A look at the top ten most viewed videos on YouTube attached to the search term ‘HBCU’ yields some interesting results. Among the top ten, number one is a VICE feature on a white student at Morehouse College, two videos covering an alleged prostitution ring at Fort Valley State University, two videos featuring HBCU dance lines, a top five list of the most lit HBCU graduations, and other random stories about being a fat cheerleader, designing an HBCU sim character, and students’ thoughts on if they prefer big guys or skinny guys.
The list is not a problem. What is problematic is that these are the most watched videos on the second largest search engine in the world and the undisputed champion of video content creation. In the shrinking marketplace of attracting eyeballs and dollars to brands, these are examples of content which can distract Internet searchers from their intended target terms, and define the ‘HBCU’ sector outside of what presidents, alumni, faculty, and students hope for its public identity.
HBCU is a complex term. For some, it means black unity and culture, and a chance at a great life. For others, academic mediocrity and poor customer service. On YouTube at least, most of the content attached to ‘HBCU’ falls into one of those categories.
But rarely do we get a chance to see the term HBCU attached to what our schools do best. Part of that is because our schools could do a better job of keyword writing and production for search engine optimization (SEO) and another is because too few of our schools invest in content creation for the digital space.
There are schools with tremendous content channels. Nearly every HBCU is highly active on Facebook and Twitter. Some have extraordinary channel presence on YouTube and Instagram.
But very few of them attach those products and channels to the search term HBCU; which, with the exception of Howard and Southern University, overwhelmingly outpaces every other black college in worldwide search popularity.
If the goal is reducing the threat and confirmation of HBCU stereotypes, then one answer is for HBCUs to take more control of the amount and quality of content created about them online. It takes far less time for the average person to come in contact with, consume and make a judgment about a brand based upon associated content than it did even five years ago.
HBCUs suffer from a uniquely collective brand crisis. The shortcomings of one institution invite questions about the relevance of the sector. Non-HBCU stakeholders create content which doesn’t represent the best of what HBCUs are and what they individually do, and HBCU stakeholders add to the stereotypical content collections, creating the strongest affirmation of negative sentiments being regarded as gospel truth.
Schools designed for teaching and training are more known for socialization and entertainment, and suggestions about doing differently are invitations for scorn and rejection from HBCU stakeholders.
Those of us in HBCU communities may know the value of what these schools mean, but YouTube has a different idea. But if we can’t claim our own narratives in open source spaces, how can we make the case that campus spaces deserve to exist and grow?