We've given dozens of demonstrations of our Facebook Application for college admission and marketing offices. All but a handful have gotten great responses from colleges, most of whom are looking to do more with social networks, specifically Facebook. The biggest reason folks pass on the opportunity is budget concerns. We've heard some variation of "We just don't have the money for this. Our budget has been cut this year" more than any other reason. We've only heard "We just don't see the value" once.
This got me thinking, are social media efforts primarily considered an additional expense and new responsibility or can they be viewed as an alternative to an existing initiative? As I started to think about this question, I started to realize the implications of the answer.
Social Media Is an Additional Expense and a New Responsibility
If your school views social media as one more thing it needs to do or one more product it needs to buy, you're probably facing an uphill battle, especially in these economic times. There are unlikely additional funds for these "new, non-traditional" approaches. Not only that, many universities are paring down administrative staff, increasing everyone's workload. That likely means any new initiatives only add more to someone's plate, a plate that is already overflowing with responsibilities.
It's easy to see how a school that approached social media from this perspective is going to choose the path of least resistance, requiring the fewest resources, both financial and human. That probably means a Twitter account that pulls directly from the school's news feed, a Facebook Page that regurgitates press releases, and a YouTube account populated entirely with the school's 30-second TV commercials. All content that does very little to play to the strengths of social media and social networking.
Social Media as an Alternative to Existing Practices
Colleges and universities that view social media as a new way to interact with prospective students, current students, and alumni are much better able to take full advantage of the opportunity. This might mean admissions counselors spend more time crafting status updates for your Facebook Page, fun Tweets for your Twitter account, or intersting blog posts that give an insider's view of the admissions process. And less time each week sending off e-mails or manning a booth at a college fair. These schools may choose to invest money from their limited budget in a Facebook Application or private social network rather than in a beautifully designed brochure.
For these schools, a down economy does not mean that social media goes by the wayside. These schools may find that social media actually offers a way to more cost-effectively reach students. A Facebook Page and Twitter account are free to set up, as is a blog if you use a site like Google's Blogger. Expensive viewbooks could be replaced by a lively Facebook presence that helps prospective and admitted students interact with real people in a two-way dialogue. You may choose to create a series of fun 1-minute YouTube videos about life on your school's campus rather than buy an ad in a magazine.
How does your school view social media?