Why Higher Ed is NOT There Yet with Social Media Marketing

Karine Joly is executive director of Higher Ed Experts, a professional development company, and editor of collegewebeditor.com.

Last week, Kyle James reminded us that the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachussets Dartmouth had just published the results of its latest study on social media use in higher ed.

With 456 interviews performed from November 2010 to May 2011 among a representative sample of 4-year institutions in the United States, the findings of this study are valid within a +/- 4 percent range.

While they confirm some widely-shared assumptions on the state of social media in higher education, these results also reveal some surprising trends.

  • According to this study, 100 percent of colleges and universities now use some form of social media–be it blogs, Facebook, Twitter, message/bulleting boards, videoblogging, podcasting, Foursquare, MySpace, LinkedIn or YouTube. Unsurprisingly, Facebook is the most widely used by institutions–only 2 percent aren’t present on the most popular social networking platform.
  • YouTube follows with an adoption rate of 86 percent, just before Twitter with 84 percent and blogging with 66 percent.
  • What’s a bit more surprising is the jump in podcasting use compared to the previous year–from 22 percent to 41 percent. I really don’t understand what could explain this surge and this makes me question the reliability of this specific data point. (How was podcasting defined to respondents?)

Is success in the eyes of the admissions officer?

When asked how successful institutions are with the different types of social media channels they use, more than three-quarters of the respondents reported all channels (with the exception of the dying MySpace platform) as successful.

So, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds when it comes to social media in higher education?

Not so fast.

State webanalytics he2011

A closer look at the results of two other recent studies, namely the 2011 E-expectations Study from Noel-Levitz and the State of Web and Social Media Analytics in Higher Education I conducted for Higher Ed Experts, raises several questions about the very rosy picture painted by the study of social media use in admissions offices.

  • When only 9 percent of prospective students and 5 percent of their parents have a Twitter account, according to the Noel-Levitz survey, how can 72 percent of the institutions see Twitter as a successful channel?
  • When 66 percent (a 15-point increase from the previous year) of admissions offices use blogs and three-quarters of students and parents said they never or only rarely looked at college blogs, how good can the social media strategy of the admission office be?
  • When 95 percent of admissions offices pat themselves on the back when asked to evaluate the success of their efforts on Facebook yet only 49 percent of the institutions–according to the Higher Ed Experts study–track Facebook activity, what does Facebook success look like for almost half the institutions?

Obviously, I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I believe there’s a real need to go beyond the “social media checklist” tactic and adopt a more strategic and measurable approach in higher education.

Now that everybody is on board, it’s time to find out what works for the institution and stop what doesn’t.

Don’t YOU think so?

One response to “Why Higher Ed is NOT There Yet with Social Media Marketing

  1. The college I intern for is still feeling it way through the dark. The FB and twitter are used to update followers(mostly alumni and a few faculty members) about campus news. The Facebook ads we ran had a decent CTR, but never converted. A lot of the stuff we do is attempting to build brand awareness and brand perceptions and perhaps promote alumni to tell (influence) prospective students to consider the college.

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