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Social Networking and Student Recruitment

January 9, 2009

Universities are increasingly promoting the brand of their institutions through SNS to attract the brightest domestic and international students. A prediction by Dr. Daniel Guhr, an American consultant who addressed the Australian International Education Conference in Melbourne late last year, said Australian Universities were “likely to surrender to the lawlessness of cyberspace and embrace such sites to recruit students within the next 5 years.”

The rise of social networking sites is changing the face of recruitment and alters the ways in which a prospective student conducts his/her information search. In the past, students would rely on information sent to them via mail, program guides, school visits and expos etc- where the universities remained in control of content. Even online chat rooms were a controlled medium as recruitment officers had inherent control over content and the ability to respond directly to problematic conversations and to be responsive to concerns and questions. Today, with the explosion of SNS, prospective students can read what others have posted and gather information distributed by a range of parties. In effect, the content posted online often cannot be controlled by the universities.

Due to the nature of SNS, universities are sometimes subject to unfavourable comments posted online. Dr Guhr says that universities should not try and control anything on the internet, and that those who had, had only made themselves look foolish. He was referring to a situation where a staff member at the Australian National University amended the university’s Wikipedia profile to describe the institution in glowing terms instead of the neutral tone preferred by the site. The entry was “peacocked”- badged with a picture of a peacock to draw attention to the fact it was parading its feathers.  In this example, the university was trying to manage its image, however correcting misinformation posted online and guiding the tone in public conversation forums can work in the university’s favour.

Universities have to be present across a variety of sites given the audience’s tendency to zip between sites. UniSA already has a presence across a range of sites including Facebook, Second Life, You Tube, Flickr and a number of blogs. However, simply acquiring a presence on these sites is not enough. They need to engage with the audience, have a high degree of human interaction and personal connection and need to be seen as both credible and useful.  SNS is another component in the recruitment process and when used in conjunction with other recruitment activities, can potentially be a strong marketing tool.

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