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How 10 Savvy Colleges Are Using Social Media

ImageSocial media has transformed from another passing fad to a broad array of collection of essential communication tools over the past few years.

Initially disregarded as just a hobby for early adopters, social media has taken center stage and is a key component to how many organizations function today.

While businesses and companies use social media for increasing brand awareness and improving customer support, other organizations have come up with creative uses to strengthen loyalty and improve donations.

Colleges and universities are on the forefront, where adoption alive and well. 85% of college admissions offices survey social networks, and another 81% of schools that blog consider it "very successful" so far (according to a recent survey).

While some are still dipping a toe in to test the waters, others are diving in head first and accomplishing amazing things.

Here's how 10 savvy colleges are using social media.


#1. Princeton

The Princeton Weekly is an editorially independent magazine that's been around since 1900.

Every week, Princeton alumni contribute articles and blogs covering "everything from planetary science to pop culture". But they also cover more personal, in-depth examples that hit close to home for the tight-knit community.

A perfect example is Suleika Jaoaud (class of 2010), who chronicle's her life as a cancer patient on a column called "Life Interrupted", for The New York Times’ Well blog. One essay that made it back to the Princeton Weekly describes what it was like to come to grips with her cancer, and use social media as a lens to shed light on her deepest, darkest insecurities.

After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, Suleika began to feel distant from the old identity on Facebook. Her condition and ongoing chemotherapy was both exhausting and depressing. And Suleika retracted further from the world:

"After the hospital, I went home to my parents’ house, to my childhood bedroom. I had completed an almost total retreat from the world. I found it hard to even pick up phone calls from my closest friends. What did I possibly have to report? My days were a dreadful routine of meals, medicine, and the view of the ceiling from my bed.

But after awhile she slowly began opening up, and sharing more of her "new-self" with her friends on Facebook.

Although intimidating at first, it became therapeutic and refreshing. And she discovered that using social media became more effective than any prescription. You can read the full article here.


#2. Notre Dame

"53% of recent college graduates are unemployed", according to The Atlantic.

With extreme numbers like that, some college diplomas are barely worth the paper they're printed on.

But one school is going out of its way to help their students where they spend the most time -- in social media. Notre Dame's career center for alumni houses a collection of career and job search resources to help their alumni remain connected and informed.

This includes special skill development training and networking platforms to encourage and promote fellow alumni. Kevin Monahan, Associate Director of Business and Alumni Career Programs, has also used a blog since 2010 to provide career search and management information. It helps Irish alumni stay on top of current trends, and provides new insight on classic skills like resumes, interviewing, negotiation, and more every few days.

Finally, like other universities, Notre Dame uses a private LinkedIn Group to help each other network and take a proactive approach to career development.


#3. Ohio State

Ohio was one of the most important swing states in this year's election. And it was the clincher for President Obama, who's projected Ohio win put him over the necessary 270 electoral votes.

But this wasn't a surprise to anyone in the Obama camp. His campaign had been getting ready for Ohio for the past three and a half years, spending a bulk of the time drumming up interest in the crucial 18 - 29 year old demographic. According to Bloomberg:

"The campaign has thousands of student volunteers across the state, many employing social-media platforms such as Facebook Inc. (FB) and Twitter Inc., which weren’t used as widely four years ago. On Election Day in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets; now that many tweets are sent every six minutes, according to Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman."

Obama focused specifically on Ohio State, visiting three times over the past year.

And his efforts galvanizing young voters -- many of whom have never participated in a presidential election -- paid huge dividends for his campaign.


#4. University of Wisconsin Madison

Will and Jenny Hsu of Minneapolis and Will's parent's (Paul and Sharon Hsu) made a bold challenge: They pledged to give $1 for every new Facebook and Twitter follower to University of Wisconsin Madison.

Christened the "Bucky Challenge", this was the first promotion of it's kind to raise scholarship funds in higher education. And it was a great success -- pulling in $20,000 for the Great People Scholarship.

The campaign was a catalyst for UWM's large alumni base, and the message was spread far and wide. It was featured in the New York Times, and spread socially by notable alums including Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (@jjwatt), writer Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) and CBS News correspondent Jeff Greenfield (@greenfield64).

Fundraising is one of the largely untapped benefits of social media for colleges, but programs like the Bucky Challenge could serve as a blueprint for others considering the potential. Vice chancellor for university relations, Vince Sweeney, had this to say about the challenge:

“We found a way to link social media with our passionate base of alumni and amazing people like Will and Jenny,” says Sweeney. “It’s one more example of our university creatively connecting with the world.”


#5. Stanford

Medical journals have been around since the late 1700s, and have been used to puplize major findings like smoking causing lung cancer in 1950.

Today, the $8 billion industry is made up for over 6,000 medical journals published worldwide -- most behind expensive paywalls that could cost thousands per year. But John Adler, a Stanford neurosurgeon, recently decided it's time for a change. According to the San Francisco Gate:

Cureus (pronounced "curious") is an "open source" online medical journal that shares material, is available and free to anyone, and allows researchers to publish their findings at no cost within days - rather than the months or even years it typically takes for research to be made public. It's built on a "crowdsourcing" platform that allows readers to rate material based on the article's quality, rather than the mere fact it was published in a prestigious publication.

Taking inspiration from the way users can simply and effectively leave reviews about restaurants on Yelp, Adler envisions a simple platform that will provide trusted medical information to the "average Joe".

And apparently, this inspiration runs in his blood. His son, Trip, is the founder and CEO of Scribd, a popular digital, crowdsourced publishing company.


#6. Texas A&M

Texas A&M is ranked number one by Klout for the most active social media presence of all universities in the country.

