Colleges and universities, like any businesses, must be responsive to a wide range of audiences while remaining focused on the quality of their core product – the education of their students.
As traditional methods of recruiting new students, developing campus communities and connecting with alumni continue to fall short, the time is right for higher education to invest in social media.
Here are five ways social media can benefit higher education:
1. Engage Prospective Students
College admissions offices used to have contact with most students before they ever applied to their school. Students may have called to request information or plan a campus tour. Today, the number of students who apply without previous interaction is on the rise.
Meanwhile, those who have communicated with colleges are bombarded with email from each school. Many students consider these messages spam and delete them unread. This presents a significant challenge for colleges that need to convince prospective students to attend.
Social media can reopen the door to two-way conversation with prospective students by offering a dialogue that is much more useful than an email blast. By remaining engaged and monitoring the conversation, colleges can offer a clear picture of campus life that will help students decide. Taking it one step further, an active online community that includes current students, faculty, and alumni will attract applicants looking for an lively campus to join.
2. Maintain Relationships with Alumni
One of the most difficult jobs at any college is to maintain relationships with thousands of alumni who have spread out across the globe. Some may be too busy to read newsletters and emails, and many are hesitant to provide contact information. Social media provide another way for alumni to stay connected with their alma mater after they’ve left campus.
At Syracuse University, we’ve created spaces for thousands of Alumni to network, post job openings, and interact with current students within our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn communities. Alumni are also able to learn about campus events in their area, regardless of whether they’ve provided contact information to the school. Syracuse has even asked alumni to help identify photos from the university archives on Facebook. This is not only useful, but it offers a welcome dose of nostalgia.
3. Enhance the Campus Experience
There’s a lot to explore on every college campus. Location-based services like foursquare encourage students to discover new places while sharing their own tips with friends. Students will earn rewards while spreading the word about campus life to their networks.
Just like a restaurant or other business, colleges can manage their own venues and offer specials to students who check in at places like the bookstore or at athletic events. A campus tour fueled by foursquare can show guests what’s popular with current students and which spots they shouldn’t miss while visiting. For more examples, check out the new Foursquare for Universities page, which features “case studies” from Harvard, Stanford and Syracuse University.
4. Social Media in the Classroom
Social media can be used to enhance discussion in the classroom, facilitate collaboration between students and faculty on projects, and to build community in distance education programs. These tools help bridge the gap that often exists between the classroom experience and the information environment students are living in outside of school.
I use Twitter feeds to display real-time discussion during lecture, and to continue the conversation with students after class has ended. Last year, one of my colleagues taught an online course via YouTube, and this summer Stanford offered the public a chance to ask questions of a cardiologist on the faculty . These methods not only engage students enrolled in the class, but often provide opportunities for others to add value by joining the public conversation.
5. Social Media in the Curriculum
Students may seem well versed in Facebook and Twitter, but few realize the true significance of these platforms. As our students prepare to be the leaders of tomorrow, it is important that we consider social media skills as part of the curriculum.
Last year, Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies sponsored an event called Social Media Futures, which asked students to explore how social media will shape the future of business. It is this type of investigation that makes social media much more than a marketing tactic for higher education.
For colleges, social media offer the opportunity to study trends shaping the world our students will soon enter.
Photo Credit: Studio Mercury]]>