SOU revamps website, social media

Southern Oregon University is taking a virtual leap into the future with projects designed to streamline its website, make better use of social media and connect the campus to the community through new blogs.

"This is all a part of the reinventing of the SOU brand," said Jeremy Speer, who came to SOU in March as the new web communication manager.

"More than anything else, a website represents the culture that created it. This was a small, inbred organization that changed by choice and by cuts," Speer said. "The goal is to really maximize the way SOU relates to the outside world."

Speer came to the university to be an advocate for change for a website that is difficult to navigate.

"It's so important to make it better. The website is the center of it all," said Jim Beaver, director of interactive marketing and media relations.

The hard part is deciding what content should stay and what should go, Speer said.

"Websites are organic and they tend to grow like a coral reef," he said. "There's so much content that is very near and dear to some people, we can't just delete that." The website has 8,000 live pages.

Until March, SOU had never had a web manager. The Information Technology department had been filling the void by using students and part-time positions to organize the site.

"This university has never really leveled the power of the Internet," Speer said. "Currently it is very internally focused. We are trying to turn it around to be externally focused."

SOU has hired Portland-based Sockeye Creative Inc. for research into what the university needs from its website and to assist in creating an easily maintainable site. A new design is expected next year.

"We've started to make small steps," said Beaver.

Beaver estimates that the staff dedicated to marketing is 40 percent smaller this year because of the focus on a larger web presence and letting go of more print advertising.

"It's incredibly cost effective," Beaver said.

With the new website, SOU is making way for new approaches with social media by setting up a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and different blogs.

SOU President Mary Cullinan's new blog was created when she visited China for two weeks with the Oregon Legislative and Trade Delegation to keep the campus aware of her progress. That blog will continue to be updated.

Melissa Michaels works in the College of Arts and Sciences and has created a blog highlighting new faculty members.

"It really is brand new. We are just launching it," Michaels said. "Faculty Focus is created to give prospective students a sense of what a conversation (with professors) would be like."

The blogs include a brief biography of the faculty members with pictures and a recording of their voice in an interview setting, meant to give a snapshot of the person.

"These are really in-depth articles that show their area of expertise," Michaels said.

The blog features three new faculty members at a time with a list of 10 more to be highlighted.

"Prospective students are the biggest constituency," Michaels said.

She spends about 15 hours a week interviewing faculty and posting the blog.

The next project will highlight recently promoted faculty, people who have received tenure or been promoted to a new position. There is also a plan to highlight faculty who have returned from sabbatical and the research they have done.

"Of course we would love to highlight all the faculty, they are all stellar," Michaels said.

A student blog project, "Southern Oregon University Blogs," is a collection of writings and pictures by students about their daily lives at SOU.

The blogs are not connected to the SOU website yet. To see the new blogs, visit http://blogs.sou.edu/facultyfocus/ and blogs.sou.edu.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Johanna Thompson at 541-482-3456, ext. 225.

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