When we’re all connected, you can’t control the message. The Internet generation will see through and skewer silly marketing messages.

M.I.T. kens the zen of marketing to some of the Web-savviest customers in the world: the august genius haven incorporates student blogs, complete with open, unedited comments, on its Web site. The result: authentic content and conversation with current and prospective students.

But oh my, don’t you run the risk of someone saying something—gasp!—negative? Don’t you need to screen out those potential naysayers?

“You want people who can communicate and who are going to be involved in different parts of campus life,” [MIT admissions director of communications Fred McOwen] said. “You want them to be positive, but it’s not mandatory.”

And not all posts are positive. Ms. Kim once wrote about how the resident advising system was making it impossible for her to move out of her housing — expressing enough irritation that the housing office requested that the admissions office take her post down. Officials refused,instead having the housing office post a rebuttal of her accusations; eventually, the system was changed [Tamar Lewin, “MIT Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree,” New York Times, 2009.10.01].

When everyone can talk to everyone, the truth comes out. If you try hiding the truth behind a slogan or an editorial policy, you will come out looking like a dope. Your only option is to simply perform, and let your actions—and your students, your clients, whoever—speak for themselves. And if you’re doing things right, you’ll get the good word:

But most of the blogs are exuberant, lyrical expressions of the joys of M.I.T. life, like last month’s post on returning as a sophomore:

“Something’s changed,” wrote Chris Mills. “Now you know what you’re in for, you know the sleepless nights and frustrations are never far away, but this knowledge can’t seem to remove the exhilarating smile on your face. And it’s in that masochistic moment that you realize who you are. That this is what you’re made for” [Lewin 2009.10.01].

Exuberant, lyrical… when’s the last time your marketing department turned out text that won descriptions like that from the New York Times? M.I.T. gets text like that from students for $10 an hour.

By the way, DSU Admissions is hosting some student blogs. One post by Jordan Frisch suggests “a true DSU student” celebrates homecoming by going “to the bars… to hang out with my friends and tip a few back.” Note drinks and bars, plural.

Perhaps not lyrical, but at least exuberant and authentic….

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