Several college admission offices have embraced the potential of social media. Davidson used Twitter and Google Maps to give a snapshot of where applicants were from and a snippet of what they had to say in their admission essays. The dean of admissions at George Mason maintains a lively and informative blog (filled with candid commentary about college admissions).
However, many admission offices seem to be treading very cautiously in the social media space. One of the main concerns we hear when we talk to admission offices relates to the loss of control, specifically with regards to their school's image.
I think those schools that fret about the loss of control are looking at social media through the wrong lens. Social media can actually be freeing. Here's why... in many ways, users expect less when it comes to social media.
Your marketing brochures are likely impeccable pieces of graphic design with top quality photographs. They have probably been vetted by several departments before ever being printed. All the text is carefully crafted to stay on message and support your school's branding. The recipients of these brochures (your prospective and admitted students) expect to be wowed by them. These are the "official" materials.
With social media, you have a lot more slack. There is greater emphasis on speed than on quality... not that you want to completely ignore quality. For example, they want quick answers to their questions, so they're more forgiving of a spelling mistake or typo.
I think the expectations are analogous to those of a speech vs. a conversation. Your website and marketing brochures are more like a speech, while social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) is more like a conversation.
What's Expected of a Speech (Website, Brochures, Postcards)
- It should be well-prepared with a clear structure
The expectation is that you've had time to think about how you want to present the material and how to organize your thoughts. The audience anticipates that you will provide a clear and concise message that is to the point.
- You, the speaker, are in control
You have the podium. There is a clear delineation between speaker and audience. You are the expert, the keeper of information. You are looking to inform the audience regarding the topic.
- You are responsible
The onus is on the speaker to do most of the work. The audience is relying on you to make the material interesting and engaging.
What's Expected of a Conversation (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, discussion boards)
- Continuous dialogue is more important than carefully crafting every thought and idea
A conversation implies a back-and-forth, a fluidity. It wouldn't be much of a conversation if you had to wait a week for someone to respond to your question so they could carefully craft that response. It's implied in a conversation that you are thinking on the spot, and therefore, your audience is much more forgiving.
- Control is shared in a conversation
A good conversation typically involves sharing the spotlight and letting others decide how and what they want to contribute. It's not much of a conversation if you are the only one talking. People often tune out of conversations that are dominated by one person.
- Conversations don't always adhere to a clear path
You likely need to be open to tangents. In fact, these tangents may be where the really interesting stuff is at. Participants may steer a conversation into completely unexpected territory and help you gain completely new insights.
Maybe social media offers your school an opportunity to sit back, relax, and engage in a lively conversation. Okay, you still may not be able to relax about losing some control.