While schools need to walk a fairly tight line when it comes to involving children, particularly minors, in their social media strategy, they definitely shouldn't shy away from implementing it to its full effect. Social media has proven itself to be a top notch marketing and recruitment tool for businesses, and it should be as well for universities, by ten-fold.
Universities spend a good bit of their budget inviting and enticing potential clients...students, I should say, to enroll in their fine facilities. Just like any other entity which requires funds to keep running, universities need the tuition dollars to keep rolling in. (Notice how careful I was to avoid calling them businesses. I certainly don't want to raise anyone's ire.)
Universities have an advantage with social media that few other organizations have - a captive audience of 17 to 24 years-olds. They're going to be on social media all day anyway, you don't have to convince them. All universities have to do is take advantage of the situation they naturally find themselves in. Here are 5 ways they can do just that.
1. Efficiency 101
Kids these days. One week they're on Facebook, the next week they've all moved back to MySpace. The social landscape is very fluid, so you need to be fluid with it, meaning that you should cover as many bases as possible if you want to listen to and communicate with students (Twitter), alumni (Facebook), and future students (Tumblr). (not that I'm stereotyping, of course).
Next year those might be three new platforms, so you have to be everywhere at once. That isn't possible, of course, but then again... When you have a good social media dashboard, you have a command and control center. Sendible's Priority Inbox gives you access to every major social site in one place, not just Twitter and Facebook. You can post and publish to multiple sites and streams with a single message, and the filters on the inbox will give you a stream of the messages you should pay attention to first. You just saved a bunch of time.
2. Use the Auto-pilot
Even with the efficiency of the Priority Inbox there can be a lot of listening and sorting that needs to get done when millions of kids are all discussing their upcoming college experience at once. The more help you can get with listening past the noise, the better. One way to cut through that noise is by using the 'automatic' features of a dashboard.
For instance, you could set your account to auto-respond with a preset message to anyone who mentions your keywords, such as the name of the university, and then auto-follow them on Twitter. If they are considering your university, you just got another way to talk to them.
3. Keep it Clean
One of the downsides of having this age group as your primary audience is that they tend to be a bit looser with their expressions than older folks. That is to say that they may use colorful language or expressions which you wouldn't want as a comment on your page. Sorting through comments to uphold the school's reputation is another necessary evil which can really take a chunk of time, but not if you have a good dashboard.
Sendible has, for example, a Facebook auto moderator feature. This monitors your Facebook page for posts containing whatever words or phrases you want to avoid, and then automatically removes them if it finds any. That way you can keep your page parent-friendly without having to scour the comments all day long.
4. Create a Consistent Voice
Universities are usually pretty big places, with myriad faculty, staff, and students and separation by both departments and roles. To think that a single Facebook account is sufficient for an entire University is ludicrous. Not only will every department likely have an account, there will generally be many smaller accounts within each department. This can be a problem when it comes to staying on a unified message.
The answer is simple, however. The business features built in to a good social media management software allows multiple users to be set up within the system, each with their own set of limitations. You can even set up an approval method whereby any posts from a department must go through the department's social media manager, and even to a university-level approval center if wanted.
5. Listen with Intent
Monitoring is the key to recruitment and reputation management. We all know the old adage about angry customers. A happy customer tells 5 people about it, and angry customer tells fifty. People that disparage your university online will tell 5 million. Just like the Facebook auto moderator, you can set up your dashboard to listen for references to your keywords across blogs, social sites, comments, and almost anywhere that matters. Then you can address them in whatever fashion you desire. If you don't know about them, all they can do is hurt you.
In the same way, you might miss out on hiring the best chemistry professor in the country because you didn't know about his Twitter rant earlier this afternoon, where he decried his current employer for this and that - concerns which you could have eased by offering him a position at your (much better) campus. Or the student who is torn between you and a rival school across the state, asking his friends online their opinions. If you had good monitoring in place, you would be alerted and be able to respond to their questions and give them a nudge in the right direction - towards your campus, of course.