Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

Stephen App // Higher Ed Marketing with a Mission

How do you work with intention when it comes to marketing your campus? We go deep on this topic with this week’s guest, Stephen App. Stephen is an Account Director at eCity Interactive, where he works to help higher ed institutions market themselves and bring in the right students. Stephen is big on bringing strategy to all he does, whether it is in his personal or professional life. He is also so passionate about working in the higher ed community and helping students navigate this big life decision, which is contagious. This was a really fun conversation as Stephen is a super likable digital leader. I know you’ll have a smile on your face after listening!

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Josie & The Podcast is proudly sponsored by:

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Campus Sonar analyzes online conversations to provide you with actionable insight. Subscribe to our newsletter at info.campussonar.com/subscribe to keep up on social listening insight or download our eBook—The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook—at info.campussonar.com/podcast.

Notes from this Episode

eCity Interactive
CASE Podcast featuring Stephen
Hashtag Higher Ed Podcast #28; “Is List Buying the Best We Can Do?

Notre Dame Stories
Counter Offer Podcast, by Bentley University
Federal Donuts
Beilers Donuts
This American Life
WorkLife Podcast by Adam Grant
Everybody Writes
Paying the Price
Sara Goldrick-Rab
Jon Boeckenstedt
Matt McFadden
Liz Gross

More about Stephen

Stephen App is an Account Director at eCity Interactive, a content-first digital agency located in Philadelphia, PA. At eCity, he leads the higher education practice within the agency, overseeing client relationships and marketing campaign execution, including the creation of blog content, premium downloads, emails, social and paid media campaigns, and website optimization efforts for the agency and its higher education clients. Steve has over 10 years of experience crafting digital content that tells a story and impacts the bottom line. Prior to joining eCity, he worked in enrollment marketing for Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where he led the marketing and communications efforts toward all prospective, admitted, and incoming law students.

Additionally, Steve is the host of the Hashtag Higher Ed podcast, a bi-weekly podcast covering all aspects of higher education marketing. Now in its second season, Hashtag Higher Ed explores new ways higher education marketers connect with audiences through content, with insightful interviews that educate listeners about core marketing topics like user research, branding, blogging, social media, email, website optimization, and more.

Steve earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Stonehill College and a Master of Science in Communication Management from Temple University. An inbound marketing evangelist, he encourages educational institutions to pair marketing automation technology with content that is tailored to the needs and goals of defined target audiences, leading to deeper and more beneficial long-term relationships with key constituents. Steve currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area with his wife and two children. An amateur runner and professional donut connoisseur, you can often find him on Twitter staunchly defending the Oxford comma and railing against the use of exclamation points in emails.

Connect with Stephen 

Twitter: @stephenapp

Instagram: @stephenapp

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/stephenapp

Company Website: ecityinteractive.com

Email: sapp@ecityinteractive.com

About Josie and The Podcast

In each episode, Dr. Josie Ahlquist – digital leadership author, researcher, and speaker – connects tech and leadership in education. This podcast will bring you leaders on-campus and online. From Senior Vice Presidents on Snapchat, YouTubers receiving billions of views and new media professionals. All through the lens of social media and leadership. Josie hopes you will not only learn from these digital leaders but also laugh as we all explore how to be our best selves online and off.

Thanks for listening! Please subscribe to receive the latest episodes, share widely and let me know you’d checked it out!

Connect with Josie

Twitter: @josieahlquist 

LinkedIn: /JosieAhlquist

Instagram: @josieahlquist 

Facebook: Dr. Josie Ahlquist 

Email: josie@josieahlquist.com

Josie: What’s up, Josie and the Podcast listeners. And, welcome to season three! I am Dr. Josie Ahlquist, and thank you so much for tuning in for this episode. The goal of Josie and the Podcast is to connect tech and leadership with heart, soul, sass, and lots of substance.

Josie and the Podcast is sponsored by Campus Sonar, who is more to me and the show than a sponsor. They have been a true partner, which is actually their approach to the campuses they support through social listening. You see, social listening is a modern, higher education professional’s tool to inform strategic, authentic and consistent engagement efforts. Your campus will immediately see a difference, but the real value is over the long term. It supports the higher education institution of the future, driving strategic efforts to help you reach your institutional goals.

They have a new e-book, The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook. It’s my go-to resource. I’ve cited it in blogs, my book, and yes, even this podcast. Which has tips to conduct social listening, including a strategic model, key metrics and over a dozen campus case studies on things like crisis management, student engagement, brand management, influencer marketing, and audience research. You can download it today at info.campussonar.com/podcast. Now, onto what you’ve tuned in for, this week’s guest!

Our guest this week is Stephen App, who is currently an Account Director at eCity Interactive, a content first digital agency. At eCity, he leads the higher-ed practice within the agency, overseeing client relationships and marketing campaign execution. Stephen has over 10 years of experience crafting digital content that tell us a story and makes a real impact. Additionally, he is the host of the #HigherEd Podcast, a biweekly podcast covering all aspects of higher education marketing. Stephen earned a Bachelor of Arts and Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Science and Communication Management from Temple University. Stephen is a pretty fun and friendly guy to talk to. I know his positive energy is going to pour out from this episode, and I’m excited to share.

He also really knows his stuff when it comes to marketing in higher ed. He’s committed to this work, and is constantly trying to come up with great ideas to help campus market themselves and tell their stories. I appreciate the opportunity to dig in with some advice that he has on his own digital practices and purpose, as well as the work behind producing it, the podcast #HigherEd, and his career shifts from campus space work to a campus partner organization. Stephen, I know your thoughts on the episode. I’m on Twitter @josieahlquist, and Stephen is @stephenapp. Remember, all the resources, people and content we chat about, they’re going to be in the show notes located at josieahlquist.com/podcast. Enjoy! As a fellow podcaster, I think we’re going to have lots to talk about.

