Episode 67: How to Better Understand & Connect With The LGBTQ+ Community in Admissions Marketing with Shamell Forbes

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Shiro Hatori
Everyone, welcome to the higher ed demand gen podcast hosted by content 3d. If you like our content, please follow and subscribe to it. Spotify, Apple, Google, wherever you’re listening to us. We’d really appreciate a comment if you’re also on Apple as well. My name is Shiro Hatori. And I will be your host today, and I’m really looking forward to talk about how to better connect with and understand the LGBTQ community in admissions marketing. For the conversation today, I’m really excited that Chanel for joining us. Chanel has years of experience in higher ed in the partner space and is currently a campus partnership associate with campus sonar. Welcome to the podcast Mel.

Shamell Forbes
Hey, Shiro, thanks for having me. This is my very first podcast, so little nervous, but happy to be here.

Shiro Hatori
Good. And if you didn’t know already, I do ask an icebreaker to all my guests smell, what do you love about higher ed.

Shamell Forbes
The thing I love the most about higher ed is it’s for everyone. I am an immigrant. And I have a family that really values education. And I knew I was taught at a young age that for me to advance and for me to be where I want to be, I needed to have a strong education. And even now, as I think about the next step for me, and what I want to do in my career, I’m thinking about going back to school, it’s always a place to return to to beef up your skills and be able to do something new and challenging. So I, from a personal standpoint, I love the idea of higher ed. And I think from a work standpoint, I’m really good at connecting with leaders in higher ed and helping them figure out their challenges and goals. So I think a level of success here has kept me in the actual industry as professionally, but I will be back in school at some point.

Shiro Hatori
Yeah, I think a lot of people in higher ed are mission driven. And so it’s really nice to connect with that mission driven aspect and not hear that a lot. Thanks for sharing that. Definitely. Cool. So, you know, we got an interesting conversation here today, sometimes a little bit harder to talk about, right. But I’d love for you to start off with a little bit of your story and why, you know, we’re open to talking about community and inhibitions, marketing here today.

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, and I’m just tackling the issue of LGBTQ community. As a gay man, I feel that there’s a lot of liberties that I take in being a part of the conversation. But I don’t know everything. I think the expertise and the value that I bring here is just the importance of having the discussion and what that means for institutions when it comes to their brand and what it is that they put out there and how people perceive them. So yeah, you know, I am I want people to have an opinion and and reach out to me and talk about this, because I definitely don’t have all the answers about how to best support this community. There’s so many different people who have a stake in this, but I definitely think I have a unique perspective.

Shiro Hatori
Thanks for sharing that as well. And, you know, I know before this conversation today, you sent me an article, although it’s really interesting to read, it was from NC Newsline, which they did that one in four prospective college students are rolling out in States due to political climate and polarization. And, you know, the long article like we could probably discuss it for a few hours, because we get into first gen immigrants to you and I share that in common. And like, that was really interesting for me, but we won’t talk about that today. But you know, this polarization, like, one in four prospective students are ruling out to state, like the whole state, you know, they’re not going to school in California, or they’re not going to school in Texas, because of this polarization. And, you know, I thought personally, this is really concerning, because school admissions are getting affected by an outside factor, right? It’s not the school’s fault isn’t happening. And it honestly might not align with their mission and values as well. And so the fact that schools are being affected by this was, you know, I thought it was a bit concerning. And then also to kind of add to that one thing I learned from the article was that the LGBT community, especially prospective students, were substantially more likely as 32% to avoid certain states kind of back that factor up. And so that’s actually even beyond that one out of four ratio that is mentioned in the headline of the article. And I think that’s, you know, partly why we’re here today to have this conversation is, you know, like, how how, What can schools do to really To offer a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all applicants, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, identity, and we can even talk about the first gen students are immigrants as well here. But yeah, you know, I think that’s the stuff nicely for that. And my question for you is, you know, what, what advice do you offer to administrators, missions, officers, educators, trying to create this kind of environment?

