Seems like everyone’s doing it given the media hype. Even in higher education, there’s no shortage of ‘social’ experts proclaiming the virtues of social technologies (see my May 2009 post, OMG! If You Are Not ‘Tweeting’, You’re a Bad Enrollment Manager!).
It’s easy to feel like you are not part of the ‘cool kids club’ if your institution has not joined Twitter-nation. Why even the enrollment management experts, Noel-Levitz, have jumped on the bandwagon.
Consider the following June 2009 excerpt - To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Is That the Right Question? – from the Noel-Levitz website:
1. Have your admissions counselors set up Twitter accounts and share their user names with prospective students via e-mail, business cards, and at college fairs or during high school visits.
2. Look into setting up a “Twibe” for admissions counselors by their territory entering class year, or by academic program.
3. Create methods for measurement."
Sounds reasonable, right?
The problem is that the social participation profile of teens doesn't support it. Teens don't tweet.
Young Americans Snub Twitter (Nielsen Company)
In June 2009, only 16 percent of Twitter.com website users were under the age of 25 (see figure below), this according to David Martin, Vice-President at the Nielsen Company. Martin continues, “Bear in mind persons under 25 make up nearly one quarter of the active US Internet universe, which means that Twitter.com effectively under-indexes on the youth market by 36 percent.”
How Students Want to Learn About You … Twitter is at the Bottom of the List (DemandEngine)
In April 2009, DemandEngine asked rising and graduating seniors how they wanted to learn about colleges and universities at different points in their decision process (e.g. prospect, inquiry, and applicant). Students were given a list of communication channels ranging from direct mail to twitter and asked to rate their preference on a 1-4 scale, with 1 representing ‘Definitely not’ to 4, ‘Definitely’. We took the difference of the positive (ratings with a 3 or 4) and the negative responses (ratings with a 1 or 2) to compile the following index:
In this sample, graduating high school seniors prefer direct mail, email, talking with people, and search engines as the channels they want to use to learn about colleges or universities.I Thought My Students Only Used Facebook …
Here's the big idea ... communications channels are proliferating rather than replacing previous ones.
Going Social in Recruitment? Should We Bother?
It would be easy to take the data points above and toss the idea of social out the proverbial window.
Looking at our research at DemandEngine, I have a different read.
Students prefer the channels that colleges and universities have developed some competencies in, and are actively using today.
In our research, the institutions that have jumped on the bandwagon aren’t doing a very good job. The problem is that many are looking at these new avenues as ways to talk AT students, rather than talk WITH students.
It’s a paradigm shift that requires institutions to think about how they want to change their relationships with prospective students. Before you start choosing the ‘Twitters’ or other revolutionary communication medium, it requires understanding what your students are ready for (their online participation profile), what objectives you are trying to support, and determining the right strategies to employ.
The tools come last.
Having a college football coach ‘tweet’ during a game? Interesting. Getting an update on what Todd the admission counselor had for breakfast? Not so much.
Twitter is an event-focused medium that works well for breaking news (think Iran), celebrity gossip (think Ashton Kutcher), or running commentary during conferences or meetings.
Given the data, I believe Twitter is a bleeding edge recruitment idea that can be safely ignored for the moment, if not all together.