Tag Archives: research

new study: more colleges using social media for recruiting & research

Image by Srevatsan

Image by Srevatsan

Dr. Nora Barnes gave me a heads up last night on the findings from her research on the growing use of social media by colleges and universities to recruit and research new applicants.

I met Dr. Barnes at the Society for New Communications Research Symposium in November, where she delivered the keynote address.  The full findings of the report will be published in the Journal of New Communications Research, but the executive summary offers a nice look ahead.

What I found particularly striking was the growing use in higher ed of social media as a research tool, rather than as a form of outreach.  In other words, while colleges and universities have for some time been reaching out to prospective applicants through social media (especially blogs), they are now increasingly using social media to get a finer-grained level of detail about applicants — especially those applying to highly competitive programs or scholarships.

The percentage that use “search engines” is higher (23%) than those who use “social media” (17%), but I imagine that that is mostly because “search engines” are the only way most people know how to search for blogs, facebook pages, YouTube videos, etc.  I suspect that entering a prospective applicant (at the final round level — schools aren’t screening every student) into Google and scanning the first few pages is considered basic due diligence at this point.

At least I hope it is.

And I am going to bet that use of these tools will be higher still a year, two years from now.

So how will this change things, as more students become more educated about exactly who is looking at their online words and behaviors?

Just as the appearance of parents on Facebook changed how that tool is used by young people, the use of social media by colleges and universities will change it again.

I think it’s true that many students will do some purging and excising of their online content. But I also believe that many are already very savvy about their use of public social media, and about the way they present themselves there.  Ambitious, college-bound students are already using their blogs and YouTube channels as ways to further distinguish themselves.  They know these are online resumes of sorts.  These students will be more relieved than startled that colleges will be reading their blogs, much like a PR person is glad when someone actually reads their press releases.

I wonder if schools will also modify their expectations of online behavior, and recognize that some lightheartedness is appropriate to the setting. (Of course offensive behavior and inappropriate posting will always be taken into consideration when evaluating students.)

But observers are themselves changed when they spend any amount of time in a different culture.

Perhaps the question is not, “How will this change how people use social media?” but “How will social media change college admissions?”  And what impact will that have?

The full executive summary of the study is available here for download.

Check out the Society for New Communications Research’s Journal of New Communications Research for the full paper.  Dr. Barnes will also present the findings through an upcoming webinar, and at the SNCR annual conference.



Photo by Avolore

Photo by Avolore

Some of you, not a lot of you, but some of you know already that I’ve gone back to school full-time.  I’m now fully immersed in getting an MBA from the Simmons School of Management in Boston, and yes, that means I am commuting by bus, about an hour each way, from my home on Cape Cod.

I’m working as a graduate research assistant with one of the faculty at Simmons, Dr. Jill Avery, on some seriously engrossing research about branding, consumer-brand relationships, and web 2.0.  I’m also doing some projects on looking at effective new media marketing of cultural organizations, especially museums.

So the work I’m doing now is very much a logical extension of what I’ve been doing here on Small Dots, and I’m not going to stop doing it here, but I thought you’d like to know the direction I’m going in with my focus and my thinking, and the tools of analysis I’m getting down and dirty with these days.

If you’re like me and always wished there was more quantifiable stuff behind all this web 2.0 nonsense, more verifiable research, and more research we could be doing in the first place, then you’ll probably enjoy what I’ll be doing for the next little while.

Of course, the MBA program is pretty intensive, so my posting schedule is bound to change somewhat, as in fact it already has.  But I’m spending my days in a very exciting and energizing place these days, swapping ideas with some very interesting and clever people, and I’ll be bringing some of that home to you.

If you’re in Boston, and want to meet up for coffee, now that I’m there every day, drop me a line.  If you’re interested to see what happens next, as I am, stick around.

It’s going to be an interesting ride.

blogging for the hearts of donors

Shel Israel just posted an interview he did with Dr. Nora Barnes, chancellor professor of marketing and director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

It’s a good review of some of the thinking that went into, and results of, the study her team did last year on adoption rates of social media within large charities in the United States, called Blogging for the Hearts of Donors: Largest US Charities Use Social Media.

I remember when this report came out – it supported what I had already believed to be true, based on personal experience and purely anecdotal evidence. It’s always deeply gratifying when a methodologically sound, quantitative study backs you up like that.

“Seventy-five percent of the charitable organizations studied are using some form of social media including blogs, podcasts, message boards, social networking, video blogging and wikis. More than a third of the organizations are blogging.”

She mentions in the interview that charities tend to be nimble in their operations, which might increase their capacity for responding to new developments in technology like the Web 2.0 tools listed above, compared with their for-profit counterparts.

“It’s very slow to turn a big boat around.”

And while that’s certainly true, I suspect that it is more a cultural difference that sets charities apart from large businesses than just size. Because the charities she polled were, by and large, pretty large (taken as they were from the Forbes 200 largest charities list).

Primarily, the disparity lies in the staff time charities have available to allocate to social media projects. Most of these social media tools are either free or very cheap — the only real cost incurred is in time spent. So where does this leave the smaller nonprofit, with a lean and mean staff with little or no time to spare?

Well, as in all things, they get creative. They look for volunteers and unpaid student interns to get the ball rolling. In some cases, they don’t feel they can make the case for paying staff to work on social media projects until the return can be proven.

So it’s a bit of a bind for smaller nonprofits, but there are pockets of amazing creativity erupting in small and medium sized organizations. I mostly work with arts and culture nonprofits, which have different “audience development” (read: community-building) strategies than cause-driven charities. So the social media strategies for cultural organizations are going to differ somewhat from the cause-driven organizations.

But the common thread in all nonprofits is passion, and passion is an attribute that is also widely shared by social media enthusiasts. Passionate people find a way to make it happen. They blog on their own time. They buy decent recording equipment on their own dime and stay up for hours at night editing a five-minute podcast. They share resources, collaborate, and make connections in unlikely places.

It’s not surprising that there’s a lot of overlap between the nonprofit world and the social media world. We’re already members of the same tribe.