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, I think, you know, I posted a rant on LinkedIn about buzzwords, but a buzzword that comes to mind is sense of belonging, and how you create it. And what that really means is, your institution doesn’t operate in a vacuum of your state. So if, and the issues that are affecting the LGBT Q community is, is it’s issues that very deeply tie into our lives. So you know, it’s one thing to have a political opinion about something that’s not about you. But when there are such strong discussions happening in states that really are in tune with everything like who you are, you’re going to have an opinion on it. And if your institution is in a state that doesn’t support the LGBTQ community, but your mission and values are fully in line with that, then you have to mean it. And you have to advocate and you have to make sure that your brand and the things that you’re doing at the institution is talking to the people and talking to the industries that are being tough on this community. And I feel that as, as an administrator, you want to tell that story so that students are aware that you’re fighting the fight. And to me as a as a as a gay man, I feel that that I would value that more than, than a institution that’s in a liberal state, and not really doing anything to advance the quality of life for people from the LGBTQ community. So I think that awareness piece, and, you know, being knowledgeable of what’s going on, and how it plays out for students from that community, at your institution is going to be the most important thing. But we can go into other things that you can do more tactically, to be able to, you know, build that sense of belonging for students.

Shiro Hatori
Absolutely. And I think, you know, one other important metric kind of tie some of this together, and why it’s really an important topic in higher ed today, not just because, you know, what’s going on in social media or anything, you know, it’s actually an issue, it’s becoming more of a, I don’t want to issue a wrong word, but it’s becoming more of a topic because A, statistically speaking, a lot more people are coming out and identifying their gender, before adulthood. Now, at the age of 18, like historically, a lot of that happened during college or post college, right. And I think the statistic from the article is 21% of students are now identifying their gender before adulthood, which is a huge increase. And so for admissions perspective, right, you had, this is another data point you have on your students, and you have more information. And so, it, it’s an, it’s an opportunity to, you know, address and personalize this and also understand your audience a little bit more. So I thought that was also really important as well. One question I have for you is I know, you know, you mentioned that there’s a lot of things we can learn from other industries that have done this well, right, understanding that people are coming out in early age, also understanding that there’s communities around 20% of the of the US population. And so you know, can you give us some examples of that?

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, actually, first, I think I want to jump into an industry that’s done it wrong, I think. I think it was maybe earlier this summer, earlier this year on Bud Light did a major pride initiative where they featured someone who was trans and their actual audience revolted. It was a big disaster for them. And really, their goal was they recognize the changing demographics of, of younger people admitting or coming out as LGBTQ. And they wanted to get ahead of it. And really, the negativity that happened from their audience was also coupled with the fact that gay people didn’t care. Like I have never felt that Bud Lights marketing spoke to me. I was never part of their target audience. So it was a move that came kind of out of nowhere. and it just goes to show you that your brand and how people perceive you is important before you start to have all of these campaigns or different initiatives, you have to put your brand and where you’re at first, before you go and do something about it. So I’m surprised, you know, Budweiser has. But Bud Light has a pretty good handle on how they’re socially perceived. So I’m not sure what the move was there. But I think the first part is making sure that you own who you are. And if you’re trying to evolve the conversation and have different opinions in your audience, you have to do that first. The other piece I think about all the industries have done this, right. I mean, Netflix, they, two of the first shows that were launched on Netflix were shows featuring not a gay issue or a gay problem. But individuals that were dealing with their sexual identity throughout the show. So House of Cards was one of them, and oranges, the new Black was another one. And you were able to see characters deal with their sexual identity on television, which is something that has been taboo for a long time without like, maybe a few examples. But the public took to it. It was interesting, it was different. And, you know, we can talk about Taylor Swift, she is probably one of the most heterosexual people speaking about her relationships and gay people. LGBTQ community loves her, because there is an acceptance and an openness that comes from her, where we know that she’s in line with our values, and she’s celebrating us. So it’s not about doing performative gay things or it being specifically for gay people. We have a good sense of what openness is and the industries that are supportive of us that we should give our money to, and that we should continue to support and almost get a little crazy and be a superfan. But, yeah, I think that that’s like the biggest piece just being welcoming, and higher ed should be one of those industries, especially now because students are having conversations about who they are earlier in life. So I think I don’t think that higher ed has been negligent, I think that this is a new opportunity that they should capitalize on, because it’s the right thing to do. But also, you talk about you talk about shifting demographics. This is a shifting demographic that these are students that you want to get in front of as you think about having less students and that you’re able to go after to go to your institutions.

