Yesterday, I tuned in to a live stream of a presentation from the folks over at .eduGurus, entitled Social Media Storytelling. My hats off to the six folks who collaborated on the presentation (and made great use of technology, video conferencing in five of the participants and live-streaming out the presentation).
They made a number of great points while sharing anecdotes from their own experiences with social media and higher ed marketing. The one that stuck out most for me, though, was the emphasis on authenticity. In theory, everyone wants their message to sound authentic and real, but, in practice, it involves ceding some control, especially within a social networking environment.
Don't Lose the Authenticity
Students who visit Facebook and other social networks to learn about your school are seeking out this authenticity. If they want the "official" information about your school, they'll go to your admissions website. On social networks, they're looking to build a dialogue with you, with other prospects, and with current students, and they can sniff out a canned, marketing message from a mile away.
Your Blemishes Make You Real
To get this authenticity, you may have to let these users see a few of your school's warts. You will have to resist the urge to delete every wall post or discussion thread that does not reflect the exact image you want to project. What you get in return for this restraint is greater trust. Greater trust that you are presenting an unfiltered view of your school. Greater trust that when someone posts a positive experience about your school, they really mean it.
Let Your Students Sell Your School
Chances are, admissions counselors are not going to be your best salespeople. It's going to be fellow prospective students and current students, who have already fallen in love with your school and want to share their experiences. And if you over-moderate, users may not believe the authenticity of these experiences.