Neller leads Biola in expanding online presence

Taking a look at where Biola ranks on the web and some projects planned by the University Communications and Marketing team.

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Kelsey Heng

Irene Neller is now filling the position of Vice President of Biola’s University Communications and Marketing. Neller, having worked for more than 23 years in University communications, is also part of the President’s Administrative Council. |Kelsey Heng/THE CHIMES

Kathryn Watson, Writer

The statistics don’t lie — Biola University is popular on the web. And the University Communications and Marketing team deserves most of the credit.

Irene Neller, newly promoted to a vice president’s position over UCM (recently renamed from IMC), credits her team for Biola’s web-savvy achievements. Biola’s ever-increasing presence in social media over the past year has given it notoriety from sites like iTunes U, Twitter and other outside media mediums.

Biola goes viral online

Neller said Biola University, unlike many other colleges and companies, understands social media, and has been “growing exponentially” online because of that.

  • iTunes U placed Biola University on its list of featured providers, along with internationally known places of higher education like Cambridge University, Cornell University and Duke University. Moreover, Biola University’s downloads on iTunes U average more than 12,000 a month.
  • With more than 640 followers, President Barry Corey made seventh place in the “25 College Presidents You Should Follow on Twitter” list by Bachelor’s Degree.
  • Biola’s Facebook pages have all surpassed other CCCU schools in terms of fans, quite an accomplishment, considering Biola only recently joined the social media world.
  • In terms of YouTube views, Biola University’s channel (at 11,250 views a month as of last summer) easily topped Liberty University by several thousand, Abilene Christian University by approximately double and APU by about 10,000. Moreover, Biola has exceeded 190,000 views on its YouTube channel.
  • In the first 30 days of being on EDU CheckUp, Biola University received a four and a half star or 94 percent rating, an unusually high score — especially given the short time frame.
  • Klout.com, which measures companies’ influence by rating their social media accounts, gives Biola’s Twitter a score of 49, which compares well to competitors like UCLA at 52, APU at 46 and Westmont at 34, as of Monday. Klout classifies Biola as a “thought leader” that is “effectively using social media to influence their network across a variety of topics.”

Neller’s background

Behind those achievements, however, lie people-implemented strategies. Neller’s promotion makes her only the second woman to hold a vice presidential position at Biola University, and the first Hispanic vice president. Neller is also a member of the PAC, or the President’s Administrative Council. The seven-member PAC is President Barry Corey’s core leadership team.

Neller, who has been at Biola University since 1987, began her time at Biola as an international admissions counselor.

“It was great training ground, because I literally became like a walking catalogue,” Neller said.

Neller graduated from Bethany University with her undergraduate degree in communications, then continued on to Cal State Fullerton, where she graduated with her master’s degree in communications. Her employees appreciate not only her expertise, but also her Christ-centered vision.

“She recently encouraged the department to work hard not for her but for God’s glory,” said Brenda Velasco, UCM’s manager of public relations and internal communications. “That was refreshing and uplifting.”

Brian Miller, creative director for IMC, has worked with Neller for 15 years.

“She is passionate about Biola,” Miller said. “She adores this university and its students and believes, genuinely, in the mission of this institution.”

Regarding IMC staff, “She wants us to be excellent in all we do, because, of course, we are representing Biola,” Miller said. “Biola’s image and reputation are on the line. So she instills in all of her employees a drive to excel and give our best for God’s glory.

What is UCM?

The role of UCM as a whole is one of both internal communications and external communications and marketing.

“It’s really looking out at the bigger picture of our future,” Neller said, summarizing the mission of UCM. “Where do we want to go and how do we get there?”

The department is involved in everything from planning major university events and launching billboard campaigns to building up Biola University’s website and preparing Corey’s speeches.

“Anything that is going to put a public face on Biola is something that’s going to land in our area,” Neller said.

New name, same great department

Neller said the switch from IMC to UCM is more of a name change than anything at this point. Although improvement is always possible, Neller said Biola has truly achieved integration in marketing and communications; hence, dropping the word “integrated” simply made sense.

“I’m not seeing a huge gap where we are not perhaps meeting a critical need right now for the university when it comes to communications and marketing,” Neller said. “We certainly can do a lot of things better, but there aren’t gaping holes where we are falling short.”

New UCM campaigns

In step with its mission of constant improvement, UCM is about to launch Biola University’s first-ever radio campaign, which will air in five major cities — Atlanta, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Dallas and New York City.

Closer to campus, UCM will be helping launch a new focus on art in the community of higher education. The year-long focus, “Sacred Spaces,” will likely launch in summer, Neller said. As a part of that, Biola will host the CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) conference. The Jesus Mural debate has likely influenced at least in part the decision to choose that campaign, Neller said.

“I have not seen another school really take a more active approach to looking at developing the arts program like we are,” she said. “It’s going to be a good conversation for us to have.”

College affordability

As Corey has stressed, affordability is one of the most central conversations for the entire administration. Neller, as a member of the National Committee for Communication Officers in the CCCU, is responsible for keeping Biola up to date on national affordability discussions.

Schools in the CCCU must know not only how to target their potential audiences, but also how to increase awareness at state and federal levels, Neller said. Affordability, Neller said, is an issue not just at Biola, but at schools everywhere.

“It is a national discussion,” Neller said.

Biola is about to release the findings of a study by Staymates, a national consulting firm, measuring the most-valued features and the over-all value of a Biola education. Neller said the study answers a plethora of questions.

“Are we out-pricing ourselves in the marketplace of Christian higher education?” Neller probed. “Are we right there? Are we competitive with our sister schools? It’s really good information.”

Those findings will elucidate what campaigns and projects UCM needs to tackle next.

“We’ve got our marching orders,” she chuckled.

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