Shiro Hatori
Those are great examples. The Taylor Swift one is an interesting one, because it’s it. It’s a great contrast to the spotlight. Detach. Yeah, no, that’s great. Yeah, there’s a lot of marketing chatter after that happened. And I was following it pretty closely. So that was interesting. I think Pepsi did something similar, like, two or three years ago, I forget. It was like, it was like, one of the most the worst advertising campaigns.

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, just know your brand. There’s no reason you don’t need to be part of that conversation. Unless you’re at that level. If you’re not, people just not going to know what to do with you, and you might upset your bass. So it’s really about knowing where you’re at for sure.

Shiro Hatori
You know, we can specifically for universities that are trying to be more open and inclusive, what are what are the ways that we can build more sense of belonging and offer a sense of community for including students that have been admitted? Like what are things that you think are helpful? Resource wise, support wise?

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, I don’t even think this is an issue that would just support the LGBTQ students. I think it’s a something I’ve seen with a lot of campus tours is it’s very one size fits all. And you have the route that you take with the beautiful fountain and all of this great scenery. And I think that you need a more choose your own adventure type of campus tour where there’s things that all students need, but there’s also it needs to be functional as well and they need to get a good idea of what being a student there would be like. And the only way to do that is to be able to start to talk about some of their concerns or some of their feelings towards the campus. So I think more of a choose your own adventure type of campus tour would really enable Any type of student to me and engage with other students that are like them, I know something that we do in higher ed all the time at conferences, our special interest groups, is there an opportunity for students all from the LGBTQ community to talk to each other, and start to make friends before actually making this decision. If I was a gay student going to university and I have 12 gay friends that I made on my campus tour, versus another institution where I didn’t even know that there were other gay students there, I know which one I’m going to pick and the school that’s going to yield me in that situation. So I think just making your enrollment experience more functional than beautiful, is something that will speak to a lot of students and make sure that there’s a lot of content in detail into what your tour guides are saying about the experience, as opposed to, you know, lots of pointing and showing, really demonstrating involves conversation, and there are tons of people on campus that will be happy to talk to LGBTQ students. So you know, use them and and build them into your process as well. So that people are making friends and they’re feeling more comfortable before going there.

Shiro Hatori
That’s, that’s really good. And, you know, one thing I’m hearing not even specific to gender and identity we’re talking about here is personalization, right, like personalized experience from the campus tour, which, you know, maybe if they’re on campus already, they’re pretty interested, right. But even you know, like, personalize that experience. Like, if you’re into sports, show them, the sports facilities, you know, the maybe upstanding parts of the sentence that relate to that, you know, and it’s personalized experience for each person. And like, if you’re a first gen student, like I was, I didn’t know anything about financial thing I actually forgot. Forgot is the wrong word. Because I didn’t know you had to register for someone. So I showed up. Day one with no. It was an RA. So like, you know, like, give me more researches, I didn’t know that I had to sign up word form, like, no idea. So yeah, like, No, I think, you know, one thing I’m hearing is personalization. And, you know, being able to personalize that process, which kind of goes into the next thing, which is, I believe, common app, which any admissions person knows that a common app is now adding the now added the ability is an optional question to identify self identify gender in the admissions process? Is it something that you think every school should turn on? What are your thoughts?

Shamell Forbes
Um, yeah, I mean, I will say that my thoughts on this is very, very, very opinionated. And completely based on my personal experience, I think it’s a human rights issue. And you know, if people want to be, people need to be feel comfortable in their own skin, and not feel weird or turned off by an application process, because there’s no option for them. It’s a really ugly thing. And I think that common app definitely made the right move, and including it because we’ve seen this happen in other industries, and it’s going well, and people are feeling more included, and whether or not there’s backlash, and there’s always going to be backlash. If it’s the right thing to do, I think that you should do it. But again, that’s completely based on my opinion, but I think it’s what this generation wants. And I think there’s a lot of research out there to support that. So, um, you know, go off that instead of what Chanel said, but I definitely enjoy that.

