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Adjust Your Marketing Plan for Social Media

May 6, 2009

film-strip1My background includes media and the arts, so it occurred to me: a higher education marketing plan is not theatre. It’s more like film in how it’s executed.

In theatre, the play is the thing. Once it is blocked and rehearsed, the actors take center stage to perform it while the director stereotypically stands in the back of the theatre or goes across the street to the bar until it’s over. There are no changes on the fly. If the play, staging, direction and performances are not connecting with the audience, well, it’s too late. Not exactly a way to run a university marketing program.

Marketing higher education should be more like film. The CMO or chief enrollment management officer should be like a film director who plans, storyboards the screenplay, rehearses, and then executes it shot by shot making changes on the set as he/she and the actors synergistically sense that a change would be better.

For university marketing, these changes are shifts in marketing strategy and reallocation of budget made by a creative CMO or CEMO. Judging from surveys on the use of social media by admissions offices, nearly four out of ten of these university leaders are apparently asleep at the bar across the street.

Last week, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) announced findings of a study commissioned by NACAC on the use of social media in college admissions. The study analyzing 2007 data was directed by Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, professor and director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. But a study using 2008 data published by the Center provides more relevant results. The data show that the use of social media strategies by colleges and universities has grown significantly between 2007 and 2008.


There are certainly encouraging signs in this data, especially with the percentage of colleges blogging, videoblogging and podcasting. But given that one must fish where the fish are, why are 39% of colleges and universities not on a social network platform? And why are 39% not doing any social media strategies at all? These two stats are astounding.

As studies have shown, higher education is adopting social media at a faster rate than for-profit corporations. But of course. Given how social media is woven into the fabric of the life of a teenager and young adult, last week’s findings should have indicated nearly 100% involvement in social network sites and social media strategies. OK. I know, there will never be 100% agreement on anything. There will always be about 10-12% of people who defy reason. But 39%?

As a university CMO/CEMO, you must be on top of your game. You must research the market, plan thoroughly, and manage the execution of that plan creatively. You must be a strong leader able to reallocate budget to meet market needs. You may need to adjust staff portfolios. You will need to adjust website strategies to be competitive.

Your competition is going to take full advantage of social media. You should be doing more in social media than just having a presence on Facebook. But at a minimum at this point in time in 2009, Facebook should at least make the final cut of your marketing strategies.

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