Now that the site has been formally established, the design has been updated and improved, and we have accrued a sizable amount of content, thus begins the next phase in development: marketing. Marketing is often used as an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, delivering and communicating value to customers, in addition to maintaining and developing customer relations in a way that best serves the product, company, or brand. In our case, we’re not really trying to appeal to “customers” per se, because they do not buy our paper and we do not make money off of them. The student body of SLC can be seen somewhat like “customers” in that they are consuming the product (the paper and online content) that we produce. With a new staff, an entirely restructured press cycle, and an entirely redesigned web platform, we need to not only brand ourselves anew but market and advertise ourselves to a community that 1. is generally apathetic 2. has historically held unfavorable opinions about our publication and 3. does not know much if anything about our publication, its history, its staff, and its mission.

Because of the integration of the online platform, this marketing and public relations campaign will begin using internet mediums. As of now, we have established a Facebook Page and a Twitter account. Throughout the week, we tweet out links not only to our site main pages when we refresh them, but also to specific articles and photographic content that we want to promote. Ideally, because of the nature of the Twitter platform, we want to generate most of our buzz here. Twitter is easy to use, broadly accessible, and the hashtag functions makes it easy for us to connect with people that may be outside of the Sarah Lawrence sphere. Unfortunately, we have not developed a wide-enough Twitter following (and not enough SLC students have and regularly use their Twitter accounts) for this to be widely effective.

Thus the use of Facebook. Our Facebook page functions a little bit differently from typical institution pages. We do not have “followers” that “like” our page, we have “friends.” Our page is unique in that in half functions as typical Facebook user profile, and half functions as a business page. While at first this type of page gave me qualms, as it turns out this was the best option for our uses. By utilizing this kind of page, I can go online and actually personally “friend” Sarah Lawrence Students. This may seem creepy but it’s actually very effective: students see the personal invitations that I send them and feel as though they have been awarded special attention. It is also way more likely for a student to agree to a Facebook “friend” invite than to respond to an invitation to “like” a page. In the span of a few days, I was able to “friend” way more people than have ever been associated with our Facebook page. We are able to engage with and disseminate content to a much wider audience. This type of page also allows whoever is using The Phoenix’s Facebook account to privately message individuals. This is useful for when we need to professionally, but more quickly and effectively, communicate with people about publication business.

Because of the personal nature of Facebook and because so many students regularly check-in online, when I post content to our Facebook page it is seen by a wider audience of people. By utilizing Facebook, I have been able to increase site traffic exponentially, sharing content with a much wider audience than before. Users can engage with the content on Twitter, but Facebook provides an easier platform for commenting. Since beginning to heavily utilize our Facebook page, our articles have received way more attention, people have actually shared links on their personal Facebook pages (without me having to ask them haha!) and many have commented.

Originally I thought that by providing commenting and sharing options on the site, the majority of conversation would take place their. Since using Facebook, this has not been the case at all. We have received a few very long, very detailed comments on the site but most of the commenting happens in the comments section under the links on Facebook. Some of the commentary has been negative, but a vast majority has been very positive. This is another marketing boon: when people are positively commenting on articles, other people see that and then their image of our brand is improved. On Facebook, hundreds of people see these comments. Even if comments are negative, I’m still happy because that means that people are reading our content, the content is evoking a reaction, and then individuals are responding and acting upon that reaction.

Though the pathways that our readers take to engage with that content is not what I had originally thought would happen, they are still engaging with the content and ultimately this is all that matters. When other people comment and share links on Facebook, they are marketing our brand for us! And that’s awesome. The whole purpose of creating an online platform was to generate an online public forum—a digital space where our content would evoke discussion. The goal was for users to read content, engage with the content, and then bring discussion from real life online and vice versa. And that’s exactly what’s happening. Going forward, our marketing strategies for online communications will mirror these trends. We will continue to promote links on Facebook and Twitter, but individual editors and writers will also share links—ideally from the Facebook page so that not only will their Facebook friends be directed to the site, but will also be directed to our Facebook page. In theory, this should not only increase site traffic but also increase our followership on Facebook as well.

Beyond online and social media marketing strategies, we are also working on advertising and marketing campaigns in non-digital spaces. This will namely be in the form of word of mouth information propagation and flyers. Our flyers are especially important because they will direct people to our site who are not necessarily within our sphere of influence online. There are many individuals who we are not connected to on Facebook or Twitter, and who may never happenstance stumble upon a link to our site. These flyers are also important because, graphically, they are helping to define our brand. A really important aspect of our branding strategy is the graphic design of our site and our print publication. We emphasize clean, clear, minimal layouts with black and white and cream and forest green (our school colors) tones. Advertisers aim to make their products instantly recognizable to their markets. Hopefully, by propagating our cream and forest green-toned graphic of a phoenix rising out of the ashes, our readers will be able to see a flyer or see our site up on a computer screen and be able to instantaneously recognize it as The Phoenix. Our flyers are going to go up everywhere: in all student-run spaces, all dining halls (including the Heimbold Atrium Café and Hill to Go), all community message boards, the Library, and pretty much anywhere else that we are physically allowed to put up flyers.