Stephen: I’m overly excited, and slightly terrified to be on this show. I’m not going to lie to you. Like when you sent me this invite, I was like, “Yes!” And then I was like, “Oh. No.” You have such great guests on the show! This is such a great show. I feel a little out of my league being even invited, but I’m excited to be here.

Josie: Being terrified, nope. Not hopefully a description that people will think of my podcast. I think our listeners have tons to learn from you, and let’s just get us started with digging into your socials. What was the latest Tweet that you have sent?

Stephen: So, the latest Tweet, and I’m confirming that it actually went through because it’s actually a very recent Tweet. Was me teasing this podcast appearance, I took a little selfie in my podcast studio. Twitter’s definitely … I don’t worry so much about what I post to Twitter. It’s funny, I love just sharing these kind of small behind the scenes posts on Twitter, I think because they’re still holding onto that chronological method of displaying Tweets. You know they’re only going to be there for a couple seconds to maybe a minute of air time before everybody moves onto the next round of Tweets. I feel more comfortable kind of posting maybe some of the more little snippets of my life, or banal posts that don’t have to have so much meaning. So, I think my last Tweet was just me kind of being like, “Hey, behind the mic today, and not for my own show.” So, a little bit of a cliffhanger for folks to be like, “What is he talking about? Where is he going to be?

Josie: Yeah. It’s a tease. That’s interesting about Twitter, because I actually feel the opposite. This is where I am with Twitter right now. I feel like more pressure on there, versus an Instagram story or when I used to use Snapchat, it was so fleeting. That just might be like, “Get out of your head, Josie. Just Tweet whatever.”

Stephen: I just feel like Twitter, there’s so … I don’t know. With Instagram story, even with Instagram stories. Right? That helps a lot, when you know it’s only going to be there for 24 hours. But, I don’t know. With the photos, I feel a lot of pressure to make sure did I frame this right? Is the crop right? Am I using the right stickers or text or did I geo-tag this, or tag whoever’s in the … There’s too much for me. With a Tweet, I just throw some text on there. It’s a simple photo. Done and done. I feel a lot less pressure there. That’s so funny that you’re the opposite though.

Josie: It can get a little out of hand in Instagram stories, so I get it, and we have to make our choices about what we spend our time.

Stephen: We can’t be everywhere.

Josie: Well, let’s scroll it back pre-days of social and mobile. What was your early days of tech like? Any memory that pops out?

Stephen: I feel like it depends on how we’re defining technology, I guess? Maybe I’m going to now appear super young to people, but I remember the first piece of technology that I remember having was actually a Teddy Ruxpin. I don’t know if people would know Teddy Ruxpin, but you put the little cassette tape in the back and then he would talk to you. It freaked me out. I hated Teddy Ruxpin. I was so scared of him, but that is like the first thing that was … That was some technology involved there. I think if we’re going a little bit further, I do remember playing original Nintendo with my brother. My brother’s a lot older than me, and would let me play with his original Nintendo. From a computer standpoint, my first computer memory I think was playing FreeCell on Windows 95, I think?

Josie: Nice.

Stephen: Not as far back as some people can remember, but still, I think when you think of where we were then and where we are now, it feels like ages.

Josie: Yeah. It’s bonkers. Gaming is coming up a lot when I ask guests that question, like some kind of gaming device. So, it’s not just kids today that are drawn to gaming. So are we!

Stephen: Totally, except with a Nintendo you can only play for an hour because then it would overheat or your game would freeze and you’d have to pull out the little disk and you had to blow on it and put it back in.

Josie: Well, so we already started to talk about Twitter and going into Instagram stories, like our own preferences for that. But, give me just a little bit of insight about you. Where you choose to be social, where that shows up for Stephen at work, and as a family person and all that fun stuff.

Stephen: Yeah. So, that’s changed a lot. Just honestly in the last year, it’s changed a ton. So, I used to be very much on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter. I was on all the social network sites. I joined Path back when that was a thing. You know, with the new social network.

Josie: Oh, right.

Stephen: I was all over all of it, and then I don’t know. Maybe like, six … Yeah, six months to a year back, I was one of those people that all of a sudden noticed that I was just mindlessly browsing through my news feed and my social feeds. I wasn’t posting. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of satisfaction out of a lot of my social feeds, and so just one day decided to delete Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram from my phone. Honestly, I just need a cleanse. I didn’t get rid of Twitter because I do use Twitter a lot for work, and it felt a little bit irresponsible to get rid of that. But, I got rid of everything else for about a month and then I slowly worked back in Instagram. But, Facebook I just realized I wasn’t enjoying Facebook. I was either getting angry because of political tweets that your crazy aunt and whoever is posting about, or a lot of the content was duplicitous from Instagram, honestly.

Josie: Ah.

Stephen: I was seeing the same stuff. And so, I just haven’t gone back to Facebook. I don’t post a lot on Instagram. I will scroll occasionally, but I’m so much more intentional about what I post on Instagram. It’s not because I’m trying … I always try to say this. I’m not trying to display a filtered inaccurate portrait of my life, you hear that so often where people are only sharing certain things because they want to portray themselves as having this amazing life. For me, it’s not so much that. It’s just trying to be more thoughtful about, do I need to be focused on sharing this post and taking a photo in this moment? Or, do I just kind of want to enjoy the moment and be fully present in what I’m doing right now?

