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101B, Wisconsin Center

We’re Not Houseplants: Rethinking Community Engagement Strategies in Marketing and Communications

Monday, Oct 14 8:30 - 9:15

Presented by Kristin Van Dorn

Community engagement is often pitched like this: “If you want to keep a plant alive you have to water it. If you want to keep a community alive, you have to figure out how to nurture it.”

Community engagement is promoted as a salve for almost every kind of woe from under-performance to lagging revenue streams and donations. Institutions of higher education are focused on engaging not only their students and alumni, but also their employees, donors, student families, organizational partners, and broader communities.

The problem is, our communities are not houseplants. Marketing strategies that include personalized communications, sassy social campaigns, and frequent newsletters are great, but they’re not at the heart of what engagement is. And, when that heart is missing, we run the risk of irritating our audiences and losing connection.

In this talk, we’ll take a step back from the mechanics of engagement and revisit the underlying goals. We’ll explore what successful and meaningful community engagement looks like, and we’ll look at some of the common pitfalls that stymie our engagement efforts.



Kristin Van Dorn

User Experience Analyst

Kristin Van Dorn is an earnest and enthusiastic User Experience Analyst at the University of Minnesota. She has been working in nonprofit and higher education communications for her whole career. A few years ago, she completed one of those interdisciplinary masters degrees where she studied the unique branding and marketing challenges of higher education institutions. For some reason, Van Dorn can’t help herself; she loves working and going to school simultaneously. So, she’s in a Higher Education Ph.D. program. Van Dorn loves to help academics translate their heady research into understandable and engaging prose. And, she really enjoys wrangling multiple inputs and reshaping them into common frameworks where they can be easily expressed and acted upon.