Madison Area Technical College Among First in Nation to Win Referendum Using Social Media

Share Article

How do you get a referendum passed when you have only eight weeks, are legally prohibited from advocacy, and are working with limited resources in an anti-tax election year? Madison Area Technical College found a way—and won! On Sept. 8, the Madison College Board of Trustees voted to ask College-area residents to support a $133.8 million referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot. That was just short of eight weeks to educate more than 725,000 district residents about the need to upgrade the College and expand facilities over the nine-campus, 12-county College district. Knowing it had to work fast and smart, the College employed a multi-faceted education effort using traditional tools and social media innovations. The College estimates the plan helped it reach more than a million people in less than two months.

Our social media strategy was wildly successful. It surprised me how many potential college supporters were using Facebook and our websites to start conversations about the college and its vision.

How do you get a referendum passed when you have only eight weeks, are legally prohibited from advocacy, and are working with limited resources in an anti-tax election year? Madison Area Technical College found a way—and won!

On Sept. 8, the Madison College Board of Trustees voted to ask College-area residents to support a $133.8 million referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot. That was just short of eight weeks to educate more than 725,000 district residents about the need to upgrade the College and expand facilities over the nine-campus, 12-county College district. Knowing it had to work fast and smart, the College employed a multi-faceted education effort using traditional tools and social media innovations.

The College estimates the plan helped it reach more than a million people in less than two months.

The strategy included:
•A Facebook Page with customized tabs that provided a shortcut to a tailored website, realworldsmart.com, and allowed users to learn how to use the site and view videos. By its fifth week, the innovative Facebook page had 4,300 “likes” and 88,000 page views, a coup for even an established site.
•A Facebook profile-photo-swap campaign that asked users to “Be A Hero” by labeling their profile photos with the voting date information or using a tailormade profile photo featuring drawings of celebrities such as Jon Stewart and comic book heroes.
•A crowdsourcing effort at futureofmadison.org that tied visionary ideas about the future of the region with a Time Capsule Challenge that promises to bury all ideas in the foundation of the first building constructed with referendum funds. The capsule is slated to be opened in 2112, the 200th anniversary of the College.
•The realworldsmart.com website that hosted two blogs about campaign highlights and links to educational materials needed for speeches and presentations in the community.
•A vibrant email effort that sent semi-weekly “newsy” messages to thousands including students at area colleges, Madison College alumni, faculty, staff and community leaders.

The College faculty, staff and community volunteers used traditional educational techniques logging more than 135 visits and trainings in the region. Direct mail, television, radio, newspaper ads and bus wraps played a role. The social media strategy built on this effort but also reached out in particular to 40,000 young voters who attend Madison College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a total of about 80,000 undergraduates.

Organizers also knew that the largest growing demographic on Facebook is women older than 50, and this was another group targeted for information.

“Our social media strategy was wildly successful. It surprised me how many potential college supporters were using Facebook and our websites to start conversations about the college and its vision,” said Ellen Foley, a former newspaper editor and the College’s communications chief. “I think it made a difference in educating those who were on the bubble about supporting our College. We hammered our commitment to job-training as a priority for the region.”

College leaders used the talents of the marketing faculty, student marketing club, college marketing and communications professionals along with consultants Outrigger3, a Madison-based firm.

A citizen’s group that acted separately from the College and could advocate for citizens to Vote Yes used similar devices though not as elaborate.

“The College’s embrace of technology as it faced an educational campaign was brilliant,” said Linda Brei, leader of the citizen’s committee called InvestSmart. “It is the technical college so we should have expected the mindset but the nimbleness and execution were flawless.”

The Future of Madison Time Capsule Challenge proved so popular that college officials extended its deadline to Dec. 10 and will choose winners of several prize categories in January.

“I knew we needed to pass a referendum for our students and I knew that we needed innovation to do it,” said Madison College President Bettsey Barhorst. “I’ve won before at other colleges, but those were different times, a different economy, and a slightly different demographic. I’m glad I had the foresight to put in place the right staff at the right time with the right ideas.”

On Nov. 2, in the midst of Wisconsin turning from a blue to a red state largely in protest against higher taxes, district residents voted by almost 60 percent to support a tax increase to build the $133.8 expansion for Madison College.

Madison Area Technical College serves approximately 40,000 individuals annually, providing “real world smart” education through a comprehensive curriculum of technical, liberal arts and sciences, adult basic education and continuing education, as well as customized training for employers.

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Bill Bessette
Visit website