Debunking “You have to go where the students are…”

“If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you jump too?” – Someone’s mom.

Following students to social networking sites like Facebook and alumni to LinkedIn are a pretty popular trend right now. The common refrain is, “You have to go where the students are to reach them.” But this pervasive refrain ignores a very powerful message embedded within that statement that says, “What we’re doing on the web right now doesn’t work for us, so we need a better way to get it to work for us.”

Extending that a bit further, it’s akin to saying that the telephones on campus aren’t working and we can’t call anyone, so we all bought cell phones so we could reach each other.

If the latter statement were true, someone would rush to fix the problem in a heartbeat and wouldn’t need to ask why it needed to happen. With the web? It’s still considered a piece of community property that no one wants to cede in a lot of places.

You can’t suffocate a message

It doesn’t last long for you to hold onto it, as if it belongs to you and no one else. You have to get it out. The problem is, social networking sites aren’t the venue for most institutional messages. It validates to students that “our web site is useless for the purpose of getting information, so just go to Facebook.” But if the third party site goes down, what do you do? Send them back to the institutional web site?

Colleges and universities with deep pockets or access to top talent can usually respond to these sorts of challenges faster than others, which is no big surprise. But using social networks can’t be viewed as a panacea, instead, we need to establish why we’re using them and adhere to that purpose. If web sites are rigid and inflexible, we need to fix them.

The reasons you shouldn’t invest your energy in a social networking presence for your institution:

  • It implies that Facebook owns your school’s message.
  • Weakens the brand and creates a viral effect where students tell others — family, friends, potential donors — to visit a third-party site to get institutional information, rather than the web site.
  • Replicates bad on-campus communication to the web, by circumventing the need to fix those problems by simply working around them.
  • On the other hand, a social network can be a great tool to:

  • Extend your brand into a new domain, especially for prospective students who don’t have access to on-campus information that might be relevant to them.
  • Share “winning moments” or other information from you web site that might be of interest to students, alumni and others.
  • Integrate it as a solution that redirects them back to your site.
  • The institutional web site has fully arrived as a “marketing tool” on many campuses and the uneasy balance between trying to reach the students of the future, while connecting to their parents, alumni and pretty much anyone else with a rooting interest in the school can be a difficult task at times, especially for smaller schools and community colleges.

    You don’t have to go where the students are to reach them, you need to adapt your web strategy to reach them more effectively. There’s no better place to that than on your college’s own web site.

    We need more social media experts

    There are all sorts of anti-expert memes on the web right now, decrying the so-called crop of social media “experts” who want to pontificate onto the world about the wonders and joys of the social web.

    Social media is about as opaque a term as you can get and yet, there are still gobs of people on the outside looking in. Clearly we have a lot of work to do.

    We need more experts.

    We don’t get upset when people call themselves lawn care professionals or plumbers or dog walkers. We need more of them too, in some communities more than others.

    Social media expert, town crier, blogsmith or whatever your title de jour is…we need more of you. Because lots of folks are simply not aware of how fast the media is shifting and the flow of information traffic is going against the flow of those who are leading us. People want to stay plugged in and there are tools for that. Does it take time? Sure, it does. No such thing as a free lunch.

    But how do you distinguish the experts from the pretenders who know nothing?

    Do your research? Talk to other references? I’m always annoyed by people who are experts who don’t have as much as a blog or a web site or a twitter account. Facebook is fine, if that’s all you’ve got. But something that gives someone an ability to evaluate your competence. If someone chooses to hire someone with none of those things? Maybe that’s what they need and it’ll create more work for the experts who get it and do the job right.

    One of the things that’s been astounding to me over the past year is how little decision makers know about the social web. It’s easy not to know, too. Being on the web is akin to having a glass on the wall to try to listen in on what others are saying. Only, there are tools that you can use to start your own conversations and to listen to other ones. It’s not eavesdropping, it’s information sharing and fact gathering in a fast-paced environment. It’s a bar that never closes and a well that never dries.

    There are always hucksters trying to make a fast buck on the backs of unsuspecting people in the field, it’s a fact of life and it won’t ever stop. But we can’t – and shouldn’t – try to intentionally limit the field of voices. The cream will rise and folks will find niches and opportunities to thrive and provide value to the people around them who need it.

    The hubris involved in calling yourself an expert takes courage, even for a fraudster. Eventually, you’re going to be exposed. The more people who get it, joining the ranks — to learn, to grow and educate others — are going to create choices and opportunities for people who want them and need them.

    We need more experts.

    Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

    We need more social media experts

    There are all sorts of anti-expert memes on the web right now, decrying the so-called crop of social media “experts” who want to pontificate onto the world about the wonders and joys of the social web.

    Social media is about as opaque a term as you can get and yet, there are still gobs of people on the outside looking in. Clearly we have a lot of work to do.

    We need more experts.

    We don’t get upset when people call themselves lawn care professionals or plumbers or dog walkers. We need more of them too, in some communities more than others.

    Social media expert, town crier, blogsmith or whatever your title de jour is…we need more of you. Because lots of folks are simply not aware of how fast the media is shifting and the flow of information traffic is going against the flow of those who are leading us. People want to stay plugged in and there are tools for that. Does it take time? Sure, it does. No such thing as a free lunch.

    But how do you distinguish the experts from the pretenders who know nothing?

    Do your research? Talk to other references? I’m always annoyed by people who are experts who don’t have as much as a blog or a web site or a twitter account. Facebook is fine, if that’s all you’ve got. But something that gives someone an ability to evaluate your competence. If someone chooses to hire someone with none of those things? Maybe that’s what they need and it’ll create more work for the experts who get it and do the job right.

    One of the things that’s been astounding to me over the past year is how little decision makers know about the social web. It’s easy not to know, too. Being on the web is akin to having a glass on the wall to try to listen in on what others are saying. Only, there are tools that you can use to start your own conversations and to listen to other ones. It’s not eavesdropping, it’s information sharing and fact gathering in a fast-paced environment. It’s a bar that never closes and a well that never dries.

    There are always hucksters trying to make a fast buck on the backs of unsuspecting people in the field, it’s a fact of life and it won’t ever stop. But we can’t – and shouldn’t – try to intentionally limit the field of voices. The cream will rise and folks will find niches and opportunities to thrive and provide value to the people around them who need it.

    The hubris involved in calling yourself an expert takes courage, even for a fraudster. Eventually, you’re going to be exposed. The more people who get it, joining the ranks — to learn, to grow and educate others — are going to create choices and opportunities for people who want them and need them.

    We need more experts.