The Social Side of College Admissions

Preparing for the Long Haul with Social Media

January 5, 2010

We want it to be easy. We want our first YouTube video to go viral. We want our blog to have hundreds if not thousands of followers within a couple months. We want our tweeps (and subsequently their tweeps) re-tweeting our Twitter posts, creating a giant echo chamber for our messages.

Unfortunately, for 99.999% of us, it just doesn't work like that. For every social media overnight success story, there are thousands of folks inching forward, building an online following for their social media presence a handful of users at a time. But maybe being the tortoise in this race isn't so bad. We may not all be able to catch lightning in a bottle like UQAM did with their LipDub video. But maybe we can build meaningful, ongoing relationships with our target audience (prospects, admits, current students alumni, sports fans, and more) through our social media efforts.

Keep the (Relevant) Content Coming

Focus less time trying to come up with a single Silver Bullet that you hope will knock the socks off users and more time providing them with a constant stream of good content. The more content you provide, the more opportunities your audience has to engage with your school.

This doesn't mean distributing the same content on every social media outlet to every audience. Also, don't feel like everything you post has to be an official news release. One of my favorite social media campaigns is the Ohio State O-H-I-O picture campaign. It literally involves them sharing the best pictures of people forming the letters O-H-I-O in fun, interesting, exotic, and unusual locations.

Create a Strategy for Maintaining Momentum

Trust me, I know this is not an easy task. I started this blog with hopes of producing a post every week or two. Unfortunately, they've become a little less frequent. I should've been more honest with myself up front setting up a more manageable timetable for posts.

Try and figure out what are realistic expectations up front. That means determining who will be responsible for creating and curating content, for responding to user comments, for actually posting the content, and for measuring the results of your social media efforts. It also means figuring out how many resources you can reasonably devote to these efforts, not just for the initial launch but on an ongoing basis.

If you have a small team with minimal time available, that may mean that being on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, while publishing your own blog is not really an option.

Again, be realistic about what you can achieve and what sort of effort you can maintain.

Let Your Audience Do Some of the Heavy Lifting

Effective social media efforts are two-way dialogues. Encourage your audience to participate. Make it easy for them to contribute content. You may openly solicit their feedback and opinions ("What's your favorite memory from college?" for alumni, "What's your favorite class?" for current students). You may create contests with prizes for the top submissions ("Take a picture of yourself in the college's sweatshirt. The most creative picture wins a $100 book scholarship" for admitted students).

First off, these efforts can help make your job easier since you won't have to be the one trying to generate all the content. Secondly, it'll provide you with some great feedback on what sorts of content your users may want more of.

The most effective social media efforts are able to harness the power of the audience and enlist their help in building an engaging community. Back to that UQAM LipDub video I mentioned at the beginning of the post. This was not an official school video. It was shot, directed, and choreographed by students. While the school's marketing department did not have any hand in the video, it's probably one of the best social media campaigns they could have asked for.

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