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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Do we really need a social media strategy?

02 Dec 2008

written by Rachel Reuben

Do we really need a social media strategy?

If you’re having a hard time convincing your administration that social media is worth the investment, try coming at it from a different angle — and I’m not suggesting writing the “social media strategy” we’ve all been hearing about lately. My theory? Piggy back on existing strategies at your university.

Stamats Integrated Marketing conference earlier this month I was all jazzed up to write a social media strategy. Fritz McDonald and C.J. Cunniff from the Interactive Media division of Stamats gave a fantastic presentation to close the conference on developing an effective Web 2.0 plan. They outlined twelve steps in developing this strategy.

larryjeremy 300x200 Do we really need a social media strategy?

But here’s where my thinking is now different — the steps they offered, the foundation they provided, would work for just about any form of media – not just social. I have sat at my computer staring at the screen, poised to write my college’s social media strategy with these twelve steps in mind. I haven’t been able to get into it. And the other morning, it struck me why. Do we really need one?

My campus has lots of strategies. Our president has eight solid vision points to guide us internally. We’re very fortunate right now – our undergraduate admissions office has more applicants than they know what to do with. However, they have some key strategies they are employing this year to continue to increase quality of the academics of our incoming student body. They are targeting select populations to increase diversity. They are concerned about the upcoming decline in high school graduates, significant increase of Hispanic graduates, and fewer white non-Hispanic graduates in the United States

More than likely, there are already strategies that exist on your campus. Find out what they are. Learn all you can about them. Then, pitch that person/department/division an idea using social media that will further their strategy and assist in achieving their goal. If you know more about their issues, they’ll be less reluctant to think you’re coming at them with yet another Web-based hair-brained scheme (even if they do think the term “Web 2.0” is still cool).

Social media isn’t the solution to the upcoming decreasing number of college applications. It’s not the solution for attracting the higher quality students. What it can be, is a strong spoke in your marketing wheel, but don’t try to convince your administration that it is a replacement for the things in your marketing mix you’re hearing prospective students are no longer interested in (viewbooks, CDs, etc.).

Most universities aren’t going to give up printing viewbooks in mass, going to large college fairs, and certainly wouldn’t dream of closing down their admissions Web site that reaches millions. The masses need information, and you can’t have individual conversations with every single prospect. Or maybe you can. Maybe you at least make it seem like you are. That’s where social media comes in. It’s not going to replace any of the traditional spokes in your marketing wheel. It’s not going to be “the one thing” that makes the difference in your recruiting efforts this season, but it can certainly make an impact, make your university seem more personal, and provide that higher level of customer service that could potentially knock the socks off a prospect.

Spending time focusing on the personal interactions you can have with your target audience will benefit your larger scale efforts. Pretend your Facebook Page is a small Cafe. Introduce yourself. Make friends. Engage your fans. But don’t give up on the larger-scale, more traditional tools in your marketing mix. These individual conversations are important – especially if you’re conversing with someone who is a member of an underrepresented group you’re targeted, or has very strong academics. The outreach to these individuals will cultivate relationships, and this is where viral marketing begins. These prospects will likely tell their friends about their early experience with your university (especially if it’s personal and meaningful), and word will spread. But in the end – you’re still recruiting to the masses, and you’re still trying to achieve overarching strategies. Don’t forget the bigger picture, but to get there, you have to cultivate the snowflakes before the avalanche begins.

What do you think? Let’s discuss.

The content of this post is licensed: ©2008 All Rights Reserved


About the author

Rachel Reuben

Rachel Reuben is the Associate Vice President for Marketing Communications at Ithaca College. She was a blogger on .eduGuru from November 2008 - January 2010. Read her complete bio.

RachelReuben.comRachel on Twitter Rachel on LinkedIn  Rachel on Delicious Rachel's SlideShare Presentations Rachel on UWebD

This post was written by - who has written 33 posts on .eduGuru


  • http://keepingontop.azorus.com Toby Keeping

    Neat follow through on a conference take-away, Rachel.

    Certainly, the WICHE data is causing many to put strategy against recruitment and marketing with new resolve.

    I very much agree that anything social must be viewed as part of your marketing strategy. The only addition I’d throw into the fray is that schools could gain huge benefit by leveraging tools like Facebook to allow students to pull personalized content to their profiles.

    A current challenge with Facebook pages for schools is that students still have to access the institutional site to get specific information relative to their interests (outside of asking questions via facebook of course). An ability to deliver this to students in Facebook, empowers the student to get an even greater percentage of relevant content in a place they prefer.