Even beyond social, I find myself taking fewer pictures now, and trying to just be in it and enjoy it first person. I might totally regret that in five years when my kids are older and I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t capture enough.” But for right now, I’m going for it and I’m kind of enjoying, I’m really satisfied. I’m a Twitter power user, and kind of just wash my hands of everything else.

Josie: You said intent, intentional. I think we can quickly get sucked into these tools to just all of a sudden lose an hour from scrolling, usually for me that’s when I’m looking on Instagram of rescue animals. Like, save them all! But, something that draws me to you, especially I want to seek out information about content marketing or podcasting is, you have a really strong ability for the written word. So, I can see how Twitter and LinkedIn could be really powerful to you. But then of course, it’s always fun to see those sprinkles of family photos and just like adventures. When you went out to Utah and Wyoming, right? Because, Wyoming in the house. I was like, “Oh, where is Stephen at?” But, yeah. The end of the day, we just have to be able to sit with our choices and I think it’s good for folks to hear some that you’ve made, even though to me we might see you super active on these two platforms. The other ones, you’ve really dialed back on.

Stephen: Yeah. One of the areas where I’ve struggled, you mentioned … Yeah. I took a trip to Utah and Wyoming for work a couple weeks ago. Or, being at home with the family. Right? What I’m struggling with is do I post some of that content on Twitter so that the folks … The platform where I’ve really invested myself so that those followers get a real sense of who I am as a full person and don’t just see me as, “Oh, that’s Steve, the podcaster and content marketer.” I want them to know that there’s more to me than that. But, it’s also just … I don’t know that that’s the right platform for that, and I do feel like I’m a little bit stuck in the middle here where I don’t want to be so obsessed with posting some of these personal snippets to Instagram. But, I don’t know that it’s right to post to Twitter. It just doesn’t get shared, and maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’m missing out on something, or missing an opportunity.

There’s no right answer, and I think we all have to be pretty comfortable with the fact that it’s not like there’s a right and a wrong way to use social media. But, I do feel like I’ve almost stumbled onto a situation that does work for me, at least.

Josie: I dig it. Well, we’ve already kind of hinted around you as a podcaster and what you do for work. So, let’s just, even though in my intro I said it a little bit. But, give us just a little insight of you’ve had experience both on campuses and now as a campus partner. So, give us a little insight into what that world looks like for you today.

Stephen: Yeah. That was a terrifying move for me. There I go, I’m saying terrified again. See, it’s not just you. I’m not just terrified of being on the show. I’m terrified all the time.

Josie: Life is terrifying sometimes.

Stephen: It’s so terrifying. But honestly, so I spent the first eight years of my career on campus. And so, the move to leave and go to a campus partner was pretty scary. It was a great unknown for me in a lot of ways. So, yeah. My job now is really to talk with campus partners, understand what they’re going through on their own campuses, what their goals are and their challenges and their pain points. And honestly, if then … If our goods and services line up with that, that’s great. If it doesn’t, I honestly am happy with that too. I just love having these conversations with folks, and I think that’s the best part of the job is being off campus, being a campus partner. You get exposed to so much more than you do on campus because in any given day, I might talk to four people from four very unique institutions with different audiences and goals. So, they’re interested in different marketing tactics. It’s very interesting conversation.

I will say that I miss being on campus, quite transparently I think there’s just something about being on campus from a community field. You just don’t get that anywhere else. I don’t know if you feel the same way. Every time I step foot on a campus, I’m like, “Oh. This just feels different.” You feel some energy there, and a real community. I definitely miss that part of it.

Josie: That was something else I was drawn to you about, is that we both got our start on campuses. I was like 12-13 years, and then my doctorate. It was terrifying not to leave. Well, just to not have some of those structures or health insurance in place. But, I do. I found I really love this macro perspective of seeing these trends and observations and needs, and I love how you shared that you just want to be of service. Like, they may not want to end up working with you but you’ve got this still … You’re kind of like mission-driven focused to your work that you do, which sometimes when you pass somebody in a booth at a conference and they’re in sales or a vendor, all of a sudden you assume that all of a sudden they’ve gone to the dark side.

Stephen: Yes.

Josie: Even though we desperately need our campus partners to be able to do that, and especially within marketing. This is the kind of stuff that … It’s hard to keep up with in a department within a division, university, and now I’m working with executives. So, we need folks like you. I learned tons from you, because I think you just geek out on it naturally. Right?

Stephen: Totally. That’s why I love the conversations. I don’t necessarily need it to go anywhere. But if I can learn from you and hopefully teach you something, and you can learn a little bit from me, I think we both win. One of the things that I often think is when one institution does better, collectively we can raise the game for the entire industry of higher education. That’s really important. These are big decisions being made by these prospective students. We need to make sure that we’re helping them and enabling them to make the best decision they can, and to do that we all have to market better.

Josie: Yeah. And I’m totally going off script, because I caught one of your podcasts yesterday. But, it was about email lists and buying names. This was something I had no idea about, and I’ve worked in higher eds for years and years now. This behavior that sometimes that you have to do in buying lists and names, to then market to these students who took the SATs. And then I really appreciated … So, yeah. We’ll link to that, listen to that episode. You brought up ethics in that, I think that’s so important. So, what is the ethics of marketing as a field? Especially in higher ed. That’s why I have you on the podcast, is you can bring values-based, mission-driven ethics.

