How much does a college or university blog really cost?

Posted on May 26, 2005

If you’re a school that wants to start a blog for reasons of recruitment, communication, academic voice, strategic planning, or community-buiding, but you’ve been hesitant to, I feel your pain.  I used to work for a “marketing communications consulting firm in higher education” where they once recommended an admissions-focused blog for a client with a $30,000 price tag for implementation.  No wonder the client ran for the door.

Consider the context.  With today’s influx of blog sites and inexpensive blog and self-publishing software, it’s ludicrous to think a school needs to spend $30,000 to custom create a blog from a proprietary content management system (CMS) which already carries a yearly license of over five, possibly, six figures.

Both ExpressionEngine and Movable Type offer a low-cost one-time license fee ($149 – $1300) with full-featured options for managing multiple school-wide blogs for a variety of purposes.  In fact, at Stanford University, Movable Type facilitates communication throughout the IT department, and around the entire university for campus-wide blogging.  The benefits to these web-based publishing systems are numerous, but among them are built-in blog functions (commenting, trackback, pinging, RSS, search, archiving, categories, bookmarklets, moblogging, post by email, member management) and the efficiency of light-weight and web-based software.  Plus, the fact that you have access to all the source code (written in common scripting languages like PHP, ASP, CGI) doesn’t hurt either.  If you’re still not convinced, why not try out the free, award-winning WordPress publishing system?

While blogging has been accepted and advanced in industry by major technology movers several years ago, (Google Buys Pyra: Blogging Goes Big-Time in 2002), traditional media (NY Times Cannes Film Fesitval blog) and numerous other industries, higher education has been slow to adopt the paradigm of publishing daily, timely personal voices for marketing reasons.  Bloated price quotes from consultants don’t help the situation.

Consider the usual audience.  Blogs used in higher education for undergraduate or graduate recruitment are targeting a web-savvy market of high schoolers and undergraduates.  From thirteen-year olds to thirty-somethings, blogs are as normal as IM.  The popular blog community Livejournal has more than 7 million users with over 10,000 posts per hour.  Another social blog space, MySpace, has over 12 million users.  Blogs used for recruitment need to allow freedom for students to tell their own stories beyond the usual “I love this school” or “orientation was fun” rhetoric.  I’m certainly not advocating unmediated blogging on a public site, but there needs to be freedom to the writer’s voice.  Schools that don’t take the conceptual leap are simply creating diary-versions of testimonials and not really exploring the full potential of blogs.

From an academic perspective, blogs are being explored in e-learning settings as well as in real classrooms.  While some in higher education are still learning about blogs, the offspring of the self-publishing blog movement and the iPod revolution has has already been born in the podcast.  At Marymount Manhattan College, Professor David Gilbert has launched a class project called Art Mobs in which his Organizational Communication students to produce (unofficial) audio guides for MoMA, and make them available as podcasts.  The site is a hosted Typepad blog site.  Cost?  $14.95 a month.

For a current project of ours, a K-12 client has decided to go with a publishing system not only to run active news, events, and document management for students, parents and faculty, but also to function as a full content management system (CMS) for the new website.  Again, the licensing cost here is in the thousands, rather than tens of thousands.

Maybe if we demystify the price of implementing the “latest” technology, we’ll give our communications teams, administrators, marketing directors, IT department, admissions directors, and faculty the chance to strategically think through the implications and to explore what’s already possible.