January 4, 2012

Rachel Strella

Is Your College Making the Grade?

There’s a perception that social media is ‘kid stuff,’ but, if used correctly, it’s a great tool for colleges and universities to attract new students as well as connect and engage with the current student body. It’s also a way to facilitate intercollegiate and staff communication. Here are a few reasons why college PR departments, admissions counselors, career advisors, and students should be using social media.

Public Relations Departments

The Social Network. Facebook – the largest social media platform – is itself an example of what college life can help its students achieve. Facebook was created by students at Harvard University.

The Audience. The majority of college students are ages 18-25 and have been raised in an age of technology and social media. They’re likely using it already.

Recruitment.  Social media is a great tool to attract students to the campus. LinkedIn, a powerful professional social network, encourages both professional development and staff recruitment.

Intercommunication. Private groups such as a Facebook group encourage interaction based on common interests. Potential groups could include: industry/major groups, study groups, and campus event groups.

Reach. Syracuse University, the second most influential college on Twitter, tweets live campus events including homecoming weekend activities. This creates engagement for those who aren’t able to attend, including alumni, parents, and other students.  

Admissions Counselors 

College admissions counselors are often the first to communicate with a potential student and may ultimately be the deciding factor for many prospects. Establishing a relationship with a student is one of the counselor’s chief goals. Social media will not only allow the relationship to start earlier, but it will also enable the counselors to keep in contact with the potential students with less intrusion into the potential student’s personal time.   

Social media allows for the connection to be about more than just the school. It can be about the culture and atmosphere of the school, which is fundamental to a student who plans to invest years at a college.

There are some schools that may view social media and the admissions counselors using social media as a PR issue. It allows people, other than the PR department, to express views without having departmental oversight. Institutions – like businesses – should understand that unfiltered communication via social media is one of the reasons it’s so powerful. For many students, social media is the easiest and fastest way to communicate.  In fact, studies show that students spend the majority of their time on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It would make sense for schools to leverage these channels for direct access to students. 

Career Advisors/Counselors

Colleges should be proactive and establish a social media and electronic communications policy that is required to be verified by students before logging on to campus networks.

It’s equally important for the university to set a good example by properly using social media as an institution.

Moreover, the hallmark of a university is to inform and educate. This is an initiative that should start from the top down. The administration should be aware of social media and its uses and regularly communicate its institutional messages down the chain of command. This could include hiring a consultant to speak to the administration on a regular basis. I would also recommend having regular workshops and panels of social media professionals that can interact with the students, faculty, and staff to discuss proper social media etiquette.

College Students

LinkedIn. Most business professionals have a LinkedIn account. If students get an account now and start connecting with those in their field, including potential hiring companies, they are ahead of the game. By using LinkedIn, they have the opportunity to make a personal connection and a positive first impression. Students should add their community service and internships to their profile.  Students can also connect with professors and seek recommendations when earned. 

Awareness. It’s important to become aware of personal online conversations as well as personal online reputation. That means refraining from saying anything or posting any photo they wouldn’t want seen by the public or a potential employer. Just because they’ve adjusted certain privacy settings doesn’t necessarily mean their information can’t found or shared. A great way to establish a positive online reputation is by starting a WordPress blog and publishing strong content that showcases expertise and knowledge in their core subject area.*

Can you think of some colleges successfully embracing social media?  

*Portions of this blog also appeared here.

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