Stephen: Yeah. That was a fun episode. I wanted to talk about lists for a while, and just couldn’t find the right guest. And then, I was lucky enough to actually be introduced to [inaudible 00:18:08]. He was able to come on the show and talk about that. It is such an interesting idea, because there are schools that generate up to 80-85% of their inquiry pool from that tactic. To me, that’s a problem. We need to start thinking about how to shift that balance. We can’t just turn off the faucet overnight, but we do need to think about how we can rely on something that does have such important ethical questions surrounding it. How can we limit how much we rely on that tactic? That’s part of it, you’re right. Like, just figuring it out. I don’t know the exact pathway forward, but put together I think by having these conversations we can at least start to illuminate that path.

Josie: Yeah. I came from student affairs, so sometimes I didn’t even realize the operating or even pressure that enrollment management, or marketing professionals were under on my own campus. So, that’s also why it’s great to get all kinds of folks on the podcast to hear all those unique things. So, I have all my guests fill out a little survey to get to know them, and just get some insights and things. Yours was one of the most hilarious. Like, I enjoyed your survey responses. This is not going into some kind of publication piece. It just helps me make hopefully a really great podcast episode. And you wrote verbatim, I just really freakin’ love working in higher education.

Stephen: I’m just telling it like it is.

Josie: Tell me why you love higher ed.

Stephen: I think you mentioned it. Right, the mission. We’re all just mission-based. I feel like I’m so bought into this mission. I’ve been lucky enough to do some work in other industries. I’ve done some e-commerce marketing. I’ve done marketing for a software as a service company. When you’re in higher education, at the end of the day if you’ve done your job right, somewhere between 18 and who knows? 45 year old person, make a really good decision that is going to improve their lives. We recognize now as a society, and we have recognized this for decades that higher education is still the main way that individuals kind of further their social mobility and improve their lives. This is a big thing that we are selling.

If you don’t feel good about helping students make a great choice and find their right educational fit, then honestly you need to stop working in higher education and go somewhere else. Honestly, at the end of the day, you feel good about what you’re doing? That would be the first part. But, I also think that the people in higher education are so unique and so incredible. There’s a real community in higher education, across institutions. You’ll see folks from rival institutions that are sharing best practices and tips. You don’t really see that in other industries. Everyone here is so generous with their time and their insights. We have multiple podcasts that are dedicated just to meeting and talking and getting to know professionals in higher education. That’s really cool!

Josie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephen: I don’t know other industries where you just have podcasts that are dedicated to just … Let’s get to know so-and-so, who works in higher ed. It’s just such a really cool culture, and I’m a lifer at this point. I don’t see how I could go anywhere else.

Josie: Higher ed for life.

Stephen: Higher ed for life. Higher ed is my ride or die, as the kids are saying.

Josie: Ride or die. Yeah. So, I was an undergrad. Fell in love with college, I thought I was going to be a high school guidance counselor. Realized, “Nope, this place is for me.” And I was like, I’m never going to leave. So instead of just keeping getting degrees even though I have four, I’ve just stayed … There really is this, that is like you had mentioned, you miss working physically on a campus. There is an energy that is there that you become.

Stephen: Yeah. That was honestly, even when I came over to eCity, I was attracted to it because it was an agency. But, I never would’ve made that move if they didn’t have a higher education focus because I wanted to try something new. But, I just knew I couldn’t let go of higher education as something to focus on. So, it worked out for me in that regard. But, yeah. I just love it. I just really freakin’ love higher education.

Josie: We’re just going to play that quote of you. If you’re not into this, get out.

Stephen: Seriously.

Josie: Some folks need to hear that. That’s a hard pill to swallow. I wanted to ask, and I was meaning to ask this earlier. For those that might be thinking about, “Hey, you know what? I really do love higher ed, but there’s not opportunities, as many on campus or I’m just starting to be more curious about these non-campus based positions.” What would be your advice? Where should they start, or how do you know if a campus partner service provider does have something like eCity does that’s going to feel good, and doesn’t just turn you away from why you were pulled into higher ed in the first place?

Stephen: I think it obviously does depend for every person. I know for me, I was in a great role but I had … I think if I’m being honest with myself, I had kind of hit my ceiling. Both from an advancement standpoint, there wasn’t really a clear role ahead of me. And, I think also just from a execution level. Like, we had a really small budget. Some of the ideas I was coming up with were not feasible for the institution, and when you are on campus and you’re told that you can’t do something, that’s a lot of times kind of it. Right? That’s the conversation, and you move onto the next thing. So for me, going to a campus partner was about just broadening my horizons and getting to try new things because when you’re a campus partner, one institution may say, “Oh, we can’t do that.” But, another institution is going to say, “We can do that.” You get to experience those things that you wanted to try. You get to innovate.

You get to learn new things. And so, that really was the draw for me. I think if you’re considering, if that’s a situation that someone out there finds themselves in, I think you just really have to get to know your partner. So if you’re lucky enough to attend conferences, go talk to those vendors at the exhibitor booths and hopefully they’re like me and they’re not just looking for a sale. And, they’ll actually have those conversations but don’t just ask them about their products. Ask them about their day to day life. Ask them how often they get to visit campus. What their focus is, are they exclusively higher education? Is that just one area of focus for them? Why do they like working with their education clients? Understand what their culture is, because you may find that you get all the benefits of getting to try new things. And, improve your own professional development and hopefully you won’t have to give up that feeling, that mission-focus or that feeling of community. That was the way for me, and hopefully it can be the way for others if they’re thinking about that move.

Josie: You found there’s specific skills that have or haven’t translated over? It seems like you really have to be able to think macro, like not just one institution.

