Black and white in a sea of blue

Why print still works for the Duke University Blue Devils .

Leanora Mina of Duke

The communicators at Duke University cover the school like a small city, said Leanora Minai, executive director of communications. The team integrates all of its channels and continues to find success with its print newsletter, which boasts an 87 percent readership.

Duke University’s social media strategy can be summed up by a 1990s photo of Billy Rae Cyrus and his mullet: Business in the front, party in the back.

It’s why the university’s Facebook account posts vignettes about business in the first part of the day and switches to more unique, human-interest stories as evening approaches.

As Leanora Minai, Duke’s executive director of communications, explains, employees engage more with the vignettes as their workday ends so they can enjoy social media in a more relaxed state from the comfort of their homes.

It’s just part of a multichannel approach that Duke takes to internal communications for its audience of 40,000 employees. Besides social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, Duke offers an online news site as well as a traditional employee print newsletter.

A former newspaper reporter, Minai leads a team of five and often takes inspiration from her journalistic past. “We follow Duke like it’s a small city,” she explained to a crowd of 200 internal communicators that gathered for a Ragan Communications conference at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters on July 30-31.

It’s that beat mentality that keeps Minai and her team going behind the scenes, finding the humanity behind the content, applying creativity and personal connection to bring life to their stories. Regardless of the topic, she says, there’s a common denominator.

“We always use people to illustrate the programs. That’s how you get away from boring content,” says Minai, whose team weaves employee stories that focus on health care, heritage and diversity & inclusion issues around Duke. She also finds ways to engage with them about their lives outside of work, soliciting upward of 500 submissions on social media tagged with #DukeTimeOff.

More unconventional is Minai’s fierce loyalty to Duke’s six-times-a-year print newsletter, Working@Duke, despite this channel dying a slow death in corporate communications over the last decade.

“There’s a place for print in employee communications,” she insists. And she’s got the data to prove it.  Twice a year, she conducts a communication survey and polls employees on their preferences. The latest results show that 87 percent of employees read the newsletter – up from 69 percent in years past.

Whether it’s shorter profiles found in the “Blue Devil of the Week” column or the personal account of a Duke employee’s battle with cancer, Duke University finds success in putting its people before its programs. As Minai explained, it’s more impactful to read about a colleague overcoming a health crisis than a repeat of the same open enrollment article every year.

Team Story Squad: Simone Esubi, Kathryn Fazekas, Kemba Ford, Angela Glasgow, Kim Iwansk

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