Further marketing strategies that we are devising will include publicity stunts (to be determined, we have talked about running around the North Lawn throwing papers and flyers in the air a lá Mean Girls but there is still much discussion on the topic) and public arts projects such as painting the community boards by Bates and Hill House and arranging white stones on either the North or South Lawns (or both) that spell out The Phoenix. We want to get our newspaper as much visibility as possible. Not only to grow readership but also to improve our community standing. Ultimately, our goal is that this will increase the number of students who are willing and excited to write for our publication, leading to more content, more variety, higher quality writing, and our ability to produce more stimulating news.

While all of these methods sound fine and dandy in theory, they are just our plan for now. We hope to adapt these campaign strategies as we go and see exactly how the community is responding. If something is not working, we’ll fix it or come up with something new. Young people are fickle, and we have to be able to almost instantaneously adjust how we are appealing to them in order to not lose our readership.

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Outrage: Community Forum at its Finest

With the launch of the site a few weeks in the past, we have begun to accrue a decent amount of content on the site. We have feature pieces, editorials, campus events, city happenings, and fashion, music, film, and food blog pages.

Upon the initial launch of the site, I wrote this letter explaining the mission of The Phoenix and the specific purposes of the online site:

Hello Sarah Lawrence College,

If you are reading this, then you have successfully navigated to The Phoenix Online. Welcome! We are absolutely stoked to be here and to be delivering you up-to-date news about our campus. After much ado we have finally stepped into the 21st century and upgraded our webpage, because there is way too much to talk about for just one bi-weekly newspaper.

Our goal is to publish accounts of campus events as well as to have individuals voice their opinions and perspectives on issues spanning everything from school politics to popular cultural trends. We are not only an onlinenews source but also a space for discussing, questioning, celebrating, discovering, and exploring everything that comprises Sarah Lawrence culture and beyond.

Anyone who attends or is employed by Sarah Lawrence College may write for this publication (subject to our editing). We host meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesdays in the North Room at the pub where anyone can come to contribute content, share ideas, or just see what we’re all about. We are always looking for new voices and new viewpoints.

In recent years, our print publication has fallen beneath an acceptable standard of publishing, both in terms of timeliness and presentation. Don’t worry, we know—which is why all of that is about to change. This site is our first step in re-conceptualizing and restructuring a publication that the entire community can be proud of.

Other platforms have been created to fill the void that existed in a school without a proper news source. SLCspeaks is an incredible publication that allows students’ stories to be shared in a way that has never before been done at this school. Its creators, managers, and writers have brought this school a sense of community that is invaluable. They redefined our notion of what it means to have a voice here. Let it be clear that we are not SLCspeaks, nor would we ever try to be.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about anything that we present or should be presenting, definitely let us know. At the bottom of each piece, there is space for you to put in your two cents and speak directly to our writers and editors. We implore you to let us, and each other, know what you think.

We want to be as transparent and accessible as possible for you. We want to start more open dialogues with you so that we can become the best we can be. All letters to the editor that we receive will be addressed timely and honestly.

We admit that we have a long way to go before we will be the publication that this campus deserves, but think of this as The Phoenix rising out of the ashes.

Sarah Lawrence is a very opinionated and vocal place, so I knew that as soon as any controversial content was put up on the site community members would respond immediately and passionately. Boy oh boy was I right.

In our previous print issue, we had published a piece written by a first-year student arguing that SLC lacks a sense of community and does not do enough to transition first-years into college. In it, she uses inflammatory language and basically rags on not only the administration but community members in general. She quotes various first-years in the piece, many of whom are her closest friends. I published the piece on the site, not because I thought that it was an important or particularly well-written piece, but because I knew that it would spark controversy. And it did.

Within 5 hours of me tweeting out and Facebook posting the link to the article, it received two essay-style responses in the comments section of the site. Students were enraged that the author called for more community-building organizations and potentially the introduction of Greek Life into Sarah Lawrence culture. Respondents questioned not only her opinion, but also her journalistic integrity in quoting only her closest friends.

A few people came up to me questioning why I published it if it was such a negative piece. To be honest, it was a PR stunt. I wanted to garner some attention of The Phoenix’s website. On the site are dozens of pieces which are absolutely positive—awesome film reviews, news pieces on important events on campus, and profiles of incredibly talented and prolific student artists. Furthermore, the purpose of a news source is to spark conversation, to let a community know what’s going on and open up a dialogue about that. Even if only a few students felt the same way that the author felt, it was still important to get those viewpoints out there and let the community have a chance to discuss them.

Though some people were divided by this piece and the issues raised, many were brought together. In the past few days, I have overheard countless students talking about how they disagree with her and how they love the SLC community. Though her piece was harsh and criticized community, it’s effects served to bolster community feeling and bring people together.

The fact that this topic was able to be discussed on an online forum is so important. Users were able to respond to each and communicate within the SLC network in a way that they haven’t before, separate from typical social media sites. The official public forum gave students a platform to write long, detailed responses that were respectful and intelligent. Had this article simply appeared on Facebook, the types of comments would have been much different and I suspect much less positive and helpful.

Though this is only a start, the community is starting to engage with our publication, and with each other, in new and powerful ways. I’m exciting to see what happens next, and what conversations brew in the comments section of the site.