If we’ve heard it once from customers this year, we’ve heard it one hundred times. “My [insert name of college official here] wants to know what we are doing on Twitter.”
With the media hype, celebrity attention, and general curiosity, this funny-named phenomenon that simply lets us answer the question, “what are you doing?” is riding the tidal wave of novelty. So, is Twitter a channel that works for higher education marketing and recruitment?
Here are two thoughts to keep in mind if you choose to leap into the Twittersphere:
Is Your Name Ashton Kutcher?
Let’s face it. Unless you’re a celebrity, the general public doesn’t care what you’re eating for lunch, where you’ll be hanging out this evening, or just following you to say they are following you. And at the time of this post, almost 4 million people care what Ashton is doing.
If you are a celebrity, Twitter is a perfect medium to ‘connect’ directly with people (fans) who do care what you’re eating for lunch and where you are heading.
Think of Twitter as an effective forum from breaking news. In a staff meeting recently, one of our employees called Twitter throw-away news. It allows users to gather around a particular event, share thoughts and opinions (via tweets), and then disband.
We’ve seen this happening recently at conferences.
Thanks to wireless connections and smart phones, attendees extend the experience of the conference when they tweet about the sessions they attend and can interact with other conferees to share opinions about the topics being presented. In some cases, colleagues unable to attend the conference have followed along through tweets about the conference sessions.
Takeaway #1 – How could you extend the experience of your campus, using Twitter, to give prospective students a glimpse at what it is like to be a student at your institution? Promote the activity through email.
Consider having current students tweet from a campus-wide lecture series or athletic event. This way you place some boundaries around your topic and users get an idea of exactly what they’ll find when they follow the tweets from the event. What of the key questions prospective students ask during college recruitment is “what’s is like to be a student on the campus?” Twitter provides another channel to support that key question and student goal.
Think Like Newt Gingrich (or at least like his book publisher)
Last week, Newt Gingrich was making the media rounds promoting a new book he’s co-authored, To Try Men’s Souls. According to the publisher, the novel “provides a rare and personal perspective of the men who fought for, and founded, the United States of America.”
The novel focuses on the darkest days of the American Revolution and, in part, follows General George Washington as he led his, largely barefoot army, in the battle of Trenton.
To bring the historical emphasis of the novel to life (and to, no doubt, sell more books), Gingrich invited morning news show viewers to “watch the battle of Trenton” unfold on Twitter. Readers and prospective book-buyers alike could follow the thoughts of GenWashington76 (General George Washington), pvtvandornNJ (Private Jonathan Van Dorn, a private in the Colonial Army from New Jersey who is ashamed of his loyalist family), and colonelrall (Colonel Johann Rall, Commander of the Hessian troops stationed in Trenton)[i] as they fought the battle of Trenton during the American Revolutionary War.
Takeaway #2 – What “re-enactments” could be staged on your campus using Twitter? There may be an interesting application here for faculty teaching in certain disciplines where they could stage this type of first-hand look at the participants in world-changing events. If so, this is yet another way to extend the campus experience to your prospective students. Email and call your targeted groups of prospective students to promote the activity.
In summary, if you make the jump to Twitter, remember to focus on what would really be of value to your target audience. Social technologies work best when you think of prospective student goals and your objectives first, before jumping into the technologies. While Twitter provides an innovative channel for college and university recruitment, I wouldn’t bet my fall class on it.
Use Twitter in the proper context, by extending the experience of your campus and giving prospective students an idea of what it is like to be enrolled at your institution.
And since not everyone ‘tweets’, don’t forget to promote what you are doing using other interactive channels.
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