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The Conversation: Leveraging Social Media to Reach Prospective Students
The numbers speak for themselves: Facebook attracts 167 million unique viewers a month. Users averaged 6 hours and 33 minutes on Facebook every month, with Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and up-and-comer Pinterest garnering an average usage of one hour and 20 minutes a month[ii]. With applications at record levels at many of America's top colleges and universities, selectivity skyrocketed and made 2011 the hardest year in history for high school seniors to gain admission to college[iii].
Social media is a term used interchangeably with the "user-generated content" or "Web 2.0" to refer to online content and tools that enable anyone to create, share and collaborate[iv]. Institutions should start by asking a single question, "What do I want the end-user to do?" Visit my .edu hompage, click my banner, "Like" me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter? Establishing an answer to that question will help serve as a guardrail for the communications initiatives on every platform.
Using The University of Texas at Austin (UT) as an example, we will look at how the university has integrated social media into its marketing. Starting at www.utexas.edu, we will navigate through how they have approached and integrated their social media campaign.
The first thing that leaps off the page is Texas' tremendous following. The posts cover a wide range of topics. When working toward recruiting prospective students, it is important to understand that the "one-trick pony" approach won't work. Social media marketing enables you to broach a wide array of topics while still staying on brand; athletics, arts, sciences, alumni, research, or campus life, and thus, reach a wider prospective student base.
UT utilizes Twitter by tweeting relevant material as it relates to the university and its constituency group. Secondly, the university makes strong use of hashtagging relevant key words. This is an excellent way for people to find you through the Twitter search function. Lastly, 99% of UT's Tweets backlink to the utexas.edu site, helping drive aggregate organic traffic.
Texas has channel links displayed on the main page that link to the Alumni Channel (Texas Exes), The Blanton Museum of Art, and the Harry Ransom Center, to name a few. YouTube is a great way to gain interaction between current and prospective students, launch video contests, utilize student made videos, classroom lectures. With every video, use the most relevant tags and meta data so that people can easily find the video. Interlinking to other videos in the descriptions or annotations also helps your video's SEO. Also, link to your .edu URL in your description ("http://" text is automatically converted into hyperlinks).
This overview should demonstrate the primary message that all social media is content- driven. It is imperative that users are given a reason to go back to your accounts again.