Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Social Media and You: Why Colleges Need It and How to Teach Your Students to Effectively Use It

The term social media was a constant ring in everyone's ear in 2011 and will likely continue to make noise in 2012. The general consensus seems to be that if your business or organization is not engaged in some sort of social media platform, you're doing something wrong. It is certainly no different with colleges and universities.

Now, I'll be honest. Despite all the hype, outside of email (the new snail I've been told), I've been a little slow to utilize social media in my engagement with prospective student and current students. At a community college where everyone is guaranteed acceptance, is it really necessary to court students the way that four-year colleges and universities do? After all, they are trying to put together a decent freshmen class, an enrollment goal that community colleges really are not tasked with. Is it really necessary to build relationships with students who most likely will come to our college any way because we're a great back-up plan?

My answer, in one word....yes!

Contrary to popular belief, social media is not just about advertising. It's really about being social and building relationships with both your external constituents as well as your internal constituents and plenty of colleges are using it to build strong, well-connected communities. So what are you waiting for? Take the first step. Not totally sold on the need for social media in your day-to-day operations at your institution? I asked social media expert Rachel Strella, owner of Strella Social Media for her thoughts on this very topic.

C.W. Why should colleges and universities be utilizing social media platforms?

R.S. There’s a perception that social media is ‘kid stuff,’ but, if used correctly, it’s a great tool for colleges and universities to attract new students as well as connect and engage with the current student body. It’s also a way to facilitate intercollegiate and staff communication.  

Here are few reasons to utilize social media:

The Social Network. Facebook – the largest social media platform – is itself an example of what college life can help its students achieve. Facebook was created by students at Harvard University.
The Audience. The majority of college students are ages 18-25 and have been raised in an age of technology and social media. They’re likely using it already.
Recruitment.  Social media is a great tool to attract students to the campus. LinkedIn, a powerful professional social network, encourages both professional development and staff recruitment.
Intercommunication. Private groups such as a Facebook group encourage interaction based on common interests. Potential groups could include: industry/major groups, study groups, and campus event groups.
Reach. Syracuse University, the second most influential college on Twitter, tweets live campus events including homecoming weekend activities. This creates engagement for those who aren’t able to attend, including alumni, parents, and other students.  

C.W. What are some recommendations for college admissions counselors to not only use social media to promote their schools, but to interact with and build relationships with prospective and current students?

R.S. College admissions counselors are often the first to communicate with a potential student and may ultimately be the deciding factor for many prospects. Establishing a relationship with a student is one of the counselor’s chief goals. Social media will not only allow the relationship to start earlier, but it will also enable the counselors to keep in contact with the potential students with less intrusion into the potential student’s personal time.  

Social media allows for the connection to be about more than just the school. It can be about the culture and atmosphere of the school, which is fundamental to a student who plans to invest years at a college.

There are some schools that may view social media and the admissions counselors using social media as a PR issue. It allows people, other than the PR department, to express views without having departmental oversight. Institutions – like businesses – should understand that unfiltered communication via social media is one of the reasons it’s so powerful. For many students, social media is the easiest and fastest way to communicate.  In fact, studies show that students spend the majority of their time on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It would make sense for schools to leverage these channels for direct access to students.

C.W. How can we better educate our students to be responsible when using social media?

R.S. Colleges should be proactive and establish a social media and electronic communications policy that is required to be verified by students before logging on to campus networks.

It’s equally important for the university to set a good example by properly using social media as an institution.

Moreover, the hallmark of a university is to inform and educate. This is an initiative that should start from the top down. The administration should be aware of social media and its uses and regularly communicate its institutional messages down the chain of command. This could include hiring a consultant to speak to the administration on a regular basis. I would also recommend having regular workshops and panels of social media professionals that can interact with the students, faculty, and staff to discuss proper social media etiquette.

C.W. How can college students start using social media now to make themselves marketable when they begin to search for jobs and build their careers?

R.S. Use LinkedIn. Most business professionals have a LinkedIn account. If students get an account now and start connecting with those in their field, including potential hiring companies, they are ahead of the game. By using LinkedIn, they have the opportunity to make a personal connection and a positive first impression. Students should add their community service and internships to their profile.  Students can also connect with professors and seek recommendations when earned.

Awareness. It’s important to become aware of their personal online conversations as well as their own personal online reputation. That means refraining from saying anything or posting any photo they wouldn’t want seen by the public or a potential employer. Just because they’ve adjusted certain privacy settings doesn’t necessarily mean their information can’t found or shared. A great way to establish a positive online reputation is by starting a WordPress blog and publishing strong content that showcases expertise and knowledge in their core subject area.

How is your college currently using social media to engage your students? And check out more great tips on using social media effectively at

Rachel Strella is the owner of Strella Social Media, a company specializing in social media management.
Rachel holds a degree in communications from Penn State University and has nearly ten years of sales and marketing experience in both the real estate and publishing industries. She’s always wanted to have a career where she could help people, which led her to start a business in social media marketing in July 2010.
In August, Rachel released Social Media Manager Profits™, a national product that offers training to those interested in becoming social media managers. This seven-part series offers step-by-step guidance on how to create a profitable online business. She is also an expert adviser for the Global Social Media Management Association™ (GSMMA), which offers resources and certification for social media managers.
Rachel’s husband says she is never satisfied! But, to her credit, he also believes that’s why she’s been successful. 
Rachel enjoys growing her business and participating in various groups and organizations throughout Central PA.

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