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Social Media Marketing

April 8, 2009

I was talking with a friend recently who is in the ad agency business. He was sharing his amazement that a year and a half ago Twitter wasn’t a part of our lives, and that Facebook was just opening itself up to the non-higher education market.  Now, the marketing buzz is all about new social media, and all of us are trying to figure out what it all means beyond learning this new vocabulary that identifies us as tweeple who tweet, etc.

There’s a great social media marketing blog by Scott Monty who heads social media for the Ford Motor Company.  This particular blog entry is titled Social Network Shorthand, and describes how he uses the different platforms of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  His analogy is clarifying.

What’s it all mean for marketing higher education?  There are now tons of agencies and experts who will define it for you.  It’s a growth market.  But really, how do you jump into the fast lane or even the slow lane of this constantly evolving social media vehicle?  Well, to mix metaphors, baby steps seem to me to be the wise approach.  But jump in you must.  To sit on the sidelines during this evolving phase of social network marketing will put your institution at a market disadvantage, and sometime in the not so distant future, may very well negatively affect your brand image.  On a positive note, this fast changing marketing environment may be an opportunity for a college or university to make up ground or make progress with its brand image.

What is clear is that the rules of the game are changing dramatically for advertising and communicating with our publics.  There is definitely great potential for PR, enrollment management, alumni relations, university relations, and even the classroom when considering social media options such as Twitter, which now makes it possible to interact in real time with media, applicants, alumni, contacts in the community, and students.  It is mind boggling to think of the possibilities just from an admissions standpoint.

So, for the sake of your college or university, go think about it, research it, and carefully adjust your marketing plan to include social media if you haven’t already done so.  As this social media game changer continues to evolve, everyone will be jumping in.  And when that happens, it’s the early adopters of the use of social media in higher education who will have valuable experience upon which to build their evolving social media strategy.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2009 9:12 PM

    Great recommendation, Rick. I think there might even be parallels between the automotive industry (or any other large employer) and higher ed with regard to social media.

    One of the challenges I ran into as I began thinking about Ford’s social media strategy was how to craft something that would be flexible enough to fit the many different audiences we need to speak to. In our case, it includes employees, customers, dealers, suppliers, enthusiasts, shareholders, and retirees, to name a few.

    Let me see if I can make some parallels in higher ed:

    Applicants = potential customers
    Students = owners/customers
    Employees = employees (that was easy)
    Faculty = dealers
    Alumni = retirees
    Donors = shareholders, enthusiasts
    Partners = suppliers

    We also needed to think about how each department could use social media – from customer service to HR, communications to IT, marketing to product development. As any organization thinks about its goals, they should pay special attention to how varying groups within the organization adopt and integrate social media into their workflow. Really, it’s not much different than how we’ve integrated email and phones into our daily lives.

    • Rick Hardy permalink
      April 9, 2009 1:22 PM

      Thanks, Scott, for your response. Let me respond up front that I am impressed with your blog and thought leadership on social media.

      Yes, it looks like there are parallels between the two industries. Good list. I’d just add that in higher ed, there are prospects, inquirers and applicants, each with different communication/promotional strategies tailored for them. Perhaps potential customers who visit Ford’s website, or a showroom, are kind of the same market as university applicants?

      Your comment about how the organization internally uses social media is a good one. In higher education, the use of technology for the university is typically the domain of IT. Battles were fought years ago over who owns the website. Fortunately, either marketing or individual schools won that one in many/most cases. The use of Twitter for communicating on campus, for example, may be a new battleground.

      The difference–and it’s a significant one–between for-profit corporate industries and higher education is political. Higher education, while being corporate, is an academic culture where the faculty believe they own and know what is best for the institution. At least they own the academic product, the core product for the organization. Accreditation associations promote this belief. Thus, the political power of the organization lies with the faculty. In this sense, academia may more closely resemble newspapers and hospitals where the professional core think they know what is best for the newspaper or hospital, and administrators (and editors) are tolerated. It’s definitely not a top down political structure. Thus, implementing anything comprehensively takes political savvy.

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