  • http://www.personal.psu.edu/lnm105/ Nikki Massaro Kauffman

    Great post!

    Your strategy also helps demonstrate that social media is a tool serving a job rather than social media for social media’s sake. Those reluctant to support social media efforts are afraid we might lose sight of our schools objective in pursuit of shiny objects. And, admittedly, a few of us might actually lose direction if we don’t directly tie the social media in with existing goals.

  • http://highered.prblogs.org/ Andrew Careaga

    Yep, social media strategy can not (politically) and should not (pragmatically) exist apart from an institution’s overall communications and marketing plan, which should be tied to the strategic plan. Good post. Way to hit the ground running!

  • kathleen vandervelde

    Thanks for a good reminder, Rachel. Social media tools are only some of the tools we should be using. But they’re important ones.

  • http://www.rachelreuben.com Rachel

    @Toby Re: “schools could gain huge benefit by leveraging tools like Facebook to allow students to pull personalized content to their profiles.” Could you elaborate more? I’m very curious how you would apply this. I’m hoping to find a crafty student who wants to build a Facebook app to further incorporate some of the tools on our public site. But, we’re also working on a “redesign” of our profile pic area that will hopefully help drive them to our main Web site for other things they may be interested in. I don’t see FB as a replacement – just a huge draw in. Like moths to a flame. :)

    @Nikki Absolutely – SM is one of many tools to get a job done, not just for SM’s sake to be like all the other cool kids. I think tying to existing goals is the best long term strategy.

    @Andrew Thanks! I’m glad you’re with me on this one.

    @Kathleen I think they’re very important, but not a replacement for others. Good sensible marketing and institutional goal setting (and reaching) should be the overall umbrella.

  • http://planetb612.com Jason Gorss

    Very helpful stuff. The concept of a “social media strategy” has been kicking around my university for a while now, but it’s good to be reminded that it’s just one (albeit important) part of an overall communication strategy.

  • http://www.squaredpeg.com Bradjward

    I’ve been working for 3 years without a defined strategy. Typical strategy plans at universities are for 3-5 years. Social media is more like 3-5 months.

    On the other hand, most administrators need a strategy in their hands. Luckily, I have not worked for one of those yet, although the day might come. Trust your employees and give them the resources, and things will get done.

  • http://keepingontop.azorus.com Toby Keeping

    @Rachel – It is a concept we’ve wrapped our heads around for a while. As a CRM provider for higher ed, that offers students a personal portal on a client site, we saw that we were able to personalize content to students, but one challenge with portals is getting students to return over an over. Sadly, you will lose some once the novelty runs its course.

    So, we’ve created a Facebook app that clients can put on their Facebook page. Students add it, and tell what their interests are. This adds the student to the institution’s CRM, and we can then push personalized content (events, academic information, key dates, etc) to the student; via email, our portal, and/or through Facebook.

    If you’d like more detail, as to not force company info onto your readers, please contact me anytime (tkeeping@azorus.com)

  • http://doteduguru.com/ Kyle James

    Rockin Rachel. I think the important takeaway that you hit on before everyone goes off and starts trying to put to much business into Social Media is that “Social Media = Relationship Building”. Relationships are built on an individual level and yes brands can benefit from them but you don’t talk to Wofford or SUNY New Paltz you talk to Kyle or Rachel and build a relationship through them in which you better appreciate the brand.

    It is absolutely important to measure and strategize around this because lets face it building relationships take time. Ultimately what is important is to remember we are building relationships. Facebook, a Ning Group, blogs, digg, or any other social media are just tools to do this.

  • http://blog.swiftkickonline.com Kevin Prentiss

    Rachel – You’re right on. In my experience setting the social media strategy apart makes it competitive.

    The powers that approve/deny often go to “if we do this, then what will we cut” which doesn’t help the conversation move forward.

    The approach of: “This is part of the portfolio to achieve x goal and we’ll measure (@kyle stats guru) to balance future portfolio of activity” is not nearly as scary and is far more likely to be approved.

  • http://www.lipscomb.edu Larry Musick

    Rachel -
    Excellent points. A good strategy is so important. I’m very fortunate. I am in the position to help formulate the key messaging strategies for the university. I say “fortunate” because I also have license to continually check and recheck those strategies. At times they look good on paper, but must be tweaked in the application stages. Brad J Ward’s point was right on target when he compared the shelf life of a typical strategy to the shelf life of a strategy for any kind of electronic media. Think of yourself as a potter. Work the clay and shape it over and over again.

