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We’re all now very aware of what a powerful tool social media can be, especially when it comes to marketing. However, looking at universities we can see that there is an evident lack of understanding… In fact only a couple of months ago, students were saying that uni social media is pretty unreliable!

It seems some are still yet to catch onto this social revolution, and fully take advantage of how it plays such a central role in many students’ day-to-day lives.

 
For students (and many others) social media sites are not only places to share and stay in touch, but also sources of information where one can go to shape views and form opinions on everything from products and services, to people and politics…so why not universities?

A recent survey by the Guardian found that many current students considered their universities’ social presence was less influential and less trustworthy than the more traditional prospectus or open day. This may be due to the sites being neglected, or simply not providing as much, or appropriate, information…but the simple fact that students are looking to social media sites for guidance shows that they are keen to engage that way. Universities need to be present where the majority of people already  are; Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc… and no, simply having a profile doesn’t count… the crucial word we used there was ‘engage’.  That means actually communicating and having conversations.

If universities are going jump on the social media bandwagon (which we highly recommend they do!) then there are few things they should keep in mind…

  1. It’s highly unlikely a single Facebook post (or tweet!) will sway a student’s decision, nor is it likely it’ll be used as a source of initial research…but sites like Facebook and Twitter can be valuable in helping finalising a decision. They can act as a point of direct communication and be there to provide instant responses when students are lacking that little bit of confidence…this kind of reassurance is crucial when it comes to investing in a degree.
  2. Know your strengths. If you aren’t really someone suited to social media then it’s definitely worth creating a separate position to manage the social media outlets; better still this opportunity could be opened up to students themselves. They know the market they’re communicating to, know what’s important to promote…and are already well informed in the world of social media.
  3. Now this may sound obvious, but the information has to be relevant and enticing for (new and prospective) students so that they are keen to engage. It’s about content marketing; i.e communicating with the students without selling. Universities should focus on engaging with students, staying in tune with them and understanding exactly what it’s like from their point of view (sometimes quite daunting!).
  4. Talk to alumni. Universities should encourage existing (and current) students to connect with them online. Social media sites are the perfect place for everyone to share; previous students can talk about their experiences and prospective students can ask about them. Universities can think about introducing Q&A sessions, conducting interviews or launching discussions open to everyone.

When it comes to attracting new students, it’s vital that universities maximise their use of social media in a planned, engaged and controlled way. It’s simply about being responsive and comprehensive to prospective students needs and concerns, and sites like Facebook and Twitter are perfect platforms for this. With increased fees students want to make better informed decisions and require a greater amount of information and engagement from the university…

But above all, social media is a great opportunity for universities waiting to break barriers and give people from different backgrounds, areas and cultures the access to information and knowledge. Social media helps everyone find a common ground, and gives them equal access to everything… and using the student body to be your ‘voice’ is a pretty compelling message.

 

Written by EC associate Katy Jones.

Image source: http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2010/06/16/03networking.h03.html

 

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