Social media has become a buzzword in the marketing world; the necessary solution to all marketing problems. It’s cheap, fast and almost saturated in some age groups.
But using social media marketing – the art and science of delivering your message through this online ecosystem – is not as easy as creating a Facebook page. The ability to shape the opinions of future students, current students and graduates in this online world is largely determined by the social authority that carries your message. In other words, the success of social media marketing campaigns depends on how much the market trusts your messages.
This should not come as a surprise. This is the same trust that we, as receptionists, use when attending high schools, hiring college counselors, and conducting alumni-sponsored events in remote cities. The differences are simply in the distribution channel and the types of reliable sources. For social networks, the broadcast channel is a web channel (via a social networking site), and reliable sources are usually students and peers, not adult reputable persons.
In this guide, we describe how colleges can use their existing resources to develop an effective social media marketing strategy. We’ll also give you tips on what you can and can’t do to make your message heard while strengthening your brand identity.
Why should you care?
So why should admissions officers be concerned about all this activity on social media? Because your potential customers really don’t care!
According to a recent EDUCAUSE study, the use of social media is almost saturated: 95% of students between the ages of 18 and 19 regularly use social networking sites. Facebook is still in the lead, with 80% of 18-24-year-olds registering several times a day. Social media affects almost every other side of these students’ lives. This has become the primary means by which modern students keep in touch with each other and with the world. This is what their focus is on and where they are primarily looking for information, including information about the college.
These trends have a direct impact on college admissions, as high school students increasingly turn to social media rather than the college’s website when looking for a school. Today’s academic research begins on sites such as collegeprowler.com or Facebook (with improvements such as Campus Buddy). Sites with titles such as “Ten Ways to Use Social Networks to Choose a University” are the new equivalent of a university faculty in a local bookstore.
In a recent poll by Noel Levitz, 74% of students said they thought colleges should be represented on social media. Eighty-one percent of these students admitted to relying on the official and unofficial content of online colleges during the study.
But despite this apparent shift to content on social media, college marketers have not followed suit. The survey also showed that only 26% of private institutions, which are already four years old, intentionally used social networks in their marketing efforts.
Marketing needs to reach its target audience to make a difference. To be heard, you need to meet your potential customers on their territory. Social networking is the foundation and future of modern recruitment and marketing in colleges precisely because it is their area. The ultimate goal is to have your messages captured by the market and delivered spontaneously – and often exponentially – from reliable sources. You want your post to go viral! (“The spread of the virus” means that an image, video, or link spreads rapidly among the population because they are often shared with multiple people; social media makes it easy to share.)
So now a little backstory.
3 parts of social media
From the very beginning of the Internet, people have turned to online communities as a reliable source of mutual information. It all started with the original switching systems of the 1970s – remember the “moderators”? – then in the 1980s and 1990s they became web communities filled with “joint filtering” websites. While the tools and technologies for engaging in online conversations have certainly evolved,
Today’s online communities have become an ecosystem teeming with millions and millions of fan pages, blogs and tweets.
Social media is a form of online conversation between a group of people who share common interests, mediated by an “authoritative” source. (But remember that a 17-year-old freshman can be an “authoritative” source on Facebook!) To successfully take advantage of this busy world of social media, admissions officers need to understand three of its main components: channel, reach and reliability.
With the exception of adolescents, these three elements determine the ability of a particular social media channel to influence the market and influence the opinions of its participants.
More than Facebook
Although Facebook is the most popular social networking site in the history of the world, most marketing efforts on social networks should not focus on this. This does not mean that every admission agency should not have a Facebook page – they should. But your Facebook page is where potential customers are heading when they’re already interested in you.
However, in this guide, we focus more on social media marketing as a way to create your brand identity and create a pool of potential customers. So we’re going to focus on attracting high school students who are just starting to think about college. Facebook is great for saving “friends,” but how do you find new ones?
4 Steps to New ‘Friends’
The first step to making new friends on social media is to think like a high school student connected to digital technology, that is, without gossip and other baggage. Today’s students are much more active researchers. Remember today’s students:
Use their social networks to stay in touch with your friends
Use search engines to find relevant blogs, mashups and useful websites
Visit college websites and college content on social media such as Facebook, YouTube, and others.
You want the story “inside” right now!