  • http://twitter.com/nvanderson Nicole V. Anderson

    As has been said, I completely agree that it makes zero sense to have a social media strategy for social media’s sake.

    However, how many institutions have any kind of interactive/engagement strategy to work on cultivating relationships with your target audience? Until we used ‘social media’ as a foot in the door, no one had thought of moving beyond a one-way, broadcasting style of ‘awareness’. We are interested in adding to our current strategy of broadcasting awareness to include building relationship [or some semblance thereof].

    Defining this kind of strategy will help us to evaluate the multitude of tools in existence, and plan for what’s next.

  • http://planetb612.com Jason Gorss

    @nvanderson makes a good point. In our planning process, I have been trying to convince folks to move away from terms like “building awareness” and “disseminating messages” to “engaging audiences” etc. It is a major shift in thinking, especially for people who have been in the business for a while.

  • http://casasrurales.turispain.com/provincia/alava/resultados.asp casas rurales en alava

    Where social has been used teachers have observed that students, who did not use to be very expressive, became expressive through use of social media. Evaluation of their work becomes dynamic, open, and more realistic. Teaching process becomes more coherent.

  • http://www.morethangrades.com Mike

    A lot of colleges and universities view facebook and myspace as time consuming with little benefit. Students must first discover the page before interacting. Even if a page is listed as tagged, joined, whatever the terminology the specific social media uses, it still requires time and upkeep to keep things fresh. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block is the mindset some colleges have that using online social networks is like trolling. What I would suggest to all colleges and universites is to use a site like http://www.morethangrades.com. This site can act as a portal for colleges to have a centralized point from which to monitor and control some of their social media. On the site, colleges can create personalized web pages geared toward freshmen students. Colleges can also link their existing platforms (facebook, myspace, etc) to this one page. Since the site is geared toward college bound high school students, and Morethangrades does the advertising and outreach itself, it eliminates the trolling aspect to social media. Lastly, colleges can see those students who express an interest immediately and follow-up using their own in house recruiting tools. The cost of the service pales in comparison to the cost of most recruiting programs and allows admission officers to concentrate on making personal connections with their potential students.

  • http://www.myusearch.com Elizabeth Kudner

    Rachel. Very well said. I think web 2.0′ers shoot themselves in the foot when they try to discredit or replace traditional methods. However, I think it’s also important to note that you can’t always apply traditional methods to new media forms. I follow a lot of schools on facebook and I think one of the reasons why they don’t get better results is because they just try to inform and advertise to their followers instead of engaging them in a relationship and providing value to them. So, I think there needs to be a balance of using traditional methods and embracing new media. But as you said, you have to consider the big picture first. What is the ultimate goal? You can’t loose site of that.

  • http://www.buffalo.edu Rebecca Bernstein

    Rachel- You are right on target. It is very easy to get so lost in the medium that you lose the message. As communicators, we need to think strategically about where we invest (our ever shrinking here in NY State) time and resources and make sure where we do invest, we are making a difference in supporting key, high priority, high return goals. In addition to thinking strategically, we have to provide wise counsel to our colleagues as to what this investment means in terms of expectations and caretaking.

  • http://www.educationbranding.com Heather Teague

    I absolutely agree! It’s just another tool to add to our integrated marketing and communications strategies. Just like email was several years ago. Anyone remember that?? Life BEFORE email.

  • http://stamats.ning.com/ Fritz McDonald

    Rachel, thanks from both CJ and I for the great shout out!However, in making a case (more or less) for not making a social media strategy, you mirror many of the things I said in the presentation as well as in my white paper on the subject. Schools should absolutely not give up traditional marketing and recruiting in favor of social media. I also talk about social media as an adjunct or feeder to your marketing/recruiting efforts. And you’re definitely right about all the strategies floating around campuses that clutter up the execution by (often) not getting done.

    But this is precisely why I think you need a social media strategy. Right now, many schools have Facebook pages that aren’t accomplishing much of anything for them. On the eduStyle gallery, you see institution Facebook walls on which the only people writing anything are the institutions themselves. Generally, they take a passive approach by just throwing up a page and hoping someone will come. Usually, they won’t. Additionally, you see institutional Facebook pages competing with pages their alums or students have put up—and losing.

    If these keeps up, Presidents who currently like or are interested in using social media will soon change their mind about it, and whatever resources you’ve been able to dedicate to it will dwindle and the Facebook pages come down. And that would be a shame, given that social media is an evolution in human communication, not a fad, one that will continue to increase in importance and power.

