In the past several years, colleges and universities have almost universally accepted the importance of social media. Increasingly, schools are actively using social media outlets to recruit prospective students, maintain relationships with current students, and build their brand identity. The administration “gets” social media, but does the curriculum reflect this cultural shift?
As of 2011, a whopping 98% of schools had a dedicated Facebook page, with many also owning accounts on YouTube, Twitter, Linkedin, and other social media sites. According to a Zinch survey, a majority of prospective students are using social media to research their schools of choice – 70% of prospective students go to Facebook, 40% look at Twitter, and 20% browse YouTube. Gil Rogers, director of College Outreach for Zinch, suggests that universities should be aware of these findings and reevaluate their social media strategy. “While it might be free to create accounts on these new, popular social media sites, universities should focus recruitment efforts on where they’re going to get the highest return on investment,” Rogers said.
When utilizing social media, schools need to focus on engaging with students. Simply creating a Facebook page isn’t enough; there needs to be a human behind the page to maintain the page, answer questions, give advice, and offer means of connecting with other students and the campus as a whole. Guest postings from financial aid officers, admissions representatives, and professors are ways to offer credibility and variety to social media efforts. Efforts to humanize the ivory tower are paying off for many schools.
Dr. James Nolan of Southwestern University can personally vouch for the positive results of an engaging social media campaign; “With social media as an enormous powerful ally, we broke all enrollment records this past year, for each quarter, and overall, and our credit hour production was great as well. (That record will be broken next year. I can see that already…) Prospective students now show up routinely, saying “I feel like I know you guys already from your videos and blogs and Facebook page … I’ve been following you for months…” It is gratifying, and it is good business, and it is authentic.”
So, it is clear that the admissions and marketing departments of schools understand that social media is now a necessary part of doing business; but does marketing and business curricula reflect the change? For the most part, no. “Overall, the higher education system is failing to prepare students with the needed digital and social skill set in any meaningful way,” says Dr. William Ward of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. ”Higher education, like business, needs a culture shift.”
Dr. Ward teaches social media courses at Syracuse University and approaches the subject methodically to show that social media, like other marketing efforts, can be applied in a business setting in a results-driven, goal-oriented, and measurable manner. His approach to social media education prepares graduates for the growing demand for media-competent employees. Of 2,100 companies surveyed by Harvard Business Review, only 12% of those using social media felt they were using it effectively. Schools with a solid social media curriculum are uniquely positioned to attract students looking for a degree in a field that is in hot demand. “Learning how to use social media smartly gives employers a reason to hire,” Ward says. “Helping individuals and organizations harness digital and social communication to their advantage will become one of the fastest growth segments.”
Syracuse University and Dr. Ward are on the cutting edge of preparing students for lucrative and in-demand jobs, and many other schools are following their lead. Harvard, NYU, and Columbia (among others) have already added social media classes to their offerings. In the near future, businesses (and schools!) will no longer use trial and error in their social media campaign. Soon, there will be a new class of professionals manning the computers behind corporate social media accounts. It will be interesting to see the evolution of social media’s place in the higher education classroom; maybe we will soon see BA’s in social media alongside majors such as marketing, advertising, and business development.
How does your admissions office utilize social media? Has your school added any courses on the subject?