Shiro Hatori
Got it. And yeah, for those of you don’t know, it is an option. So I think, you know, moving forward in that way. I think it should be normalized, but you know, you can identify your race as well. So I think it’s pretty common. Kind of going to the other side of the equation here, right? from the student perspective. Now, I think one key factor in understanding like how well my marketing is doing is to look at metrics or look at cars in the comment section about what people are saying about our brand. Right? And, you know, is this something that you do you believe should university should be doing as well?

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, there’s a couple of things that I think when university thinks about their brand and what they’re putting in marketing. I think when they think about the LGBTQ community, they think about catering to just us how do we get this information into the hands of them, so that they can make a successful decision and it’s really not about that, you know, I open up a college brochure, I’m looking at College Online. I just need to see myself in there and I He might see a football field, and that has nothing to do with me, I’m never gonna go to a game, I don’t care who wins or loses. But it doesn’t offend me to see that there. I’ve seen really creative placement of LGBTQ identity in a lot of really good college materials. And that’s exciting. You know, you don’t have to say we offer LGBTQ events, because they’re not LGBTQ events, they might cater to us, or they might be popular among us. But everything that you do, other people can attend. So it’s just part of the campus culture. And I think about, you know, I’m from New York and New York Pride. Everyone’s there, from every sexual identity, and from Indeed, every gender identity. So I think that there’s a misconception out there that LGBTQ freedoms only matter to us. They matter to everyone and putting that in your marketing, you don’t need to explain it, it could just be there. And if it’s not for you, then it’s not for you. So I think really, making a more deliberate attempt to do that expecially, outside the month of June, will spur a lot more people to feel more comfortable, or just have that feeling that warm feeling that makes you continue to engage with that university, because there might have been something that you saw where it’s like, oh, they are inclusive, but I don’t really know why I just have that feeling. And good marketers can do that. So I’m excited to see, you know, more examples of that come out.

Shiro Hatori
And, you know, kind of along the same line is do you think social listening is a tool book that universities should be utilizing? And if you think so, do you have any examples of how to do this?

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, you know, I’m working for campus sonar. I really thought, okay, social listening, social awareness, building your brand perception and how people talk about you, is a huge part of the puzzle. Something that we’ve done in the way that we support institutions is not just our poor capability of social listening, but overall brand awareness and how to protect and enhance and advance your brand is the work that we do. So that means many different ways of looking at the issues that affect your campus, your audience, whether it be audiences that are aware of you or audience that you want to be aware of you. And just looking overall at the picture of how you’re perceived by the community as a brand, is the most important thing. So there’s lots of different research that you can do, to pull in that awareness. I think the key for LGBTQ issues is ongoing research. This is happening in real time, every day, there’s so many things in the legislation that is happening to this community. So what you know, in September is going to be different in October. So really, make sure that you have an ongoing source of reliable data to inform what it is that you’re doing issues that you need to respond to that might be part of your institution. And also being aware of what the national conversation is or the conversation in your state or the local conversation, you have to have an idea of what’s going on to be able to market efficiently. And socialist thing is definitely a part of that.

Shiro Hatori
Can you tell us a little bit more just super exactly what campus owner does as well?

Shamell Forbes
Sure. So we are an expert firm that builds capacity for institutions to be able to harness their actual awareness and brand. It’s a lot of like so many buzzwords, essentially, the way that people talk about you is important, so you should know about it to protect the brand. But those conversations and the insights that come from the higher ed community is important and really hard to harness. So we help you harness that to inform your marketing efforts, but also strategic decision making. So when I talk about that ongoing look at what’s happening. We can be scrappy, and nimble to help you stay abreast of different issues as it affects your institution’s brand. And curate your responses with actual data because one mention of someone saying something negative is just gossip or something that’s out there. But if we can surface that as a trend and that many people are seeing it or this is the portion of of how much it’s driving your conversation online. Now that’s something that a president or a CMO can pay attention to, to inform what they’re doing at the institution and move the needle forward and what they can do like, as a brand as a global brand.

