across campus, she urged attendees to “row in the same general direction” toward more connected messages about the campus and its contributions to society. “Our financial context is changing. As that happens, it is important to send clear messages about how we define ourselves in that new context — to stay true to our core values, be authentic and communicate positive, inclusive, hopeful and inspiring messages.”

Human Resources staffer Anna Gazdowiz welcomed the invitation to “row in the same direction.”

“It’s wonderful to hear that the campus is moving forward with more consistent communications efforts,” she said.

To assist campus units with communications work, Public Affairs is building a creative-messaging toolkit that staff across campus can draw upon and adapt to their particular needs. It will include a campuswide photo-sharing service, WebDAM, along with other resources. Training on the toolkit will be offered in the fall.

I strongly believe that if one decides to engage in a dynamic medium, say Twitter, then one has to have the capacity and commitment to be responsive. … How does one do that when they don’t have a deep communications bench?

– BC2 attendee Julie Sinai, director of local government and community relations

Another trove of communications and advancement resources can be found on the campus’s advancement intranet service, Eureka, noted Mary Keegan, executive director of marketing and communications for University Relations. She described how her group has leveraged UC Berkeley’s unique culture for its $3 billion fundraising effort, the Campaign for Berkeley.

“Berkeley’s culture is our most special aspect,” Keegan said. “We’re elite but not privileged,” she explained  —  seen as outsiders, adventurous, entrepreneurial and innovative. Her team decided that images of individuals would be an ideal way to express the campus’s culture. A photo booth launched in fall 2008 — and visited, so far, by more than 2,800 students, staff and faculty — has generated photos for a 74-foot wall of faces displayed on Dwinelle Plaza, as well as banners and a virtual wall online.

In the afternoon, an expert panel curated by Ram Kapoor, executive director of marketing and digital communications for OCPA, talked about the role of social media in effective communications efforts.  Lindsay Gottlieb, head coach of Cal women’s basketball, was among the speakers. To take the intercollegiate program to a new level, she said, it’s important to focus not only on what happens on the court but on how the public and potential recruits see the team. Gottlieb described how she’s used Twitter (via @calcoach and @CalWBBall), as well as professionally produced video profiles (found at thisiscalbasketball.com), to put forward “our biggest asset” — the student-athletes themselves.

Social-media consultant Porter Gale regaled attendees with anecdotes of how Virgin America Airlines built a reputation for outstanding customer service, and how a network of concerned people used social media to help a leukemia patient miraculously locate two potential bone-marrow donors. “Social media is the connective tissue of the future,” Gale said.

Also on hand to shed light on social media were George Gallate, global chairman of ad agency Euro RSCG 4D and an early pioneer of digital marketing, and alumnus Louis Gray, a program manager at Google+, who described how his company is integrating social media into other products, such as Gmail, already in wide use.

For more on the conference, including the toolkit for campus communicators, see the BC2 website.