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Social Networking an Opportunity for University Marketers

December 2, 2008

SNS (Social Networking Sties) in general, not just Facebook, have changed the way our market/ audiences communicate with each other. They can spread the word about positive and negative experiences, issues thoughts and beliefs in a matter of seconds and because the audiences can tune into what they want to hear the impact of the message is increased.

Our prospective students, for example, those leaving school, are the most informed generation due to their exposure and access to the internet, which one would expect to see continue and increase with every generation. The ability to make decisions based on information generated from the trial of products and services by others has changed the landscape and rules by which we market. The impact of our markets having access to this information increases the value, focus and importance of generating positive experiences and being strategic enough to leverage off them.

Positive experiences…I am not talking about fabricated student testimonials and bought Istock images, but organic, natural, real, images, comments and videos of your students and your campuses, the things that prospective students engage with and share with others. I agree that direct marketing through SNS would be seen as invasive but the great thing about SNS is that you can be direct with our being direct; the SNS does it for you. Those that do it wrong are seen as invasive because they don’t know how and don’t understand how SNS work.

Facebook provides users (our prospective students) with the opportunity to select information they want to receive or indicate that they have interest in. For example a person can become a “fan of, friend of or even part of a group” lets call it University X. This gives X the opportunity to communicate with them about X just by posting information on the core site which in turn notifies the person that X has posted something. This therefore creates a direct but indirect communication channel between X and audience but does so by through removing the marketer from the process. This communication process is different from sending a person an email and ringing them, they wanted to receive this information and therefore listen and react in a positive nature.

For SNS to actually function it needs a revenue model, most sites, Facebook included use onsite advertising to generate funds to keep the site alive. Facebook gives marketers the opportunity to advertise to selected audiences based on their profile information of which includes level of education and age. Marketers can choose from advertising to generate traffic to their external website or alternatively generate traffic to their Fan Page on the site, an activity currently being used by a number of Australian universities.  

Based on just these points, I would disagree that SNS are not a primary or effective tool for marketing or communicating to prospective students, I would say it is the opposite, especially for international students. The key to success is to be creative, strategic and truthful, you can’t just canvas like other media and if you do then it results in negative experiences. I know that if I were coming from the other side of the world to study in a foreign country, I would want to hear what others thought and what experiences they had and not just take the words in a glossy book as the truth.

SNS by all means are not the sole answer to increasing student numbers, they are as any marketer would know part of a marketing mix and should be used in conjunction with other activities. SNS should be utilised as a tool for online linkage and engagement. Why not let the market speak, listen you never know, you may learn something that might just change the way you market your university.

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