Stephen: You do. You have to be quick thinking, or able to pivot quickly. You have to be agile, I guess is the best way to say it because you may … Even in my own experience, I will in any given day work with a small liberal arts school on a doctoral program. Then, I’m going to switch tactics and talk to a big state public institution about an undergraduate program. Those are radically different, and the audiences are completely different. The tactics, the budget, it’s all different. You have to be able to quickly focus in on something, and then be able to just as quickly forget it and move into the next area. That is something that I did not have to really do a whole lot of at my old institution, where of course we had one audience. That audience wasn’t changing, at least not quickly. We knew what the programs were, so we knew what the message was. We knew what the brand was, we knew what the voice was.

There’s power in getting to really dig into that, and just fully understand it at a deep level. But if that is what you love, then moving to the campus partner side might not be right for you because it requires a radically different skillset.

Josie: So, part of your role is that you produce a podcast called #HigherEd. It’s fantastic, you’ve been running it for a while. What’s the most enjoyable part of the show? I know it’s hard to pick favorites, so I’m not going to ask you to do that. But, yeah. What are you all talking about, geeking out about on that podcast?

Stephen: Yes. Thank you, I should say, for letting me talk about #HigherEd because it is honestly my favorite part of my job, honestly, is producing that podcast. It’s a show that every other week we get to release an episode where we’re just talking with a campus practitioner, who in my opinion has found an interesting or new way to connect with their audience through content. Maybe increase enrollment, or increase engagement, or reach a new audience. They’re just trying something different. The mission behind it is really, again, just to help educate and help learn. And not just for my audience, but for me. There are so many institutions out there across the country, and we have creative professionals doing so many different things.

You know, my goal for this podcast is just to get to know what are those professionals doing? Is it working, and if you’re listening to the show, is that something that you can now bring to your campus? And for me, is that something that I can talk to someone else about and say, “Oh, I heard about so-and-so. They had a lot of success with doing this. Maybe we could try that.” So, it’s mutually beneficial. I get to know great people in the community, I learn, hopefully our audience learns, and everybody wins and it’s a great way to meet new people and have great conversations.

Josie: I totally agree. I have learned so much from my guests. It’s als interesting, I don’t know if you edit your episodes. But, re listening not only as a speaker, am I learning stuff about my speaking style? But, then when you rehear something a couple times, it sinks in differently or how I do reflections at the end, how I’m going to be able to wrap those types of things up.

Stephen: Yeah. It’s not a short show, we’re usually around 35 minutes. I do think, yeah, when you listen to it maybe the second time around, whether you’re looking for quotes or something I do I’ll say, “Oh, you know what? I never even …” When we’re recording it live, I didn’t even make this connection. But now that I’m listening to it a second time, I see where he or she was going. Of course, I don’t expect my audience to listen to every episode multiple times. But if you do, you’ll learn something the second time, hopefully.

Josie: So, was that one of your ideas? Is that something you pitched to eCity? How were you able to get it off the ground and do it for so long?

Stephen: Yeah, it was. It was an idea of mine, I should say. I shouldn’t just say, “Yes, it was.” But, we had done it for a client not in higher education, and it’s funny because that actually came out of a conversation we were talking with our client’s client about doing some collaborative marketing. And the more I listened to this gentleman talk, I finally turned to my colleague and I was like, “This is not a blog post. This is a podcast.” And so, we just went with it. We did a mini series, I think it was five episodes. So, really short. I think we were just … We were hooked. It was such a fun experience putting this show together, and I did some searching and I didn’t see a ton of higher education podcasts out there.

One of our goals as an agency at the time was to build more brand awareness within the higher education space. We hadn’t been in the space such a long time that we had a great tradition in it, and so this just seemed like a way to become thought leaders, get in early, really kind of build an audience and a space that was open. I think selfishly for me, like I said before, just an opportunity to just meet more people and learn from some really smart people in higher education. And so I pitched it, and we did a trial run of … We were only going to do 10 episodes, we ended up doing 15 in season one because I think it went better than we expected it to. Now, we’re in the homestretch of season two and we’re just going to keep on motoring.

Josie: Awesome. I have noticed, because I pay attention as a podcaster, like different styles where the ads go. You’re blending them within your episodes, so how is that going or where was that choice?

Stephen: I know. Some people do it in the beginning or the ends, and when I was starting to structure our episodes, I was just noticing that naturally we were kind of touching on two to three … I’ll say themes for the show, right? Like, “Oh, here’s the general concept we’re talking about, and I really kind of want to focus on these three aspects of it.” I felt like for a 35-40 minute show, I’m not naïve. I know people are almost going to tune out a little bit. They might be listening to a podcast while scrolling through Instagram or reading another post or checking email. I felt like kind of just almost introducing a little bit of a break where there’s some music, and it just change. You got this dialogue going, and all of a sudden the dialogue stops and in comes this music. It just feels different. It almost just brings you back to the show, and so I felt like that might be a better way to do it.

We actually started the first season, we didn’t have ads so it was literally just a musical interlude. And then, it kind of worked out in season two that we could start actually putting some mid-roll ads in there.

Josie: So, we both sat on a panel together at the Case Social Media and Community Conference in New Orleans. You joined us, you streamed in. You had just had a little baby. We actually had-

Stephen: You were so nice.

Josie: … a few panelists jump in and, something else that really impressed me about you on that panel, I feel like you’re just such a big thinker. Again, this goes back to the macro maybe why you were drawn to eCity. Just like dreaming and scheming about what podcast and higher ed could be like. I can’t pull off the top of my head like the ideas that you had. But, what are you just seeing or could see in higher ed as we think about the future of podcasting or even just content marketing, content creation if we were to think about what we maybe on the surface define things?

