Don_Draper_WikiMany philosophy departments need a new marketing strategy. We need a new way to sell our product (a philosophical education). We need Don Draper. No, really we do.

For the most part, recruiting majors at any university is a zero-sum game. Any student that majors in Psychology, French, or Physics is one less student majoring in Philosophy. (Yes, some students double major, so this isn’t completely correct, but double majors aren’t typically a significant percentage of a university’s students.) So, we need to carefully look out how we reach out and recruit new students into our departments. The better job we do, the bigger our departments gets and the less likely administrators are to consider closing a department.

To that end, I’d like to suggest a few ways to advertise a philosophical education and recruit more philosophy majors. (In my next entry in the Making the Case for Philosophy series, I’ll discuss new arguments and evidence for majoring in philosophy.)

Every philosophy department by now has a website. The trouble is that (a) so does every other department on campus and (b) static webpages don’t typically offer much to get a lot of attention. We need to stand out, so just doing what everyone else is doing won’t work. And we want to give users (students) a reason to interact with us (online or in person) beyond looking up email addresses or course schedules. The key then is engagement.

  1. Move away from outdated and ignored media.
    Mass emails, flyers on bulletin boards, and department newsletters are easily overlooked or discarded.
  2. Use Social Media.
    There are several advantages in a philosophy department’s developing and maintaining a presence in social media. First, students are on Facebook and Twitter already (and Google+ and Pinterest1 to an extent), so let’s go to them. Second, by sharing our content on social media, our students can share it with their friends as well. Third, This not only gives us a bigger audience, but when other students see their friends sharing content from a philosophy department, they’ll pay more attention to it and it’s more likely to impact their behavior. (As we found out last November, seeing on Facebook that a friend voted in the election impacted the likelihood that a person voted herself.) Fourth, it allows us to get feedback and comments from students.
  3. Blogs
    We can do an number of things with blogs. (And the more we do, the more content we have to share on various social media sites.) Here are some ideas for who can run them and what content they could have:
  • A student-run blog – This can be administered by a philosophy club or a selected student or two. Philosophy majors can post philosophical content they find interesting to themselves and to other students on campus. Some universities are using this strategy to recruit potential students. We’d be doing the same thing once the students get here.
  • A faculty-run blog(s) – There a lot of options here. There could be one for the whole department, with either one or all of the professors posting. If there’s enough interest, multiple professors could have their own blogs as well (either on or off the university’s official site). Blogs are a great way to share who we as philosophy professors are and what we spend time thinking about. We don’t always have the opportunity to bring in some of our research into the classroom. Blogs would offer us a way to interest our students in cutting-edge philosophical research.
  • Posting about departmental social activities – This is a big one. For students, joining a major can be more than an academic choice; it can be a social one as well. Showing potential majors that a department is a lively and enjoyable social place will encourage more students to join us.
  • Student interviews of faculty – The philosophy club could pick a professor every month or semester to interview and then post that interview online. By having the students conduct and write the interview, they’re likely to focus on what they and other students find interesting about our background, classes, and research. And it will make the faculty seem more approachable to other students.
  • Student essays or discussions – In addition to faculty posting about their research, students could do the same. Students could also host discussions on the blog, picking a topic for the semester or year, and then having several students (and perhaps faculty too) posting their thoughts on that topic over time and responding to each other.

The goal is to increase engagement among three different groups: (1) philosophy majors (or grad students if applicable), (2) potential majors, and (3) faculty. Let’s take the last group first. Yes, this will mean more work for us. Taking on projects like these, however, have many rewards. Not only can engaging in this sort of marketing outreach help toward fulfilling a service requirement for tenure, it provides a way to reach a larger audience. We cannot sit back and wait for students to find us. If we truly believe there is a value to a philosophical education, we should be willing to go out and vociferously make that case in manner that will be heard by those whom we want to listen.

The primary purpose of adapting to new methods of marketing philosophy is to engage potential students. These aren’t necessarily the only ways, but they’re important ones that many departments don’t exploit to engage a bigger audience of potential majors. But many of these methods also engage the students we already have. They can provide our current majors with a sense of ownership and community. The department becomes their department, something they want to see thrive. And by letting students create or share material empowers them. The extra advantage is that if a philosophy department already feels like home to some students, more will want to join in order to have the same sense of belonging and empowerment.

So far we’ve only discussed what media to use to market philosophy as a major. What the message should be, we’ll save for next time.

 

Notes

Pinterest’s users are %68 female. So using Pinterest has to potential to increase interest and awareness in philosophy among female undergraduates, which is an important goal given the typical lack of gender diversity in philosophy.