Universities Going Online for Social Engagement

Social networks are still growing more popular, now educational institutions are developing their own networks centered on the student experience. According to David F. Carr of Information Week, universities are increasingly creating their own enterprise social networking websites to recruit, engage and retain students.

Social networks offer the possibility of more effective and cheaper tools for universities to interact with students. Facebook, the world's most famous and widely used social network, allows users to create business pages. After Facebook pages proved useful to the private sector, educational institutes realized that building customized social networks could also be useful to manage and engage students.

The Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), one of a handful of learning institutions to strike out on its own within the social networking sector, has developed its own social network called MSOE Bridge. MSOE realized that engaging with students through social media requires more than just a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

MSOE started with admissions because that was one of its areas of greatest concern at the start of the project, according to Dana Grennier, director of digital marketing at the school. Of particular concern was the drop off between acceptance and enrollment, when keeping in touch seemed to be a particular challenge, she said in an interview. "Students weren't at home when we were calling, and they weren't responding to emails like they used to."

Grennier said that the admissions office set up Facebook pages after the original directive came down to "go be social" on the theory that social media would be a better way of connecting with students. But Facebook did not work. "We really didn't know what to do with them or how to manage them appropriately," Grennier said, adding that she received approval to seek consulting help.

Grennier contracted with the agency 7Summits, which suggested MSOE create its own social network. The MSOE Bridge was launched in November 2011. The MSOE social software is integrated with the university enterprise systems for submission of applications and tracking of admission status.

The MSOE Bridge implementation, according to Grennier, brought many benefits. The social software resulted in a 30% productivity improvement for admission counselors, who spent less time chasing students and more time interacting with them.

Also, the site helped double the enrollment in electrical engineering, and a 2013 application goal was reached nine months early with an acceptance goal also reached five months ahead of schedule.

In addition to MSOE, Northwestern University and Penn Foster are developing social software in a partnership with Jive partner 7Summits.

The vision is that students entering the university are personally social on Facebook, while students leaving the university are professionally social on LinkedIn, but in between they need space to be "academically social," 7Summits CEO Paul Stillmank said. Some schools have built social communities for admissions and others for alumni, but the ideal social experience would span that whole range, he said. "That's the bigger enchilada not everyone bites off."

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