Last summer I did research for my independent study project in graduate school that resulted in “The Use of Social Media in Higher Education for Marketing and Communication: A Guide for Professionals in Higher Education.” The research was largely done in June and July 2008. During this time, very few universities were actively using Twitter.
When I did that research, I concluded:
We haven’t found a definitive way to use Twitter for marketing in higher
education yet. Some have suggested it can be used in conjunction with other
social media tools, such as student bloggers also having Twitter accounts they
update more often than their blogs, to serve as another tool to promote their new
blog entries. Others have suggested it can be used in emergency situations,
such as the shootings that happened at Virginia Tech (Swartzfager 2007), or
using it in place of a live chat service for recruitment (Wilburn 2008).
Since then I’ve noticed many universities trying to figure out ways to leverage their presence on Twitter, not only establishing one, but by actively finding ways to promote their use of it to engage community members.
Some universities, including mine, use services such as Twitterfeed, EasyTweets or HootSuite to pipe their existing RSS feeds into their Twitter accounts, so that every time something new shows up in the feed, it automatically tweets the headline and link to the full story. This is a simple way to have news, events and blog posts automated.
But, there is so much more that can be done to use Twitter in a less robotic way. The piece that seems to be lacking greatly is human interaction. We’re having conversations with prospective students on Facebook, in Ning communities, and even through YouTube. Why not extend this in the natural conversation environment that is Twitter?
Neil Bearse, the Manager of Web Based Marketing, at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario is a leading example using Twitter to engage prospective students. Neil has TweetDeck running a great portion of every day with a search for the term “MBA” in one of the columns. While this may seem awfully broad, he has proven how local he can make it. He saw some tweets come through the stream by an individual in Europe, wondering whether it was manageable to complete an MBA online, while he continued to work. He responded with words of encouragement, indicating that Queen’s MBA participants routinely complete the program in this fashion, and offered tips for maintaining balance while completing graduate studies. In a curious twist of small worlds colliding, this individual was already a graduate of a Canadian University, and was contemplating relocating to Canada to continue this studies. His experience and aspirations made him a great match for a Queen’s program offered in Vancouver.
Conversion potential for this one search that Neil jumped in to talk to: $70,000.
Not sure who to start conversing with? Setup a search on search.twitter.com for the name(s) of your university. Subscribe to the RSS feed. Listen in once or twice (more if you can swing it) a day. Set up a free listening station. Find people that are talking about your university, follow them, and start a conversation with them. Setup a search in TweetDeck, or the application of your choice, with keywords you are interested in following.
Use technology to your benefit to engage in conversations. Don’t just use it to spit out robot feeds, or you may be missing key opportunities that Queen’s School of Business will gladly jump on.
Do you have any stories like Queen’s School of Business you can share with us how your university is using Twitter?
Stephen Mangat · February 23, 2009 at 10:11 am
I started up an account for UD Alumni Relations and it’s very much in its infancy. Subscribing to an RSS feed of a twitter search is the easiest way to get started and to see who’s talking about your school.
At the moment, I’m using the account to post info about what’s happening on campus – links to news, sports scores (live updates if I’m at the game), weather on campus, basically whatever strikes me at the moment. My next web project will be to integrate this w/our web site while continuing to reach out to whomever is talking about us.
So far I haven’t had any ‘eureka’ moments but it’s low cost and not time intensive. The one thing that I can hang my hat on is that twitter is in the top 10 of non-internal entrance sources to our site – while the numbers aren’t huge, it’s still a nice way to quantify that it’s not a complete waste of time.
Treblyk Riddle · February 23, 2009 at 11:48 am
My university as of yet doesn’t use sites like twitter, but it would be interesting to see how they could in the future. This was a very interesting article, to see social networking sites being used to recruit students. I think using it as an emergency contact site would be an amazing use of the technology, as most every student I know of has a twitter and checks it multiple times a day. Also, piping the RSS into the twitter feed would is a great idea to keep the students updated on current news. My university isn’t huge, but it’s big enough that most students don’t have a clue what’s going on.
market segmentation · February 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm
I think that the emergency use of twitter is a good use but I think the most profitable portion of using twitter is with the prospective students. I think that the office of first-year experience needs to use the tour guides / orientation leaders and delegate times for them to be available to engage twitter users talking about the university.
nora · February 23, 2009 at 4:28 pm
i just started using Twitter for work in december, so i’m still experimenting. i try to keep a good mix of conversation, what’s going on around campus, links to new things on the web (my primary job is as the sole web designer for the campus site), news, etc. i use Tweetdeck to keep track of a few keywords and once in a while have been able to answer someone’s questions directly, or in a recent case, welcome a new student who’ll be joining the same MFA program i’m in.
we don’t really promote the Twitter on campus because it’s still seen with some skepticism by the higher ups, but i think that will change in time.
Andy Shaindlin · February 23, 2009 at 7:57 pm
People interested in ideas about Twitter for alumni relations and elsewhere in higher ed can look at the whitepaper mentioned in this blog posting from last month:
Hannah Hiles · February 24, 2009 at 4:44 am
We at Keele University (Staffordshire, UK) use Twitter in exactly the way you describe above (including the use of Twitterfeed). I regularly check the RSS feed for mentions of Keele and have picked up quite a few prospective students this way. One, for example, mentioned that he was going to choose between Keele, Manchester and Staffordshire Universities. I followed him and sent him a friendly message giving him a link to our Keele University 2009 freshers Facebook group. We got into a bit of a conversation via direct message, and then a couple of days later he posted that he had chosen Keele. Obviously I cannot claim credit alone for this decision but I like to think that our interaction had a little something to do with it – showing perhaps that Keele was a caring place that was interested in him from the word go?
