Using social media to market online degree programs

I have been reading and thinking about the popular social media marketing tools and practices in the industries, and how these practices can be adapted in an educational environment.

The program needs to have its own social media presence

Most universities and colleges have Facebook and Twitter accounts, which are usually maintained by the school’s PR people or a staff member. Rarely does a department or program have its own Facebook page or Twitter account, and rarely do faculty members get involved.

An online program should have a separate and active social media presence – essentially Facebook and Twitter, to be maintained by the faculty members of that program.

Think about our target audiences: who are they?

Contents and updates on Facebook page and via Twitter account need to be focused and tailored to the needs of the target audiences.

The target audiences for GCU online programs:

  1. people who are interested in this online program or online education in general: what it is, how it is run; other info such as latest development in online education technology.
  2. people who are interested in this particular area of study: for instance, people may have general questions about “study of homeland security,” a online program GCU is about to offer. This Facebook page should feature relevant contents curated by the faculty of this program.
  3. down the road, alumni of this program will be interested in getting updates on the program and on the subject matters.

We may need to do some research looking into where the target audiences generally interact, what keywords they are using, and what their needs are.

Who will maintain these social media accounts?

The faculty members. It should be part of the faculty’s contractual obligation to contribute quality contents to the social media accounts. And such contributions should count as the faculty member’s research or service to the university. What they send to Facebook and Twitter should be useful or thoughtful materials, not daily personal updates (unless that’s something people do want to know).

Engaging contents is a key in attracting followers. A TV station in Salt Lake City had one of the biggest ratings turnarounds in broadcasting history thanks to its successful Facebook page, which attracts more fans than some of the network TV shows. According to the news article, among other things,

“We have a strategy and it’s working,” KUTV news director Jennifer Dahl tells Lost Remote. “Anchors, reporters, producers, assignment desk editors and news managers all take an active role in posting not only to their own page but the station’s page as well. We also integrate social media into our daily newscasts.”

The web page of the online program needs to be interactive and engaging

Currently, almost all the departmental pages of GCU are conventional and static: when visitors follow a link to reach the department’s web page, there’s a list of regular items such as “about the department”, “faculty and staff”, “courses”, etc.; occasionally there’s some sample student projects.

There’s no interaction on a page like this, and the online program should offer an online experience up front.

There has been some experiments and technologies to incorporate dynamic social media contents on a static web page. For instance, a company called Kontera provides some interesting technologies that when a visitor hovers over some keywords or phrases on a page, a popup window will show up with live contents from the page owner’s social channels such as Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.

If at all possible, the online program may consider moving its official webpage entirely to Facebook, which will be an all-interactive page.

Need a proactive and well-thought out social media strategy

According to a “2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report“, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs were the top four social media tools used by marketers, in that order.

We cannot assume all that we need to do is to set up a Facebook and Twitter account, then people will come in strove. Unless we are big names such as Harvard or Yale, things just don’t happen that way.

When google for “social media marketing” or “facebook marketing”, one can find tons of sites and contents. For instance, here’s one post I came across that talks about Facebook Marketing Strategies; some “tips” in that post are actionable techniques that an online program at GCU can adapt into our own strategy and plans.

This post is running for too long. I will be writing separates posts about the industry best practices and specific actions plans for online programs at GCU.

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Mu Lin

Blogger at MulinBlog
Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin blogs about digital journalism education and offers free digital journalism courses at MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), which is a free, open, online program for people seeking web-based training in digital content production.
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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin blogs about digital journalism education and offers free digital journalism courses at MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), which is a free, open, online program for people seeking web-based training in digital content production.
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