How to Reach the Masses: Budget-Friendly Ways to Do Outreach at Large Institutions

min read

The author shares her creative methods and tips for conducting large-scale outreach that will not break the bank.

cluster of microphones on a wooden table
Credit: Maxx-Studio / © 2019

As an EDUCAUSE Ambassador, I have several responsibilities. One of those is to inform my IT organization of our EDUCAUSE membership and to share program/resource announcements. I come from a large institution: my university system has 41,676 faculty and staff, 12,860 students, 252 buildings, and 1,085 campus acres.1 Needless to say, that's a lot of people and ground to cover when trying to spread a message! Considering that, as well as my limited budget, I had to get creative about how to reach the masses.

Below, I share what I learned and my methods and tips for conducting large-scale outreach that will not break the bank. If you have a message to spread across your institution, you can start today by using any or all of the following cost-effective ways that I've found for reaching a broad audience.

Where to Start

Start small by picking one outreach method at a time, and build from there. Look for ways to get exposure, and choose the communication channels that will connect with your intended audience. My first outreach effort was on Twitter. I used the free version of a social media scheduling app to schedule posts about our EDUCAUSE membership and benefits. I found all of the hashtags for the major groups I was trying to reach and for their institutions, and I added them to a spreadsheet. Effectively using hashtags and tagging will help with targeting your messages. Keep a running list of post content, start campaigns to promote content, and request retweets, shares, and tags from a friend to get others involved.

As part of this outreach, I used the #EducauseAmbassador hashtag for the first time. Every social media campaign should have a dedicated hashtag. I found this to be an effective method to establish myself as the ambassador and to tag large groups at my institution at no cost.

After establishing myself on Twitter, I added LinkedIn to my outreach efforts. I then added other digital media outreach along the way, at little or no cost. I used listservs and Slack channels to introduce myself as the EDUCAUSE Ambassador for my institution, and I offered my contact information to anyone wanting to learn more. I also use these channels to target specific audiences, because the channels are often set up for special interest groups, which makes distributing targeted content easier and more manageable. For example, we have "general IT" and "women in IT" Slack channels at my institution, and I use both of them to post about upcoming events.

How to Reach More People

After I was comfortable with the digital outreach, I moved to doing in-person knowledge sharing. One of my on-campus events was setting up an "ambassador table," showcasing EDUCAUSE membership benefits, at our annual faculty retreat. I also was a presenter at the retreat and cited EDUCAUSE for the references that I used. The ambassador table was a good way to introduce myself and distribute brochures and other information about EDUCAUSE—and was a good way to put a face to an idea and spread my message in person.

One of my biggest takeaways was this: Do not be afraid to ask for support from partnering organizations. In my experience, people like swag and are more likely to give you the time of day if you are offering freebies. The bags I use as swag and EDUCAUSE "goodie bags" came from leftover annual conference bags. If you talk to vendors at conferences, a surprising number will give you swag in bulk at the end of the conference in order to avoid the hassle of packing it all back up.

I also thought about other places that I can set up my table to spread the word. My biggest tip: Do not go through the trouble of gathering a large crowd yourself but, rather, take advantage of internal large gatherings. Are there celebrations such as office parties, holiday celebrations, heritage celebrations, vendor fairs, and other campus-wide events that you might tag onto? Does anyone at your institution give out candy on Halloween? Why not ask if you can join that effort to spread your message?

How to Keep It Going

Now that I've shared how to spread a message, I want to share how I curate my messages. I use the mnemonic VELCRO to make my outreach stick. Though this acronym comes from an article about scientific writing, it is equally applicable in other fields.2

"Vivid examples bring scientific topics to life." Paint the bigger picture. I always tell the story of how I went from being a new member of EDUCAUSE's Young Professional Advisory Committee to being a cochair within one year. This is good news for anyone who wants to acquire or sharpen leadership skills.

"Engage audiences by making connections to their interests and values." When targeting a special interest group, be sure to curate your messages so that they will spark interest with the audience. As an example, target security interest groups with content about security issues and trends.

"Likeable tones invite audiences to think about science as a journey of exploration." By all means, please be yourself. You want to build genuine and lasting relationships. Incorporating some of your personality into your outreach efforts goes a long way. Show your human side in person with a smile, humor, compliments, or a welcoming handshake. Show it digitally with the use of pictures, gifs, emojis, Bitmojis, one-liners, and metaphors. My favorites are Spongebob gifs—he just seems to have a reaction for everything.

"Common ground allows scientists to connect to their audiences." It is important to show audiences that you are in the same boat. In other words, speak their language. Keep in mind that you are the liaison with a mission to meet audience members where they are. You can establish yourself as a subject matter expert while using familiar terms and relatable metaphors, analogies, and examples.

"Rally audiences to promote continued learning and engagement in science." Once you connect with your audience, it is valuable to maintain their attention. Engage often, reaching out to them with current and relevant content, best practices, and trends, and do not be afraid to share content widely. I generally keep an eye out for specific content that I know my colleagues will find interesting. I also like to structure my social media posts by themes so that I can cover a wide variety of topics.

"Old-before-new principle makes writing and speech clearer, removing barriers to effective communication." Start with familiar information—topics the audience will understand. Generally, I use analogies, metaphors, and other examples to draw connections between newer EDUCAUSE benefits and older, well-known benefits. I often suggest that faculty and staff go to the EDUCAUSE website and create or update a member profile.

Start Small and Grow

Whatever the message that you are hoping to spread at your college, university, or organization, I hope these tips, tricks, and cost-effective strategies help you to reach the masses. Remember to start small and grow your outreach campaign. You can do it!

For more information about enhancing your skills as a higher education IT manager and leader, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Professional Development Commons blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Career Development page.


  1. University of Pennsylvania, "Quick Facts, Fall 2018–2019."
  2. Julie Reynolds, "When Communicating with Diverse Audiences, Use Velcro to Make Science Stick," Bulletin 90, no. 3 (2009).

Tonya Bennett is Director of Educational Technology at PennVet, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She has been an EDUCAUSE Ambassador since 2018.

© 2019 Tonya Bennett. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 International License.