Grand Gold, Digital Communications: Chapman University

Dawn Bonker is a Public Relations Writer for Chapman University, winner of a Grand Gold from the CASE VII 2016 Awards of Excellence in the Digital Communications category. CU was recognized for its extraordinary work to expand CU’s visibility through its Happenings blog. Since only six Grand Golds were awarded out of 500 entries, we thought it worth checking in with Dawn to learn a little more about what Chapman has been doing so well.

CASE VII: A lot of blogs get started with the idea that “If you build it, they will come,” but that’s not necessarily the case. What does Chapman do to grow its Web presence through its Happenings blog?
Dawn: We are believers in the philosophy that “content is king.” Like the editors of any publication or blog, we are aware that readers’ time is at a premium. So we work hard to write high-quality stories with original reporting, interviews and photography that showcase university news in a readable and engaging style. I’m the main writer for Happenings, but each member of the communications team contributes to the blog, and all have an extensive writing or journalism background, so that’s been key. Many of the stories that first appear in Happenings are repurposed for Chapman Magazine, too.

CASE VII: Chapman also aims to showcase its faculty by encouraging them to share their accomplishments on the Faculty Notes section of Happenings. Faculty can be difficult to reach, how do you get them to participate?
Dawn: We employ a fair amount of old-fashioned relationship-building – and no small amount of badgering, truth be told! I remind faculty and departmental assistants to send us their news via our new online submission form, but I always add that a quick email is fine, too. But use of the submission form is growing. When I see a story idea in a Faculty Note submission, I mention that to the faculty member when I call – “Hey, saw this in Faculty Notes. Great story, can we talk more?” That kind of thing. We also built the form to invite other faculty news, like talks given at the Rotary Club or local library. We’re starting to see which faculty are out in the community, which is good information for us as we enhance our local neighborhood relations.

CASE VII: You rely heavily on metrics to promote stories and video with higher “social scores.” Can you tell us exactly how that works?
Dawn: Our web team has created an algorithm that gives blog posts “social scores” based on engagement, including social shares, comments, and reads. The social media team at Chapman dips into blog content to promote news on Facebook and Twitter. All stories within the university’s blog system – which includes several departmental and college blogs – are considered by our web team for promotion. Those blog posts with the highest social scores rise to the top of our web page, inside.chapman.edu. By watching social metrics, we know what kind of content is generally most popular: Alumni-based and topical news content featuring faculty expertise. We plan Happenings content with that in mind. We meet regularly with our web team and home page content planners to make sure we’re delivering the type of content they need to advance the university’s messaging. It’s somewhat similar to a news planning meeting at a newspaper. Not all stories are green-lighted, while others might be planned as shorter announcements.

CASE VII: Of all the positive results you’ve seen, what’s been most rewarding?
Dawn: Our web designers have created a wonderful home page where these stories are beautifully displayed, and I think the combination of good content and killer design can’t be beat. It’s a great way to share the amazing stories about our students, alumni and faculty who are doing important, creative and interesting things in the world.

CASE VII: What’s next for Happenings?
Dawn: Our graduating classes have grown in the past 10 years, so we have many alumni who are starting to hit their stride in their fields. We are writing many more alumni stories and profiles.

CASE VII: Has life changed for you since you won the CASE VII Grand Gold? Does the air smell sweeter?
Dawn: What’s that? I couldn’t quite hear you over all these bluebirds of happiness twittering around here. Yes, our whole team is pretty pleased with the Grand Gold!


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