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Twitter. A Serious Marketing Tool for Colleges?

April 15, 2009

The View From Harvard Business

Yesterday, April 14, the Harvard Business blog, “The View by Harvard Business,” had an entry by Sean Silverthorne titled Twitter Is/Is Not a Serious Marketing Tool. The blog entry and its responses, as well as the original argument posts, should be required reading for higher education marketers.

I’ll flip the post and first sum up the view held by Thomas Davenport, the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College. His quote is, “do serious marketers spend a lot of time and energy on Twitter campaigns? I doubt it. Sure, go ahead and play around with it–it doesn’t cost much. But I defy you to do serious brand management in 140-character messages. I defy you to prove that Twitter users are your typical customer–unless you sell bubble tea or something similar–or that their tweets are a true reflection of their relationship with your company.”

There are a few responses to Silverthorne’s blog that agree and list some of the technical flaws that pose risks to Twitter and its users.

The positive view is from a Harvard Business Publishing blog post by John Sviokla who writes that Twitter may very well be a serious marketing tool because it’ll be scooped up by Google or Microsoft and be integrated into their offerings. “Starting now will give you a jump on your competition.” He encourages marketers to ponder three questions before embracing Twitter:

  1. What are people saying about my brand? There are many tools that can help you track how people are talking about your company, customer complaints, or other issues your customers are thinking about.
  2. How can I connect and build a direct communication between my firm and all the customers who want to follow our tweets–on their phone, computer, or other device? There is no downside, as long as you put thoughtful effort behind the initiative.
  3. What capabilities should my firm have so that we can use the right tools to track topics and conversations being tweeted about in my industry, product or service area, and target market?

Good questions for higher education brand management, marketing, and public relations.

In marketing higher education, I think it’s unwise to ignore Twitter right now. There are so many possibilities for marketing and communications with prospective students, students, and alumni. Twitter is built to be organized around common interests. Think of alumni relations and communication with and between students who majored and graduated together. Or, student cohorts in graduate programs. Or, athletics with updates about recruiting, team news, scores, etc. Or, prospective students.

As I wrote in an earlier post regarding social media marketing, you should be thinking about social media like Twitter. If you need to, get away from the office to spend time strategizing. Being an earlier adopter of these new media for marketing may be productive now, and will give you valuable lessons for your marketing strategy next year and beyond.

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