Universities are really getting a great deal out of social media. It gives them a cost-effective and efficient way to promote their faculties and courses to potential students, publish content and to keep their under-grads informed of what’s going on. Twitter and Facebook tend to be the most useful. To give you an idea of how much this has caught on in the States, here’s a mind-blowing directory of John Hopkins University’s social media channels. Nottingham Trent University win Facebook as far as I can see with a stand-up page that helps students with a virtual tour, an accommodation search engine and a course search engine. It’s all practical useful information and hosted in one convenient place.
In terms of talking to potential students it’s pretty crucial since a lot of research prior to selection is done online. Especially for talking to foreign students. If they can’t attend the open day, for example, there are a host of ways the institutions can introduce themselves using social media.
Virtual open days are now quite common place allowing students to look around and ask questions without having to travel. Yale, as you can imagine, also has a top notch social media presence. Their Facebook page has a state-of-the-art Virtual Tour hosted by two of their students.
A lot of students do their research into their prospective colleges online, and it can be a concern as to what they hear and if it’s accurate. Whilst it’s hardly feasible to attempt to obliterate any negative or false online information about your college or course, you can do your best to have some level of input.
Try hosting a forum, either on your website or through a group on LinkedIn, so you can get an idea of the kind of questions being asked. A Facebook Q and A session could work well at peak times, if promoted and announced in advance so it gets enough traction. Hosting Google Hangouts with recent grads or current students to answer questions is a great way for you to allow students to hear straight from the horses’ mouth. These hangouts can then be posted on your YouTube channel for future reference.
It’s also worthwhile to listen to the conversations online and be available to pitch in answers, and also get insights into what topics are trending. In Ireland, for example a lot of students ask questions on Boards.ie so it would be worthwhile having a profile on there so you can answer them accurately. Google Alerts and Twitter search are also good ways to listen out for questions.
All of this can help inform your marketing strategy. For example one pitch I worked on, the main questions popping up time and time again were concerning misinformation students had about a financial aspect of the course. In another project I worked on, they weren’t convinced about the location. These are topics that you can then address in future communications.
Whilst Facebook can offer fantastic functions through its apps and a great visual way for a university to promote itself, Twitter is also a very useful communication channel. It can serve multiple purposes – from answering student enquiries, to reporting on sports and cultural events, to having conversations with stakeholders and announcing changes to courses etc. Butler University are a great example of Twitter Best Practice. They used to talk through their mascot Butler Blue but shut that down last year for some reason. Shame, I thought it was cool, gave the page an edge and some personality.
LinkedIn is another incredibly important channel for universities. It’s a good way for them to promote their past alumni and to strengthen their credentials. Yale have a very slick page. LinkedIn sees the future in the younger audience and have gone as far as reducing the age of access to 13. Yes, that’s right 13. The mind boggles. It’s a natural fit if you think about it, allowing students to start networking and promoting their “personal brand” from an early stage.
YouTube is obviously a channel than any university’s target audience would frequent. UCL have a bespoke channel on YouTube for prospective students. UCD also have a Meet our Students channel. Some universities and colleges actually host lectures on their YouTube page to give a taste of their product, as it were. You could lose a month of your life browsing through the content on the Harvard YouTube channel.
What about Google+ I hear you cry? (Not). Insead in France actually use G+ very well with an excellent content strategy linking back to their blog. G+ is a really great channel, visually and user-experience-wise. And obviously pretty important for SEO. But I just don’t see it catching on. However, if you’re posting up content on your blog/Facebook, there’s no harm or huge effort in popping it up on a G+ page as well.
These are the main sites, obviously other ones are in use and I’ve included links through to show some examples – Instagram, Tumblr, Soundcloud, Flickr. Also some bespoke educational sites too like iTunes U which doesn’t seem to be faring too well as this article points out.