According to a March 2009 Nielsen Report, internet users now spend more time on social networks and blogs than on e-mail. Social Networking now accounts for 10% of all internet time. It's not just that more people are using sites like Facebook. They are also spending more time on these sites.
Shift to Social Networking is an Opportunity
While interacting with prospective students on Facbeook may seem more daunting than hitting the send button on a mass e-mail to prospective students, this is actually a huge opportunity for admission offices. These e-mail "blasts" tend to be a one-way dialogue. You, the admissions office, are pushing information out to these prospects. If they like what you have to say, then they may check out your site, come to an event, or send you an e-mail back.
Social networks like Facebook open up a much more active dialogue around your school. Prospects can post questions and add comments on your school's wall. You also eliminate the barrier between prospects. They can now interact with each other. Instead of being passive e-mail recipients, prospects are now active community members.
Harnessing the Power of the Community
Relying on e-mail newsletters puts the onus on the admissions office to constantly engage prospects. You need to keep their attention in this one-way dialogue and anticipate what types of information they want and when they want it.
Within a social networking environment, you have an opportunity to let the community take some of this responsibility. That includes responsibility for answering each other's questions, for providing the admissions office real-time feedback regarding what their issues and concerns are, and for just generally engaging fellow community members.
With social networks, you can change the nature of your relationship with prospective students. You can make them active participants. You can get them invested in the community and, in turn, your school.
Think of it in terms of a classroom. Which do you think is more engaging and impactful... a professor lecturing for 60 minutes on a topic OR a classroom discussion, initiated by a professor, but driven forward by students.