Here is a guest post by Tom Kepple, president of Juniata College, in Huntingdon, Pa.
The marketing catchphrase these days in higher education is “social media,” which, explained simply, is where colleges and universities seek out well-rounded, well-read, intelligent prospective students among a target audience that often doesn’t acknowledge a world beyond their smart phone/iPad/AirBook.
Don’t get me wrong. Using such tools as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social media to get out the message about your college is smart marketing. It’s a great way to cut through some of the white noise students receive with irreverent or provocative messages. The thing is, as Anthony Weiner, Mark Cuban and Meghan McCain have learned to what we hope is their everlasting regret, sometimes it’s better not to have tweeted at all than to tweet too much.
Over the past few years we have seen colleges go all in for the latest technology, be it posting “Glee” parodies on YouTube, creating Facebook pages for every department on campus or the latest breakthrough QR codes, which are slightly zippier bar codes designed so that campus visitors can wave their smart phones/iPads in front of one and receive a Web page containing all the information available about the building they are in.
So, in today’s higher education climate, where parents and legislators are asking just how much bang they get for their tuition bucks, how can colleges and universities best take advantage of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube without chasing the latest fad willy-nilly, like football coaches pursuing the Notre Dame job?
* Avoid stunt casting: Yes, I have been in a few videos, once playing a president drinking a dozen too many lattes, but college presidents should avoid dominating their respective institution’s video catalog. Although it’s been done well, every time I see a president dancing in a flash mob, giving a filmed tour or dressing up as a mascot, I’m secretly wondering what other work is being ignored.
* Lighten up: Avoid any kind of social media where administrators are filmed behind a desk explaining something. Edward R. Murrow is dead. If the issue is important, there are better ways to explain it than lecturing to a camera.
* Content is king, but everyone needs an editor: Don’t dump every event, speech, press release or grip-and-grin award photo into Facebook or Twitter. These sites are best used as magazines, not as a diary of the college’s every waking moment. Post it only if it’s interesting, quirky or controversial. People are more likely to absorb something if it is released in a trickle rather than a gush.
* Adults, out of the pool: Get students involved in every aspect of social media. If the person making the decisions on what to post on various social media has been out of college for a decade, you might as well be sending your marketing efforts into outer space. Create student internships for social media editing, let students produce television ads, let student photographers roam the campus. Yes, there will be mistakes and the occasional controversy. That’s called learning.
* More is always less: Social media tools change faster than Donald Trump’s political agenda. Don’t chase the hottest technology. No one wants to watch a tour of the library that parodies (pick one): a) whatever indie movie is hot; b) “Glee”; c) “The Real Housewives”; or d) any singing contest. No one wants to spend forever waiting for a Web site featuring flashing pigs, audio of the fight song and pop-up dialogue boxes to open up. If the person receiving it can’t process it in a minute or two, it’s probably a bad idea.
* Go out and play: Give visitors to your social media something to do. At Juniata, we have trivia contests, interactive polls, “Myth or Fact” questions. I’m not sure we need visitors planting seeds on a pretend farm or building an underworld crime family, but people want more to do than reading press releases. Give it to them.
Social media should be just that — social. Higher education’s basic model is one person passing along knowledge to another in a memorable fashion. Let’s not forget that on social occasions the person who never shuts up, drones on about every part of his or her life and doesn’t allow others to join the conversation is the person everybody shuns.
Follow Tom Kepple on Facebook, Twitter and … just kidding. Just search for Juniata College on most mainstream social media.