Shiro Hatori
That’s very interesting. And I’d love to know all your secrets, but we won’t have to go over it right now. What do you have one piece of advice for institutions who want to do some social listening, and that we can do without campus owner, right, like any tips or advice or where to go to? And maybe related to our topic here today as well?

Shamell Forbes
Yeah. So something that we educate colleges on a lot is, your online conversation is super important when it comes to crisis and all of that, but social listening needs to happen outside of your conversation. So there are so many groups and forums and places where students from the LGBTQ community are speaking. And they don’t have to be interested in your university for that contextual data to matter to you and to inform what you’re doing. Obviously, we’re not all having the same issues, it is a very unique experience, but having a general overall idea of what is popular to us, what is a driving conversation for things that are negative? How do I how do I make LGBTQ student feel safe? What are other mistakes that institutions have made, you know, in dealing with this community, or supporting this community, and that’s all online. So I think opening your eyes to those spaces where students are talking, and having that overall awareness, it does not have to be part of your conversation, it is market research, and definitely has to be something that higher ed incorporates into their practices to be able to move forward, and not just attract the same students over and over again, because we know that those students is running out. So if you want to attract different students, you have to learn what their challenges are, and what makes them excited.

Shiro Hatori
And one thing I think you shared with me that I didn’t know about was the campus pride index. I think it’s campus pride.org. For those who want to visit, this is a great place that you can also do some social listening. It’s not affiliated, certainly, to Shane or brand.

Shamell Forbes
Yeah, I, I love that resource. Its campus pride index.org. And I look at it all the time, because there are so many ugly things that institutions have done, or doing to the LGBTQ community. And I would have never guessed, some institutions would be on there doing some of those things. And it really opens your mind up to the themes that are important to this community. And as a as a gay person, it opened me up to things that I didn’t even think about in relation to higher ed. So if you think you know, you might not get on there and look at how your institution measures up. And, you know, there’s definitely lots of actionable things you can do to improve it.

Shiro Hatori
I’m gonna check it out right now, too. I was wondering, we’re just about time. Now, I was wondering where some of our listeners could reach out to you and learn a little bit more about what you’re up to. I know, you’re very active on LinkedIn. I’m sure you share your LinkedIn here. But yeah, sure. City resources, also camp stone. Artusi want to give them a plug?

Shamell Forbes
Yeah. So campus sonar.com, we have all of our resources there. And what I want to emphasize about that is, these are industry resources from our research. So no one is trying to sell you anything. You know, there’s lots that goes into how we work with our partners. But if you want insights as to what students are saying, prospective students, alumni students, we are a great resource to come to for reliable data on what’s out there in the field. And for me, yes, I’m obsessed with LinkedIn, it’s my life. You can find me on there. I’m on X for as long as x exists. My handle is black to college. And I got a blue sky code today that I think I’m going to get take advantage on so hopefully, you’ll see me on there as well.

Shiro Hatori
Wait, what blue sky never heard of that.

Shamell Forbes
Blue Sky is one of the social media platforms that have you know, it’s come out before, threads or any of that and really what makes cites me about it is it’s a great place for contextual information like I, you know, I think I’m just too old for tick tock. It’s very visual, but blue sky is a great place for some of that community conversation that we were getting from x. And I think threads is trying to replicate so I’m gonna give it a shot. I don’t know a ton about it, but I know that some of my colleagues are very obsessed with it. So I’ll give it a shot

Shiro Hatori
in the new everyday I didn’t know that. There you go. I’ll give I’ll give a plug as well. So I do subscribe to the Campus Center newsletter, which I believe is called brainwaves newsletter, that’s also a great resource I read just stay updated on social listening Issues in Higher Ed so we’ll get that up. Well, I want to thank the audience for tuning in today and listening and thank you Chanel for joining the show. Great conversation. Hope to see you are you going to mA ama but I will

Shamell Forbes
be I will be at ama for sure. Happy to meet folks here.

Shiro Hatori
Awesome. So yeah, if you’re gonna be at ama just had to come out I’ll I will also be there and it’ll be good to see you in person again.

Shamell Forbes
Likewise, Shiro Thank you for having me.

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