Stephen: Yeah. I think honestly, it’s funny. They’re big picture things, but a lot … There are some great schools that are already doing it. I’m really impressed that I’m seeing more come out, even more recently. There’s a couple different ways to think higher ed can approach this. But, I think of one aspect being I think what the University of Notre Dame is doing, which they’re doing this really impressive long form storytelling. We’ve actually covered the text-based side of this on the #HigherEd podcast in season one, but they’ve turned those stories of impact. Whether it’s academic research or philanthropy or students who are volunteering and making a difference in the community. They tell these great stories, and they’re actually turning those into podcasts. So, they’ve kind of tapped into this whole idea of storytelling for content marketing.

You know, I could see a prospective student wanting to listen into that and hear about, “Is this a community that is right for me? Listen to these incredible things that faculty are doing. I want to learn from that person.” So, I think the way that they’ve gone about that is interesting. But, I think there’s also a ton of utility in podcasting. You know, I think it’s Bentley University up in Massachusetts. They have a really cool career podcast, and it’s just a career services offices. It’s not necessarily just for current college students, but they just have a really great podcast where they dish out on career advice. Again, that’s a totally different angle than what Notre Dame is doing, but it’s still really useful and still going to get a lot of interest, especially from a content marketing standpoint if you’re looking for that type of information. So, I think there are a ton of different ways that institutions can go about podcasting and get value of it. I think I’m excited, we’re already seeing some great examples of that.

Josie: Yeah, you can definitely see different ones pop up. I guess the test is always how sustainable it is to continue it. I’m sure as you do, lots of folks contact me looking for advice with it. Because it can be fairly low cost, it’s more of the human capital components of the skills required. Do you have any advice? What are some themes that you tend to share?

Stephen: Yeah, and you’re right. You can do this, really do this on a budget but it’s not a small process to put these together. As you of course know yourself firsthand, the one thing I always caution is not to get caught up in shiny toy syndrome. Don’t just say, “Oh, so-and-so has a podcast. Let’s start our podcast!” And then, you’re four episodes in and you’ve run out of content and it grows stale. I think with podcasting, one of the things that’s really important for building an audience is consistency. We try to release a show every other week, even if some of those weeks now at this point are maybe a rebroadcast of a previous episode. We’re trying to just stay top of mind, every other week you can expect an episode to get published. I think if you don’t have that longterm vision for podcasting, like I said, you might do two episodes.

Not really publish anything for a couple weeks and months, your audience is going to delete that show from their podcasting app. They’re not going to follow it. They’re not going to get those push notifications. So, I think thinking long term, really aligning your podcast to a goal for your institution and not just saying, “So-and-so down the street has a podcast, so we need a podcast.” It has to be part of a larger vision and mission.

Josie: Sure. We can start to compare and feel like, okay. Social media apps are the same. Like, okay. Now you need to get on Snapchat-

Stephen: Totally.

Josie: Where I would say some of those social apps might be more easy to jump on then podcasting. Another thing I’ve been experimenting, and if a department is saying or a division is saying I want a podcast, is so I’ve been playing around trying to capture audio where I’m at and repurposing it. So, that podcasting panel, there were some hiccups in the audio at the end unfortunately. But, it was already going to happen. Right? And, now we’re opening up to the masses. So if you’re going to have this resume writing workshop, the career center, how can you make that into some sound bites or just rerecord that in a way that would be translatable? So, what’s the stuff that you’re already doing? Or if it’s like, the convocation? Can you record the speaker’s talk with permission? Because we already do so many of these things with audio, that maybe that could be the thing. Because I follow a lot of different marketers and speakers, and half the time I’m just listening to their key notes or a panel they’ve been on or something.

Stephen: There’s so much going on, on your campus. That is one of the things that higher ed marketing professionals are short on many resources. They’re not short on content. There’s so much happening. I think what we need to really try to focus on and remember is exactly what you said. Just capturing what is going on, and how can I give that event the most legs? One of the other things I always say is your podcast is not the finish line. It’s the starting line. How can you repurpose that audio? Could you turn those audio clips into an e-book or a blog post or even social graphics with someone’s headshot in a pole quote or something? You know, if you see the podcast as, again, part of a larger idea and you kind of grab at it. It’s almost like a Thanksgiving dinner, right? We eat this big meal, but then we eat leftovers for weeks after that. If your audio is this big Thanksgiving dinner, how can you pull from that over the next couple days and weeks to extend the life of that content?

Josie: Sometimes the leftovers are even better!

Stephen: They’re always better. The hot turkey sandwiches and the stuffing and the mashed potatoes? It’s always better.

Josie: Totally. Yeah. It’s like, pillar content. Your podcast, the pillar. How can you break that up?

Stephen: Exactly.

Josie: Again, it takes some work. You need to put some really smart people in a room to make that happen. So, this totally goes against bright shiny objects, right? But if you were to create another podcast, no matter if it’s higher ed related or not, what would it be?

Stephen: Oh. Honestly, it’s funny that you ask this question because I have been thinking so much about what would another podcast be? If I could actually handle a second podcast, but I do think about it all the time. Like, what’s that next idea? I have one. I have one that I’m really excited about, but I’m keeping it a little close to the vest because I think it actually is realistic in the future. But, one idea that I don’t have any plans for but what I would love to do is just do almost this chronological podcast that follows three to five students as they progress through the college search process. What is the journey look like for a student who comes from … Who has legacy parents at a lead institution?

