Between facebooking and tweeting and widgets and trolls, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of touch when it comes to all things social media.
With these terms thrown around on TV, at the pub and now in the office, it is only natural to feel the panic set in and an urge to spend the afternoon creating accounts, “friending” people and picking out the all important profile picture.
Using social media for marketing purposes is the norm now with big businesses like Coca-Cola and Nike getting in on the action. Not only do they have a presence on social networking sites but they also include user-generated content on their own sites which ultimately adds more credibility to their brand.
When it comes to how businesses are engaging on popular social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, the key to their success is that the business isn’t doing the talking, the people in the business are. (Or in the case of Coca-Cola, a couple of diehard fans are.)
Organisations should be using social networks for two reasons – strengthening the brand and building relationships. By creating a presence on these networks, you give your customers the space to talk to one another and also give you valuable feedback.
The idea is not to control the conversation but to be a part of it. Social media is all about fostering relationships and sharing information. After you’ve put out your message – your brand – it is imperative to respect the dialogue by doing most of the listening.
Last summer the University’s market research manager surveyed national and international prospective students on their social media usage. We discovered that students actually would like their University to have a presence on social networking sites if they were getting something in return.
What did they want? The prospective students said they would be interested in finding course-related updates, careers information and workshops, and opportunities to network with other students – to name a few. Sounds easy enough.
Facebook was the most widely recognized and most frequently used among the students so we started there. With several unofficial groups set up mostly by students, we believed there was a need for an official page for the University.
But we know it isn’t enough to just have a page up there with a few photos and links to University events. Our “fans” want something more.
Like most things, it comes down to lack of resources and a bit of fear thrown in. When you suggest having a discussion board and invite students to ask questions and share experiences, you’re taking a risk that someone at some point will say something negative about the University. You need to be sure you have the resources to man the discussions, to watch and report back, and to jump in if need be.
It all sounds easy. After all, joining a social network is free and it can be an amazing tool. But that’s all it is – a tool – not the be all and end all of driving recruitment and improving the student experience.
More than anything else, we need a strategy for the University that would allow us to strengthen our presence and really create a space where students – our customers – can speak freely and we can learn from them.
In the meantime, we’re focusing on how we can use social networks right now:
- Sharing University news
- Publicising events
- Promoting student activities and achievements
- Recruiting students for photo shoots for promotional material
- Notifying students and staff if ever there were an emergency
How do you use social media to engage with students? Where do you think we could improve? Let us know how you think we could build the University brand by using social networks.
We’ll be here, listening.