College organizations compete for sidewalk real estate

Chalk isn't only a children's toy.

As a college student, I’ve been exposed to an interesting communication tactic while at Brockport. Many clubs and on-campus organizations use sidewalk chalk to get the word out about their events and causes. But is the tactic effective?

As the nicer Spring weather emerges, I have seen a lot of chalk on the sidewalks of the Brockport campus recently. In fact, Brockport’s Habitat for Humanity, Brockport’s Relay for Life, and one of the two teams campaigning for Brockport Student Government President & Vice President have all claimed pieces of sidewalk real estate this week.

The tactic seems to be a pretty useful one, when you consider the target.  These people are seeking support for their events, they are seeking to grow their club’s active participant numbers, and they are seeking votes. Obviously, one of the most important, if not the most important, targets for clubs on campus (as well as people running for BSG office) are other students at the school.

Students at any college are a lot different than other audiences because of the high amount of time that we spend walking from one class to another, from academic buildings to dormitories, and from dormitories to dining halls.

It’s safe to say that sidewalks are heavily trafficked areas, and one of the only combatants of the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen.”

Walking all over campus helps many fall into the "Freshman Fifteen" trap.

With all of this time spent walking around campus, a lot of people are easily distracted by things like sidewalk chalk. Personally, I try to read pretty much every message I come across en route to my classes simply out of curiosity.

As far as impressions go, campus chalking is one of the most successful communication tools.

In fact, I would bet that more people read messages on the sidewalks on a daily basis than messages delivered in other, more traditional ways like email. I know a lot of people that delete emails from on-campus groups immediately, and usually get annoyed for getting them at all.

Impressions are great and everything, but my question is how effective the campus chalk is. Does the target act as a result of seeing the messages?

I would argue that, in most cases, the answer is no.

Both Habitat for Humanity and the Wheeler/Whitmer President/Vice President team promoted Twitter hashtags as a part of their sidewalk-chalk communication (#BPortHabitat and #WheelerWhitmer).

However, a search of either of those hashtags on Twitter returns zero tweet results. In fact, I am unable to find Sam Wheeler or Brian Whitmer on Twitter at all. Furthermore, the Brockport Habitat for Humanity Twitter feed has tweeted 19 times – 0 of which contain the hashtag that they promote on the sidewalks.

Clearly, online conversation hasn’t been started as a result of the chalk campaigns. Habitat for Humanity did hold a pie-in-the-face fundraising event on Tuesday, and I would love to know how many people participated in it. I don’t have expectations for that to be a high number, however, as I didn’t hear of a single person going to it.

Sam Wheeler and Brian Whitmer did win the Brockport Student Government election, but I question how much of the victory credit should go to the chalk campaign. It is interesting to note that the duo won by a 643-291 margin. Brockport has over 7,000 students, which makes the 934 that voted a relatively small sample size.

I’m not convinced that there is a single winner in the sidewalk-chalk campaign arena.

For those of you at other colleges – Do you have similar side-walk chalk campaigns?

For those of you that haven’t been to college in a few years – Did this communication tactic exist when you went to school?

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About Jim Mignano

Jim Mignano is a young professional practicing and learning Public Relations in Rochester, NY. He is passionate about the possibilities that digital media provide and loves utilizing new platforms for a variety of functions. James' blog is about people and the technology they use. It's about communication and persuasion... the old and the new ways of doing things... the struggle between sticking to the tried, true recipes and experimenting with intuitive, innovative ideas. It's an extension and reflection of James himself: the convergence of ambition & ability.
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