Jun 23, 2009

Using Social Media in Higher Education

Using Social Media in Higher Education
BY Brett Circe

Higher Education

Booming over the last few years, social media has become an integral part of the way we communicate.  Some of social media’s early adopters include college students, who remain fluent and active in social media in its various forms.  Some savvy colleges and universities have taken notice, leveraging social media to grow their student bases and extend engagement with current and past students.

For example, when users of all ages use social media they create a “self profile.” Nearly 100% of the time they include the name of their college. This is one of tools social networks use to help users connect and re-connect — and this is one of the key reasons that social media in higher education is such a strong fit.

There are a variety of ways in which colleges and universities can use social media to engage and interact with students.  But first, they must understand how to design a presence specifically for the social web — what works in other channels may not work for social media.

Murray and I recently attended the Inigral Founding Partners Board Meeting on social media in higher education in Orlando.  We found this conference to be very interesting and informative, focusing primarily on high-level applications, the social web, a day in the life of a school and how colleges and universities can use social media.  We also learned a lot about best practices, marketing, overcoming objections and ways to use feedback about user communities.

One of Inigral’s most exciting new custom applications is “Schools for Facebook,” which was specially created for colleges and universities to help them interact with potential, current and past students.  Schools for Facebook includes administrative controls that allow customization, as well as feature requests that can be “voted up” by all customers and prioritized based on community feedback.

The Schools for Facebook application also includes three cutting edge features that Murray and I found particularly valuable for solving many of the challenges we currently face when managing school Facebook communities.

“Experiences” is comprised of users who share a common experience.  While this feature shares some similarities with a group, it is different because users actually return to view it in the future.  For example, a college’s Welcome Week, Open House and Study Abroad program are all experiences that users share.  They can upload photos, reconnect with other participants, see them on a map, click to “like” a photo enough to vote it to the home page, and much more. It’s an enjoyable and effective way to make users feel engaged long after the physical event is over.

Similarly, “Organizations” also helps users feel more engaged.  It can be open or private, allowing users who are members of different organizations, such as sports teams, dorm residents, Greek organizations, student governments, alumni groups, etc. to connect with each other. The Organization includes a Q&A feature and displays other connections with members.

Another exciting feature is “Ambassador”.  Colleges and universities know that a campus tour is a critical success factor in getting new student applications.  Ambassador helps coordinate campus tours to get prospects engaged, familiar and comfortable before they arrive on campus, and facilitate a follow-up communication program after they leave  – or in the words of one university, “turning suspects into prospects.” This feature is like a connection manager for prospects, undergrads and alumni — a useful and effective tool for managing the entire student lifecycle.

If you’d like more information on the exciting Schools for Facebook application, including implementation and rollout plans, or other custom applications for higher education, please contact us today.