It’s also good for seeing what our current students are talking about – it is interesting for me, for example, to see how much they seem to like our sports centre and I have fed this back to that area’s manager.
I definitely think Twitter has potential, particularly as it is currently going through a big growth spurt over here.
One to keep an eye on!
Media & Communications Officer
Candace Miller · February 25, 2009 at 9:18 am
Our university in not using Twitter so regularly. I am try my best and playing my role for it. Actually our Preston University students need some awareness and I think administration also support this.
Marsha · February 25, 2009 at 12:19 pm
At the University of Chicago Law School, we’re using Twitter in a variety of ways. We aggregate a number of feeds into a single twitter account, including news, podcasts, events, etc, which I think is a fairly common use.
The most interesting thing we’re doing is “Tweet Chicago” – we’ve asked a number of students and faculty members to tweet, and we post all the tweets on a page. http://webcast-law.uchicago.edu/tweetchicago/ This is intended to give prospective students and idea of what it’s really like to be part of our community. We have two more tweeters being added in the next few days, and eventually hope to be up to 20 students and 5 faculty members. So far, it’s been a lot of fun and very well received.
Internet Marketing Reader · February 25, 2009 at 3:47 pm
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sean · March 2, 2009 at 10:01 am
while i have a twitter account, i am finding that more and more people are using their status updates in Facebook to accomplish the same objective while cutting down on the number of tools they use. colleges and universities can have more of a community presence on Facebook. i wonder whether twitter has enough functionality and a nice enough feature set to withstand the Facebook shift???
Rachel Reuben · March 2, 2009 at 10:11 am
I actually find that people in my network update Facebook less & less these days, on a personal level. But, as far as University’s go, which was the focus of this article, we can’t yet post status updates on our Facebook Fan Pages. (It’s coming soon, I recently read.) So, Twitter helps us spread the word about things we have going on, furthers our ability to engage in conversation with our students, prospects, alumni & other supporters. We integrate our Twitter feed into our Facebook Fan Page, so they can read the tweets there too, if they’re not a Twitter member.
I think the key thing for using Twitter is getting hooked into a network of friends/colleagues. I didn’t find any utility for it the first few months I was on, but once I got hooked into this a great community, I was hooked. I can’t hardly remember life before it. It has helped me tremendously on a professional level, as well as personal. I’d be happy to introduce you around, if you’d like. 🙂
billyadams · March 2, 2009 at 10:12 am
@sean – This biggest advantage to Twitter over FB status updates is the collection method. You have to either be on the Facebook website or using one of the official Facebook mobile apps in order to see other people’s updates. Also, the process of adding people is much more cumbersome. With Twitter, the process is much easier to follow new people and also to find new people, students, prospects, etc. I find myself updating Twitter far more often than updating my Facebook status because it is just so much easier to do so, given the sheer number of tools available.
Mike Henderson · March 2, 2009 at 10:35 am
I think the audience on Twitter is a bit different than that on Facebook. When @sean says that people are updating their Facebook statues more than Twitter: for High School, College students yes; for people in higher ed no. I can’t wait for the re-design of the Facebook pages that way that way updates that are already happen on twitter can be pulled in to the University Pages, killing two birds with one stone.
Nicholas McIntosh · March 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm
i really like the idea of subscribing to the rss feed on your search terms. now if i can just figure out how to make it work for my higher education photography business…
Liz · March 27, 2009 at 8:47 am
I follow every academic (professor or graduate student) in the humanities and social sciences that I find on Twitter. But probably 1 in 20 follows me back. I don’t really understand that as I’ve only found this behavior among academics and celebrities, two groups that otherwise have nothing in common.
I don’t know why academics don’t value online social networking, it’s as if they don’t think it’s a good use of their time. It is like they are waiting to be asked. They are missing a great opportunity to connect with people outside of the university setting.
There is so much talk in the academy about the need for “public intellectuals” but so few will take the time to talk to those who aren’t their peers or students. They shouldn’t be surprised when people turn to others in the media & blog world for guidance, explanation & ideas.
Eric Hilden · April 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm
I started a twitter account with the goal of sharing immediate and informative career and job resources with our student body. I am linked with many recruiters, career experts, and various businesses in our local community. I find it to be a great resource that immediately connects to the 600+ facebook friends we have (most are students).
Career Placement Officer
Mission Viejo, CA
Mr. Keyword Ranking · April 24, 2009 at 4:45 pm
I’m continually impressed with the leaps and bounds that Twitter is making into our daily lives. I keep meaning to explore the possibilities with options like TweetDeck, thank you for putting these ideas back into my head.
Regarding the Facebook discussion, I find that more people respond to my tweets from Facebook, despite having about the same number of followers in both. I think that people logging on to Facebook are more willing to engage, where people reading via Twitter tend to be lurkers — happily reading but not participating.
E Phillips · May 8, 2009 at 1:29 pm
My alma mater, MSU in North Jersey has so many ways of updating campus news, and alerts, that many don’t know which one to pick, email, text, phone, site. I think twitter could cover all of those and should be implemented sometime soon.
Reiko · August 27, 2009 at 6:40 pm
I’m doing a research project on online community-building for grad school, including looking at how social media can help build strong communities. I’ve heard about Tweet Chicago but I’m curious about the reaction from prospective students as well as alums, and if you’ve measured the ROI and success in some way. Also, how did you go about picking the students and professors to feature on the site? Thanks.
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