    Instead of thinking of social media strategy as just another campus strategy, I think it would be better to put it in the hands of the people on campus like you who can really pull it off. Any good marketing or recruiting effort requires an effective strategy—why shouldn’t social media, even if it only occupies a supporting role?

    If you’re interested in reading my white paper (with no hassles), you can find it here:
    http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=20299145518&topic=5726

  • http://www.rachelreuben.com Rachel

    A little deliquent on my responses, but here goes:

    @Jason Many university’s don’t have an overall marketing or communication strategy.

    I think it’s more important to start at that high level before jumping downward into a social media strategy without an umbrella to fit in.

    @Brad Exactly my point to @Jason – most don’t have one. And I definitely agree with your take on the 3-5 months for a social media plan anyway. By the time we get around to writing one, it’s outdated and useless. That time would be much better spent implementing action items that will help further existing strategies.

    @Kevin That’s an important struggle I think many of us are dealing with. How to do more with less. Social media is not a replacement, or “instead of” other traditional marketing tools — it’s in addition to.

    @Larry You’re one of the lucky few. :-)

    @Nicole It seems more universities are finally starting to embrace the value of two-way conversations. Don’t just speak at them – converse with them! It is a little overwhelming how many tools there are out there. Narrowing down and zoning in on a select few is the best strategy to focus efforts, but someone who knows a thing or two about social media should be heavily involved in those decisions.

    @Jason Keep on convincing – keep the shift going! Definitely right way to go.

    @Casas I have several friends and family members that are teachers, so I’m very interested in how they choose to use social media (or not) in their classrooms.

    @Mike I couldn’t disagree more with those colleges/universities that think those sites are time consuming with little benefit. (Ok, maybe MySpace, but that’s just because of my demographics.) We’ve seen an enormous benefit for the time we’ve invested into our Facebook Page. We’ve kept our fans engaged and we’re there all hours of the day/night (my colleague @Shana729 frequently replies between 4-6 a.m.!). We’ve had numerous conversations on our wall, and the fans are also actively conversing with each other.

    @Elizabeth Thank you! Definitely agree with you that you can’t always apply traditional methods to new media forms, however, I think the fundamentals usually apply across the board. The biggest difference is the two-way communication – engage, engage, engage!

    @Rebecca Ah yes, our ever shrinking SUNY budgets. Now, more than ever, is the time
    to get creative. Social media can be very powerful, and for its dollar cost (mostly free!) we can really leverage it to help us when there aren’t enough dollars to go around in other areas.

    @Heather Didn’t you hear? E-mail is dead. (Just kidding @KarlynM & @kylejames!)

    @Fritz I’m so glad you weighed in here. I actually did read your white paper on the plane on the way to your conference last month. As I mentioned, your session really provided a great foundation that I think can be used in so many different mediums – not just social. However, I do believe that social media is one of the most important spokes we have in our marketing mix right now. I would see a value in creating a strategy, as long as it ties in to larger strategies and the larger goals are not lost sight of.

    When I did research over the summer for my paper on “The Use of Social Media in Higher Education,” I reviewed about 100 or so university Facebook Pages. I’d completely agree with you that most of them weren’t accomplishing much of anything with them from what I could tell. There were very few that looked like they were
    engaging their fans and not just duplicating their existing Web site. Not to toot my own horn, but I’d argue my university’s Facebook Page is one of the more successful ones I’ve seen. We have heavy interaction on the wall and discussion boards with our fans, and they regularly post fan photos. We haven’t had a strategy with this approach, other than to expand the number of administrators behind the
    scenes so that the burden wasn’t solely on me to check on a regular basis. We now have three people from admissions and three people on my staff that scatter checking in with the Page throughout the day so that wall posts are answered as
    quickly as possible.

    Thank you again, Fritz (and everyone!) for your feedback – I’m excited to see how this conversation shapes and changes as we enter the new year with lots of new possibilities.

  • Natalie

    Great post – thanks!

    I have just today published a Facebook page for our college, a first in social media for our college — and was promtly informed by our IT department that they are indefinitely blocking access to Facebook via the campus network due to the Koobface virus. Of course, this will make administering the page a nightmare. Luckily I work remotely and can take on some of this task, however I am supposed to be a web developer, not a social media admin!

    Anyway, the point of this comment is to ask if you or anyone else has come across this “strategy” (not) and how to deal with it.

