By Ludwig Gerdes, Freelance Social Media Strategist
This article is the first part of a three part series covering SoLoMo and its value to higher education institutions.
While professionals in the marketing industry may pride themselves on their knowledge of each and every new buzzword that slips from the mouths of tech-startup founders and venture capitalists, administrators of our nation’s higher education facilities are not typically known for being among the first wave of buzzword users.
Therefore, when the term “SoLoMo” – a combination of the terms Social, Local, and Mobile – emerged from the offices of VC firm Kleiner Perkins, universities across the country were slow to incorporate the term into their marketing offices. Nonetheless, SoLoMo is here to stay, and what that entails is slowly but surely becoming more widely understood. SoLoMo is best defined as the consumer trend towards internet services that fully integrate social media and geolocating applications into a mobile platform.
The hesitation of universities to be on the cusp of innovative marketing is understandable, as many of these institutions prefer to rely on tried and tested marketing techniques to approach prospective students. However, many of these same institutions are facing significant budget crises as their old business models face the challenges of falling tuition revenues and dissipating enrollment numbers. To emphasize this point, a recent Moody’s report detailed how tuition revenue at about 4 in 10 universities is growing below the rate of inflation. Therefore, with no positives on the horizon for universities’ existing marketing strategies, the time is ripe for investigation into innovative strategies, with particular emphasis placed on SoLoMo.
So for Social
Given the amount of information regularly published about the “best practices for universities embracing social media” and the best social networks to use together, one would be justified in assuming that higher education institutions, with their numerous in-house business experts, would have efficient and standardized social media guidelines easily incorporated into the broader marketing strategy of SoLoMo.
Nevertheless, higher education institutions, worried about diluting their brand message, often struggle to incorporate social media into existing communication channels. Whether this is due to the interference of the bureaucratic processes within the institutions or simply the result of universities failing to leverage the considerable amount of relevant industry knowledge at their disposal, the end result is apparent as the benefits normally associated with successful social media integration are left unrealized.
Despite this, the benefits of a high-quality social media presence remain easily ascertained through a simple observation of successful corporate brands and their efforts to differentiate themselves through their social portfolio. Boiled down, these benefits and their relationships to higher education are as follows:
- Revenue Creation = Recruitment
- Customer Engagement = Student Activity
- Increased Loyalty = Retention
For higher education institutions, the potential for an increase in revenue and student loyalty can only be seen as a possible gold mine. For as long as universities have existed, the recruitment and retention of students has been an issue. However, in able to successfully procure these benefits, institutions must be willing to go the extra mile, and invest the time, effort, and money into the construction and maintenance of a unified social presence.
Previously, when an institution would decide that it needed a social presence on a particular network, it would be left up to a “tech-savvy” faculty member to create the profile. Entry into each new social platform would often be uncoordinated and done division-by-division, rather than university-wide. Furthermore, little thought would be given to how each new social presence would function with those already in existence, so that the university’s social portfolio would be a Frankensteinesque amalgam of disjointed bits and parts bereft of a distinct personality.
That is not to say that this is true of all institutions. Rather, some universities such as Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, and the University of Notre Dam regularly receive top scores when it comes to social media utilization, while other universities such as Ohio State and Northern Illinois University have been making significant efforts to increase the quality of their social portfolios.
If you were to ask a marketing professional whether it was important to unify a brand’s message across all marketing materials, you would undoubtedly hear a resounding “yes.” Therefore, shouldn’t a university find it just as important as a company to do just that, so as to control the message that is seen by prospective customers? It may be of value to these higher education institutions to look at how some of the top consumer brands have been leveraging social media to achieve the aforementioned benefits.
Nonetheless, while we shouldn’t forget that social media as we are using is part of a trifecta that also includes Local and Mobile, we can take away from our foray into the subject these points:
- Institutions must analyze their existing marketing strategies before starting a new foray into social media. The question should be asked, “Will a presence on [social network] help us to our goals in a more efficient way than our existing strategies?”
- Institutions must be willing to leverage the necessary resources, whether that be in-house expertise or financial investment. Furthermore, institutions should recognize their natural status as content creators to great effect.
- The entire social portfolio of an institution should have a distinct personality, and each presence should bring a unique added value. Ultimately, the whole should be of greater value than the sum of the parts.
- Look to businesses as a reference for how to successfully utilize social media. If it is good enough for a leading corporation, it is good enough for you.
In the next installment of What is “SoLoMo” and Why Should Universities Care, we will look at how Local fits into the SoLoMo trend.