And then at the same time, also following maybe a student who’s a lower income first generation college student and just literally picking three students and just following them from their junior year of high school, when they’re starting to attend maybe college fairs or think about their essay or visit campus. As they write their college essay, as they await decisions, as they weigh their options and navigate the financial aid system. I just think that would be so cool for an audience to just listen. You don’t know how that show is going to end, right? If we’re doing it in real-time.

Josie: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. Wow.

Stephen: You’re like, waiting to see what they’re going to choose. But, I think that would be a really cool podcast. I don’t have the resources to make it work, but if you’re listening to this show and you want to help, maybe we can tag team it.

Josie: Yeah. That sounds like something we could pitch to NPR.

Stephen: Yeah.

Josie: Yeah. That sounds awesome. I would totally want to tune into that.

Stephen: Yes, because there’s … It’s just such an emotional decision for these … I want to say kids. They’re not kids, they’re young adults. But, it’s a big decision. It’s not a short decision.

Josie: Oh, sure. Yeah.

Stephen: It takes a lot of time.

Josie: Years prior.

Stephen: And bring in some real time drama to that.

Josie: Next time on, “What Will You Do With Your Life?”

Stephen: Which school will Lisa choose? Find out next week!

Josie: Okay, before we get to the last section, I had to bring up a couple other things from some insight you gave me about you. Because again, it was just amazing. You shared you’re an amateur runner and professional donut connoisseur.

Stephen: I take my donuts very seriously.

Josie: Found on Twitter, staunchly defending the Oxford comma and really against the use of exclamation points in emails. Okay. What’s wrong with exclamation points?

Stephen: I will have you know that, I don’t know if you noticed. But, the last email I wrote to you I did include one exclamation point.

Josie: Just the one.

Stephen: Just the one. It’s too much. It’s too much, people. Dial back your exclamation points. I feel like I’m getting yelled at, all day every day.

Josie: I think we’re going to have an exclamation point in the title of this episode.

Stephen: No!

Josie: No.

Stephen: Don’t do it to me, Josie.

Josie: Or, maybe a donut emoji.

Stephen: Seriously, I take my donuts very seriously. It’s actually a problem.

Josie: Where are you based out of?

Stephen: I’m in Philadelphia.

Josie: And there is like an iconic-

Stephen: For sure. So in the winter time, we have a placed called … Well, it’s open year-round. But in the winter time, there’s a place called ‘Federal Donuts,’ and they’re like the hot, fresh, granulated sugar donuts that leave grease marks on all of your fingers and they’re heaven, especially on a cold rainy day. We also have a place called Beilers, which is like the lightest, fluffiest donut with this really … The glaze is perfect. It’s almost lighter than air. I’m like salivating, actually, as I talk about these donuts. But everywhere I go, every city I go, that’s my mission is to find a donut shop and try something different. They’re the perfect food. They’re just the perfect food.

Josie: You’re talking about donuts like people talk about wine out here in southern California. It’s pretty magical, actually.

Stephen: Donuts are magical, so it makes sense.

Josie: We started talking about terrifying, and now we’re in magical. So, I think we’re a win.

Stephen: Yes!

Josie: So, we got talking about content marketing, moving from on campus to service providers and a whole lot about podcasting. What other recommendations or resources do you have, podcasters to follow, people to check out, Twitter, LinkedIn, universities, anything that you want to give a shout out to?

Stephen: I should say, I err on the side of practical a lot of times. I’m not a big fiction reader. I focus a lot on kind of non-fiction practical publications, but I would say so if you’re into storytelling, I still think from a podcast perspective, This American Life is still head and shoulders above everyone else. They’ve been doing it for so long, and they do it so well. So if you’re into storytelling, that is a great podcast.

I also think everyone should check out the new podcast by Adam Grant. He’s an author and professor at University of Pennsylvania. It’s called Work Life, and it’s a really short … I think it was an eight episode miniseries, but it’s just all about how do we make work better. We spend so much time at work, like it really needs to be improved. I think he talks about some really cool concepts in that podcast, so I would definitely recommend that. On the books side, I really love the book ‘Everybody Writes.’ It is my bible, it’s written by Ann Handley. I return to that book all the time when I’m writing for the website, for blogs, for clients.

The last thing I’ll say is I just recently read Paying the Price, which is by a local professor in Philadelphia. She’s from Temple, Sara Goldrick-Rab. It’s just all about students and the financial aid model of higher education, and it’s super interesting. It really opens your eyes to this whole other side of college enrollment that I’m lucky enough I realize now. I’m lucky and privileged enough that I didn’t experience first hand. But if you’re in higher education and you’re in student affairs or admissions, that is a must, must read.

Josie: Well, Sara is also going to be at my podcast, which I think you’re scooping her up as well, doing the rounds. She’s definitely-

Stephen: I’m bringing her in November. She’s hard to book!

Josie: She is, but rightfully so. Right? Very important topic. She’s getting out to a lot of campuses to get some cool programs going. She’s going international, too. So, she’s definitely one to follow. What about you? Where can people find you to connect and reach out?

Stephen: Definitely not on Facebook right now. We know now don’t friend me on Facebook. Definitely find me on LinkedIn, just search for Stephen App. Stephen with a PH, which is the only correct way to spell Stephen and everyone who tell you otherwise is lying. You can find me there on Stephen App, and on Twitter I’m just @stephenapp. This is honestly probably the best place to find me. We talked about on the show, it is my platform of choice. And I’ll say this too, if you want to email me, I am so open to that. My email address is just sapp@ecityinteractive.com. If you want to talk about content from this show or #HigherEd Podcast or just advice for if you want to maybe switch over to a campus partner side, I’m your man. I’m always up for a good conversation.

