MTV’s RateMyProfessors.com averages anywhere from 3 to 6 million unique visitors each month to its Web site – the largest listing of collegiate professor ratings on the Internet. Come class registration time, that number is up some 7 or 8 million.
With information on more than 7,500 schools, 1.7 million rated professors across the U.S., UK, and Canada, and 13 million student-generated comments and ratings, the college student’s go-to resource has exploded since 2007, when the mtvU division of MTV Networks acquired the platform.
“I don’t want to say it’s a utility, but it’s a place where students go to get something done,” says Carlo DiMarco, senior vice president of strategic partnerships and development at MTV Networks. “It’s very transactional. We’re not looking for kids to collectively rate a professor or to band together to form a voice around a professor or class.”
Instead, what this “anti-community” community does is create value for its users by offering real, peer-to-peer advice from college students on why professor so-and-so is worth 3 credits of your time and why so-and-so is best avoided. In any online community, especially one where professional reputations and MTV’s brand value and that of its many promotional subsidiaries, are at stake, it became apparent that RateMyProfessors.com would need some help in managing its flow of content.
Social software and analytics solutions provider Mzinga initially signed on with the site in the fall of 2008 to provide moderation services to the community, and renewed with RateMyProfessors.com this past fall. Mzinga provides additional assistance during peak traffic seasons, like college acceptance periods, and has helped RateMyProfessors develop best practices for the site, as well as monitor and aid professors in the appropriate response to student critiques.
DiMarco says that keeping a moderator “invisible,” in this case, is a key ingredient in the site’s success. “From a student’s perspective, they don’t really want to know that the site is being moderated,” he explains. “We post our guidelines that ‘these are the rules of the road’ if you want to post on RateMyProfessors.com. When they post feedback on a professor, it will pass through the moderation queue, and if it passes, it’s up on the site. If it doesn’t pass, it’s taken down.”
DiMarco says that RateMyProfessors.com users even self-moderate in a sense, and “the beautiful thing about it is students will also flag reviews if they see that another student is misusing it or not following the guidelines.”
So what about all of the professors? RateMyProfessors.com introduced a “Professors Strike Back” campaign for those who bore the brunt of any negative student feedback. “We loved how students and professors felt so passionately about the site, and wanted to find a way to bring it to life on our televisions with MTVu,” DiMarco says.
He calls the response from professors “overwhelmingly favorable.” The professors wanted a part of the conversation. Although the Web site had featured a professor rebuttal section, it found nowhere near the success that the introduction of video feedback from professors did. “I think they liked the idea of being able to go the extra step and be featured on-air and kind of address comments specifically.”
Making a Hit Out of Your Online Community
Mzinga’s director of strategic services Mike Merriman, offered up the following pointers for companies that want more engagement in their customer or user communities:
Have balance: “Moderation (on the one hand) can be just policing information and making sure nothing is off topic or off brand, and no profanity, etc. But, it can also be more strategic than that and involve spurring conversations. You have to walk a fine line and be up front with the fact that you’re doing that, which could be starting a discussion or focusing in on an area to get the community engagement up. That’s sort of when it crosses from pure moderation to lightweight community management. Certainly the role of a community manager is to ensure the health and well-being of a community is being taken care of, and one of the ways to do that is to make sure people are engaged.”
Increase value: “One way to increase the value is to ensure you’re offering valuable, targeted information. The worst community implementations would be the ones that are so broad that people don’t know where to interact or where to find out information about areas they’re interested in. (Before) Mzinga, I was with a technology company helping them get their community implementations up and running, and they had a number of different product lines, and their first (attempt) was to create one community with all of the various product lines. But the problem was that the users of those product lines ranged from individual consumers to large media houses and the audience make-ups were drastically different. They talked different languages. They had different needs. It wasn’t a community. It was a salad bar. What we did moving forward was to really use the same platform, but to carve out each community separately, so that people were engaging with people who shared the same interests, had the same problems, and could benefit from interacting with one another, as opposed to just being a superset collection of things.”