By Danielle McDougal | Guest Columnist
The Student Perspectives column provides insights, experiences, research, and more from students across technical communication. We’re proud to introduce new voices, inject new ideas, and give the practitioners of tomorrow a platform to begin publishing their thought leadership today! Columnist Ryan Weber teaches technical communication at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and hosts the podcast 10-Minute Tech Comm. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit or pitch a column idea.
Social Media and Recruitment
We are in the golden age of social media, and many colleges understand that social media is an effective tool to recruit students into their programs. Technical communication departments can emulate this tactic as well, but social media can be intimidating. Where would a technical communication program start in adopting a social media strategy for recruitment?
This article provides a guide through the different social media sites to choose from, explains how to use social media effectively, and offers additional advice about how to get the most out of a social media plan. Social media can be used to recruit students, but programs need a plan and an understanding of social media to use it properly as a recruitment tool.
Social Media Sites
There are a wide variety of social media platforms to choose from when trying to reach potential students. Facebook and Twitter remain two of the most popular social media platforms in use today, but LinkedIn and YouTube are still popular social media sites to consider using. There are newer platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, that may also work for student recruiting.
While there are many to choose from, I don’t recommend using all of them to start, because that requires a lot of time and effort, and they might not all work for the audience you are targeting. It is up to the recruiting department to determine how many social media platforms it can handle. Properly maintaining even one social media platform is better than using three inconsistently.
A department should decide which social media platforms to use by conducting an internal analysis to determine the goals of social media before pursuing one platform over another. Does your department feel they need to increase their brand name? If yes, then using Facebook is the most appropriate, since it has the largest audience. Does your department want to cater specifically to a younger audience? If yes, then consider using Instagram or Snapchat, as younger audiences are more drawn to those platforms. Choosing a social media platform can be a daunting task, but understanding your audience, department needs, and the strengths and capabilities of each social media platform will make the decision easier.
Using Social Media Effectively
Social media should encourage discussion and information sharing (Reuben 2008). Because of this, content should start a conversation with potential students, engaging them to ask questions and to be honest with their opinions. If a student is responding to posts, then there is a good chance that the individual is interested in the program. Most social media platforms have analytical tools built into their systems, which help measure success. Use these tools to determine which posts are the most effective, when posts or pages get the most engagement, and other important information to improve reach in future posts.
When posting on social media, departments need to make sure that the content is authentic, relevant, and current (West 2016). Use more photos and videos instead of relying on posts with a lot of text. West also notes that social media is not the sole or even primary tool used in recruiting. Social media improves a strong marketing strategy; it is not the forefront of your marketing. To be effective, you need a plan to implement a social media recruiting strategy to ensure that posts are cohesive in tone and style and properly represent the technical communication program.
Understanding your audience is an important part of knowing exactly what to post to recruit students. Martin discovered that students generally expressed interest in forming friendships and finding possible roommates, taking part in campus activities and events, sharing interests, and being open with their positive and negative emotions about the college enrollment process (2015). Students want to be involved, and you can use that lens to generate post ideas to engage students into the technical communication department.
Giordani (2013) recommends several tips for recruiting with social media, such as finding areas of strengths and weaknesses of different social media platforms, staying flexible and adapting to newer platforms if necessary, observing sensitivity with posts, and always conducting research on what’s new and trending to reach the target audience.
The posts, no matter the social media platform, need to be pertinent to the field of technical communication or the technical communication department, and they need to gain the interest of possible students. Some examples of possible post ideas include:
- Department news (such as new courses or technical communication information sessions)
- Faculty publications
- Student highlights
- Information on current technical communication courses the department offers
- Links to articles about what you can do with a technical communication degree or certificate, developments in the field, etc.
Additional Notes About Using Social Media
There are many suggestions for effectively using social media platforms for recruiting, but there are also many notes of caution.
Barnes and Lescault (2013) highly recommend having a set of policies in place for how recruiters should behave when posting or responding to posts on social media. Coles (2014) says that bad comments on a social media post can be just as important as the good comments, because this allows you to showcase your professionalism to the public. If someone posts a negative post, respond to this post with professionalism and accuracy, if the department deems it necessary. The department’s reputation is reflected in social media posts, so maintain professionalism at all times, whether post engagements are negative or positive.
Do not use social media platforms that you do not know how to use properly. If the department uses social media platforms it is familiar with, knows how to navigate, and knows how to effectively post to, it will save time and effort.
Ensure that your marketing and branding efforts align so that potential students do not become confused about the department’s identity and where it aligns with the rest of the university. Consistency is also important to enable the department to exist as a more cohesive unit outside of the realm of social media. Keep the language and formality of your posts consistent, so students know what to expect when you post.
For technical communication departments to recruit students using social media, they need to:
- Decide which platform(s) to use
- Decide what to post on a consistent basis
- Create a policy about how to post to the department’s social media
- Determine who will have the responsibility for posting and managing posts
- Decide how to best use posts to gain the most post engagement with possible students
After these points are addressed, create an editorial calendar to help keep posts organized and save time. By coming up with several post ideas at once rather than every time the department posts, you will save time and resources. It is typical for a social media page to have no less than three to five posts a week, with more active pages typically having more post engagement from possible students. There is no set formula for successful posts, but they typically use multimedia elements and do not include a lot of text.
A social media plan needs to be flexible to adapt to new events or information that a department may want to share. No plan will be perfect from the beginning, but if your technical communication department stays with your plan and modifies it as needed, you might see a rise in enrollment numbers and an increased interest in your program.
Barnes, Nora Ganim, and Ava Lescault. (2013). “College Presidents Out-Blog and Out-Tweet Corporate CEOs as Higher Ed Delves Deeper into Social Media to Recruit Students.” Center for Marketing Research. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 2013. http://www.umassd.edu/cmr/socialmediaresearch.
Barnes, Nora Ganim, and Ava Lescault. (2011). Social Media Adoption Soars as Higher-Ed Experiments and Reevaluates its Use of New Communications Tools. Center for Marketing Research. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 2011.
Giordani, Pattie. Connecting with College Recruits on Social Media. NACE Journal p: 24–26, 2013.
Greenwood, Grant. “Examining The Presence of Social Media on University Web Sites.” Journal of College Admission 216: 24–28, 2012.
Henderson, Alison and Rachel Bowley. “Authentic Dialogue? The Role of “Friendship” in a Social Media Recruitment Campaign.” Journal of Communication Management, 14.3: 237–257, 2010.
Reuben, Rachel. “The Use Of Social Media In Higher Education For Marketing And Communications: A Guide For Professionals In Higher Education.” Rachelreuben.com, 2008. https://rachelreuben.com/2008/08/19/social-media-uses-higher-education-marketing-communication/.
Turner, Marcia Layton. “Like, Love, Delete: Social Media’s Influence On College Choice. Journal of College Admission 237: 31–33, 2017.
West, Charlotte. “Going Social.” International Educator 3–12, 2016.
DANIELLE MCDOUGAL (email@example.com) is a graduate research assistant at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) pursuing an MS in Technology. She obtained her undergraduate degree in technical communication with a minor in Leadership. She hopes to begin a career in technical writing upon graduation.