Just one of the guys

While some institutions are still trying to figure out whether or not they want to include social media into their marketing mix, it appears marketers have already made up their minds…”No worries, social media, you’re allowed to hang out with us.”  A survey by MarketingSherpa this week shows that social media has earned its spot to complete the holy trinity for online marketers: email, search, and now social media.  But will it replace either email or search?  Not according to most.  

Most respondents are in violent agreement that there’s a role for social media in the marketing mix, but few believe it will replace other channels out right.  

So what are you waiting for, why not jump in?  Not so fast.  Think about what you want to accomplish first.

If you buy into the general notion of the Marketing Effectiveness model you’ll know that “consistency of strategy across various media, not just within each individual media message, can amplify and enhance the impact of the overall marketing campaign effort.”  Presumably, inconsistency can have the opposite effect.  

This seems to be where many institutions fail with respect to social media.

Tim Copeland argued recently (quite well) that certain social media channels have been over-hyped in higher education.  However, he also cautioned us to not throw the baby out with the bath water, writing:

Students prefer the channels that colleges and universities have developed some competencies in, and are actively using today.

Social technologies? In our research, the institutions that have jumped on the bandwagon aren’t doing a very good job.  The problem is that many are looking at these new avenues as ways to talk AT students, rather than talk WITH students.

It’s a paradigm shift that requires institutions to think about how they want to change their relationships with prospective students. Before you start choosing the ‘Twitters’ or other revolutionary communication medium, it requires understanding what your students are ready for (their participation profile), what objectives you are trying to support, and determining the right strategies to employ. The tools come last.

Part of the problem is that many institutions have developed siloed or unofficial social media presences that are disconnected from the rest of the organization.  Neglecting these social media channels, or not allowing them to become an “official” part of your communications strategy could result in inconsistent messaging that may ultimately hurt your efforts across other channels…they may also spark some creative ideas that influence your traditional initiatives (but that’s another blog post).  

Even if it’s a relatively small percentage of your audience using social media to connect with your institution, do you really want to provide a disruptive experience for them as they cross from one channel to the next?  Wouldn’t it be better to provide some continuity of experience?

Having social media live separately from your other marketing and customer engagement initiatives will not work for most organizations for this very reason. 

Is social media a panacea?  No.  Should you put all your eggs in that one basket?  Of course not.  Does it deserve more attention than your other channels?  No, not yet anyway.  But, it’s time to stop viewing social media as a rogue channel, and time to start incorporating it into a more comprehensive marketing strategy.