Josie: You’re just so approachable.

Stephen: Oh, thank you.

Josie: If you think about committee work or group work, you are such a solid panelist. I feel like every time we were having a meeting you’re like, “How can I help?” I was like, “Oh. You’re a dream boat right now,” for a team member and for a podcast guest. Last two questions, I always end every podcast episode with my mission of this podcast is to connect tech and leadership in higher ed, which really is coming out to be much different for a lot of different folks, especially within social media. How do we live out our values and make meaning on and offline? If you knew your next Tweet was going to be your last on that platform, what would you hope it would be about?

Stephen: So, I think … I’ve got two young kids, they’re both under the age of three. I think it would have to be, even if it was Twitter. It would have to be just a post of my family. Obviously I’ve been family-focused for a while, but now especially with two young children, it is everything. You have a hard day at work, and you have a tough commute home? And it doesn’t matter, you walk in the door and these kids are running up to you and giving you big hugs. It puts everything into perspective. So, I think the last picture would just have to be a picture of the family, because they’re everything. I’m tearing up on audio. You can’t see it, because you’re listening to the show.

Josie: I know. I really dig in and then I leave you for the rest of your day to deal with your feelings.

Stephen: Right.

Josie: This is a question I added. I think last season was like, “Okay. We need to bring it back up, right?” So, you’re making an impact though. We just met I think like in February or March.

Stephen: Yeah.

Josie: Digitally, we’ve never met face-to-face.

Stephen: Not yet. Not yet.

Josie: Not yet, I know right? I was just in Philly last spring, too. Anyway, if you’re all listening can’t tell how just approachable and intentional you are, let me just validate that for you. But for you, as you think about your digital presence, logging on or even logging off certain apps. What do you hope all of this digital presence is making an impact on this world?

Stephen: I almost feel bad in the way I’m going to answer it, because I think it almost contradicts something really nice that you said earlier. But, I think I just want to educate and hopefully I’ve just left people feeling more empowered and educated than they were before I was online. I think there are so many big-picture people in higher education. You of course are doing some amazing work in that regard, but there’s colleagues across higher education that are doing that big-picture thinking, that the [inaudible 00:50:29]. I admire those colleagues so much, but I think when we’re thinking about where we’re going longterm, like what is the future of higher education look like?

My hope, and I guess what my digital purpose is, is not to let us forget to improve in the short term as well. I think it’s great that there are some folks out there who are thinking about what higher education will look like for the class of 2033. But, I also want to make sure that we’re doing our best for the class of 2023. And so, I think that’s kind of my digital purpose. I don’t need to tell you where we’re going to be in 10 years, but I do want to hopefully help you do better tomorrow and the day after that. And, hopefully just improve something that you’re already working on and just learn. So as cheesy as it maybe sounds, I think that’s probably how I would describe my digital purpose.

Josie: I dig it. Cheesy on top of donuts, which you’ll go running later to run all that off and come home to your kids. It’s all integrated.

Stephen: It’s all integrated.

Josie: Well, thank you so very much. This has been super fun, I feel like we could probably geek out about a whole lot more within tech but I really appreciate your time and keep just being that purposeful, both focused on the micro but working at the macro. I love that perspective that you got, and I can’t wait for more people to connect with you through this podcast.

Stephen: Thank you so much. This was, like I said, I’m so excited to be on this show. I love this show. I think you’re doing incredible work with it. I’m honestly just super humbled to get to play a part in it, so thank you so much for inviting me.

Josie: I’m so glad I have gotten to work with Stephen a couple times this year from our panel at the Case Social Media and Community Conference, and now on this podcast. He is a great thinker, doer, and hopefully you felt all that positive energy. Whether it his ideas for a new podcast, his enthusiasm for working within higher end, or maybe his love for donuts, you can tell he’s speaking from the heart. When it comes to working in higher ed, he stated definitely if you don’t feel good about helping students make a great choice and find their educational fit, then you need to stop working in higher ed. Woo! That is some truth. I really appreciate this sentiment, and it’s refreshing to hear.

Something else that came up in Stephen’s episode was about acting with strategy. He takes a thoughtful approach between his own social and work projects. For himself, it means going off Facebook to focus maybe more … Not only on family, but going more into Twitter or LinkedIn, which he’s found his community is more vibrant and aligns more with his preferred style of communication. Finally, we get to dive into podcasting. With this type of content creation and consumption on the rise, one might feel that pressure to jump on the bandwagon, that your university or department or institution needs a podcast. Hopefully you heard us talk about that it does take a lot of work. It is an accomplishment, it does have great reach. But as Stephen shared, your podcast is not the finish line. It’s the starting line.

As we talked about, it’s how people will find you so then what will you do now that you have their attention? And, maybe that future podcast show. If you loved this episode, well, you’re going to love Stephen’s podcast #HigherEd. Please promise me you’ll go and check it out. Thank you, Stephen, so much for your time, your passion, your heart, and your genuine and serious love of donuts.

Please subscribe to Josie and the Podcast so you don’t miss any future episodes, and click that share button to share with your colleagues, friends, maybe even your family. I’d also be thrilled if you enjoyed the episode, to leave a review in iTunes or any of your favorite podcasting platforms. If you’re interested in learning more about my speaking, coaching, or consulting work on digital leadership in higher ed, or my researcher publishing, check me out at josieahlquist.com. Find me on Twitter or Instagram @josieahlquist. You can also connect with me on Facebook and LinkedIn, just search my name. Sending digital hugs, loves, and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from. This has been Josie and the Podcast.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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