It seems that only recently social media were nothing but a toy for millions of bored office workers to fiddle with; today they are widely recognized by governments, international corporations and, yes, even such conservative organizations as colleges and universities throughout the world. Moreover, using Twitter or Facebook to reach out to students and potential applicants is a much more widespread phenomenon than you may think.
According to the statistics, about 96 percent of the U.S. educational institutions use Facebook in this or that form, and 80 percent admit using Twitter, with about 85 percent of respondents considering their usage of social networks to be successful.
The ways social media are applied by educational institutions are only natural: to engage alumni and staff, to recruit new students, to support and improve their brand names, enhance awareness and rankings, address crises and much more along the same lines. According to most colleges that actively use social media for these purposes, they, just like almost anybody else, notice that they are growing more effective and efficient every year, and right now are already better at reaching out both to the students and to the outside world than the traditional media.
However, as noted by many specialists, colleges and universities still show themselves as conservative institutions – although they use social media and add new and new ways to do it every year, they aren’t as eager to embrace change as one may think. In most cases their usage of social media remains similar to notices and ad campaigns of the past – they are a means of one-way communication and lack a truly ‘social’ element. Facebook and Twitter in the hands of a college are usually aimed at students: to announce something, for example, without expecting to receive an answer.
In order to make themselves truly social, colleges and universities should really get into the spirit of the thing. Not use social media as high-tech notice boards, but fully engage people, both on and off campus, ask and answer questions, help them, give advice, and show in other ways that the college in question is an environment that cares, and that it consists of individual people who are not indifferent to others. Even a simple warm comment to a tweet from an official representative of a college will do wonders to ensure that a student who received it will retain similarly warm impressions from dealing with this college.
In short, colleges should use social media in more or less the same way any other business does it. It should take note of what is said about it in social media and by whom, respond to what was said, try to solve or alleviate problems, systematize received information and use it to make conclusions and form further course of action. Ask for feedback at any possibility and be genuinely helpful.
There is nothing undignified in this approach – on the contrary, it makes colleges closer to students whom they are supposed to attract. And it is certainly a good thing.