    Thanks again!

  • http://doteduguru.com/ Kyle James

    @Natalie – geez. That is a slap in the face for sure. I’m sure your Student body will jump on board to killing them for that. Really… an IT dept doesn’t have antivirus in place to handle a little Facebook virus?

    Black hat tip would be a proxy server. Just google “proxy facebook” there are plenty of them out there that will give you access to facebook through their attempts to block the site.

  • http://www.rachelreuben.com Rachel

    Hey all – head on over to SquarePeg.com where we continue this debate (including video responses by @kylejames, @bradjward and myself): http://squaredpeg.com/index.php/2008/12/09/implementing-social-media-on-your-higher-ed-campus/#comments

    And, weigh in!

  • http://www.lookuppage.com Emma Brand

    Hi Rachel,

    Great post, my brother has recently also tried introducing his varsity to the benefits of social media, only to then run into the proverbial brick wall. If it’s not having Facebook being blocked by the Gestapo-esque web administrators, then it’s the misconception that social media is about spamming users.

    What’s encouraging is that the tide is slowly turning. In the UK, plans are afoot to bring social media into the primary (junior) and high school curriculums.

    Now wouldn’t that be something?

  • http://retailbusinessplans.net Jacob

    Hi! Rachel, This post consist of a tons of information require for the new user’s and I understood that very well now and I am totally agree with you…Nice post

  • http://www.makemoneyeditor.com Drifin

    Hi Rachel,

    Great post. Social media srategy or most people call marketing using social networking website is one of the best way to promote your product. Even giant breverage company Sprite have their own Bebo account to promote their product.

    But many people have misuse the tools make this strategy look unprofessional.

    Anyway it is just a thought.

  • http://www.stamats.com Fritz McDonald

    Hey Rachel: this post is so good people keep commenting on it–nice work! The only thing I would add at this point is that while I believe in social media strategy, it works in a fundamentally different way that traditional marketing. I’ve changed my mind about a few things since I gave that presentation, and one of them is how important it is for marketing folks to embrace social media in the right. I still get asked about how to integrate messaging into a social network and I have to keep from shaking my head. I now think that an effective social media strategy rests on three primary activities:

    1. Managing conversations
    2. Managing platforms
    3. Creating convergence among those platforms

    Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  • http://www.buffalo.edu Rebecca Bernstein

    Key reason to think about a social media strategy (framed and supported by a strong communications strategy):

    For the most part higher ed social media brand presence harkens back to the wild west days 1993,when the newly emerged web platform was filled with unorchestrated solo activities, and provided no gestalt.

    The same issues we grappled with back in the day, need to be revisited for the social media platform but with a different lens. We all know what we want to accomplish. We want coordinated efforts that support the university brand experience and deeply connect to and build bonds with our audiences.

    We have years of experience as marketing and communications professionals to draw on to achieve those goals.

    We all need to coordinate, collaborate and communicate within the institution so that our social media brand presence has a gestalt built on a thoughtful set of investments that leverage the unique flavor of each platform and the skills of each social media brand ambassador.

  • http://www.ministryofsocialmedia.com/ Karen Chia

    I do agreed that a strategy is a must, however most are not able to come out with the strategy guide or roadmap. There are companies who mistook social media as pure advertising. rather then a two way communication.

    So, I find that one approach to get the companies, organization to understand is perhaps to look for practical ways to use it for day to day purpose then gradually scale from there.

    I personally found 4 practical starting points just with Twitter alone and to share.. here’s the URL: http://www.ministryofsocialmedia.com/114/popular/4-practical-ways-of-using-twitter-for-business/

  • http://moneyonline.blogs.ie Alan Drisco

    Social Media Marketing can be very interesting because this is a type of marketing that not going to cost you a dime. Many people concentrating on SERP to get an organic search traffics. What they don’t realise is they are competing with million of webmaster. So it like winning a lotto…

  • http://www.triangledirect.com/ Scott G.

    The techniques you lay out in your post are fantastic for pitching social media marketing services as well as SEO services. When you connect the problem to the solution and explain the results in terms of benefits, who could argue? Great stuff.

  • http://www.removesecuritytool.trafficviral.org/ William

    Social media is powerful, One of the university in my region made a Lipdub with their communications department. All this using youtube. The results where over 1,000,000 views. This kind of free publicity will increase the number of applicants. Now since this social media marketing strategy did not cost a penny I find it innovating and also up to date.

    here is the link

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zcOFN_VBVo

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