They have almost 380,000 Facebook fans, and over 60,000 Twitter followers. But the best example of their social media dominance could be last year's scavenger hunt. Diane C. McDonald, Director of Social Media at Texas A&M, highlighted three main goals for the scavenger hunt:

  1. Business development (through attaining corporate sponerships)
  2. Integrate social media channels to increase reach and follower counts
  3. And encourage students to become better acquainted with the campus and each other in a new light

Organizing a cohesive campaign for over 50,000 students is no easy task. But by integrating the use of different social media platforms, they were able to increase their (already large) social media presence by 10 percent. According to Diane,

"We promoted the hunt on Facebook and YouTube, distributed clues on Twitter and rewarded winners for check-ins on Foursquare. We wanted to pull together our existing channels into a cohesive social media package that builds a brand."

The hunt was also a hit for the University's bottom line. For example, the campus bookstore saw a significant increase in traffic throughout the promotion.

And it increased engagement throughout the university for students, alumni, and faculty. The end of the scavenger hunt led students to Texas A&M President, R. Bowen Loftin's personal residence.

Overall, the campaign was a big win for everyone involved. And it exemplifies the best use of social media by increasing reach, engagement, and revenue.


#7. UCLA

At the beginning of December 2012, News Corp pulled the plug on the popular and innovative iPad magazine, The Daily.

According to the LA Times, analysts have estimated that News Corp invested up to $80 million to try and create the new digital brand from scratch. Rupert Murdoch, News Corp Chairman, said they were unable to grow a large enough audience in the first two years to promise long-term viability.

But this news hasn't rocked UCLA's Anderson School of Management. They recently introduced a free, digital alumni magazine called Assets Digital.

It's the first interactive B-school iPad app of it's kind. The digital medium allows it to include a real-time Twitter feed and calendar of events, video web links, and more. Glenn Lyday, UCLA Anderson Board of Directors President, told the University's website:

“The new Assets allows our global alumni network of approximately 37,000 the opportunity to connect with Anderson in a dynamic way so that every issue becomes a networking event beyond the magazine itself.”

The app is a perfect example of an innovative solution to an old problem: fundraising.

One of the best uses of social media, and new digital platforms like the iPad, is to increase engagement through content consumption.

The more alumni UCLA can reach, and keep engaged over a longer period of time, the more fundraising dollars they should be able to acquire.


#8. USC

During the height of USC's football dynasty, former coach Pete Carroll used social media extensively to provide an "inside look" at the program.

Along the way, Carroll was instrumental in creating the USCRipsIt blog, and the YouTube channel PeteCarrollTV. These social media sites helped fans get closer to the team than ever before.

But they were also key for recruiting, and bringing the nations top talent to USC. Potential high school recruits could use these new tools to get a better understanding of USC's culture -- no matter where they were located.

And it's a perfect example of the growing trend of college's using new digital communication channels to reach recruits on a more personal level. According to ESPN, "Linebacker commit Jabari Ruffin (Downey, Calif./Downey) said he spoke with USC coach Joe Barry through Facebook, and the Trojans contacted him about as often as any other school."

These tools also enable recent players, like Quarterback Matt Barkley, to raise awareness and engagement for the program. Barkley joined Twitter during his freshman year, and is one of the more active players with over 80,000 followers. Like it or not, his celebrity and these new communication channels gave him the power to act as an unofficial spokesman for the University.

And it provided a compelling reason for both fans and potential recruits to pay attention to the USC program in between big games.


#9. Harvard

The average time spent on Facebook (per user) each month equals about 400.2 minutes, or more than six-and-a-half hours, according to the FinancialPost.

This massive amount of time invested each month has been described as an addiction by some people. Which should come as no surprise, according to a new research study from Facebook's roots -- Harvard:

"Through a series of experiments, the researchers at Harvard University learned through the study that the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or even having sex."

During the study, researchers monitored brain activity while subjects answered a series of questions. When people spoke about themselves and disclosed personal information, areas of the brain associated with rewards became strongly engaged. Much more so, than when subjects spoke about other people.

And researchers saw the most brain activity when subjects shared news about themselves with family and friends specifically.

The study helps answer why social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are so popular, and further proves that while the popularity of individual networks might wane, social media in general is not going anywhere.


#10. Cal Berkeley

"Content creation and the social web is overwhelmingly dominated by the affluent and well-educated", according to The Next Web and a recent study at the University of California Berkeley.

A doctoral candidate in sociology, Jen Shradie, looked at survey data from over 40,000 people and discovered college graduates are:

  • 1.5x more likely to be bloggers than are high school graduates
  • Twice as likely to post photos and videos
  • 3x more likely to post an online rating or comment.

So what are the negative implications of this? According to Jen:

“The working class is underrepresented on the Internet. Without their voices, their issues are ignored… That chasm is unlikely to break down until everyone has a host of digital production tools at both home and work.”

Nevertheless, the signs are clear: colleges (and the graduates they produce) are driving the shape and implications of social media.

Which again, should come as no surprise.

The technology adoption lifecycle curve was developed to show how new technologies are adopted or accepted. Consumers are grouped into different categories based on their personalities and characteristics.

Originally created to monitor and track the purchasing patterns of farmers, it can now be applied to other major technological trends and innovations to understand how something reaches "mass appeal".

The people and groups responsible for driving change and introducing these major trends to the majority of the world are classified as "Innovators" and "Early Adopters". And these people almost always are more educated, prosperous, risk-oriented, and natural leaders of communities.

Jen's work at UC Berkeley shines a light on inextricable link between social media and colleges. And it highlights the natural symbiosis where professors, university leaders and students can come together to produce innovative results that positively impacts our world.

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