If Russia knows that black folks protesting could be a catalyst for swinging an election, surely historically black colleges can do the research to understand what can sway black students towards attending our institutions.
That’s the biggest takeaway for HBCUs in the week’s biggest tech headline; apparently, the masses can be moved with expansive, relatively inexpensive advertising on Facebook designed to stoke reaction from supporting and opposing groups.
Ferguson and Baltimore had gained widespread attention for the large and violent protests over police shootings of black men. The decision to target the ad in those two cities offers the first look at how accounts linked to the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency used geographically targeted advertising to sow political chaos in the United States, the sources said.
Ads targeting Facebook users in Ferguson and Baltimore, cities with proximity or direct station of HBCUs, shows that foreign adversaries can see what black issues do to a certain social demographic of voters.
So can the same thing be done with potential students and their parents? And not with propaganda or fictional content as the Russians did, but with strategic promotion of HBCU campus culture, academic strength and community outreach value?
The truth is that most HBCU are already doing this kind of social media promotion, but deliver the messaging to their followers – students and alumni who have already bought into the value of these schools. But the Russia-Facebook saga shows us the future of advertising – and it’s not billboards in Times Square or off of regional highways, television commercials or magazine artwork.
It’s not even banner ads, which allow this very publication to survive.
The future is content that speaks directly to values and philosophies of a target audience. And because a majority of Black Americans have some emotional connection to HBCUs (family member attended, love marching bands, support educational equity for black students) there is worlds of content waiting to be developed which can speak to audiences in places HBCUs traditionally find hard to reach.
Imagine teenagers in Seattle having their timelines populated with stories about Miles College winning HBCUSports.com’s weekly marching band battle poll? Or farmers in Nebraska hearing about agricultural training opportunities in Petersburg, Va?
These are the kinds of opportunities HBCUs can cultivate with a shift in advertising focus and recruitment strategy, if officials can focus on the right kinds of messaging to support institutional strengths.
The Russians believe the power of Black Lives Matter. Why not HBCUs believing in their own value to influence their own financial destinies?