Tuning in to social media as a channel

During an email exchange about social media the other day, a client asked me a seemingly simple question, “I now have the Facebook Fan page, we have a Twitter account, we have the old Facebook Group, we have two Linked In Groups (one grad, one undergrad), we have RSS and we have the electronic newsletter campaigns, SO HOW DO I KNOW WHAT TO SEND WHERE?”

My general thinking here is that content trumps channel. In other words, regardless of the social network, you want to make sure the content you’re sending out is relevant to your specific audience. Some content may be more relevant to alumni, other content may be more relevant to current students and prospects.

Social networking tools let you get very segmented populations since members can self-select when, where and how they want to interact with your institution. However, with content that’s relevant to all of your constituents…why not broadcast that across all of your web properties? 

This question also prompted us to further explore the notion of social media as a channel. It’s no doubt that a ton of attention is being given to social media these days as a marketing channel (we obviously believe it its power to help develop relationships with constituents). But does this mean that you should abandon your traditional channels as this Mashable article suggests some brands are doing? Not yet.

The reality is that we’re still living in a multi-channel world. Many consumers now view social media simply as additional channels of communication, and they opt-in (or out) of receiving information on their preferred channels much like they do with email.

The key is finding the right balance to make sure your social media presence complements your other marketing channels without cannibalizing them.

The first key is to build a solid foundation: Ron Bronson examined this topic a few months ago where he wrote, “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.” According to Bronson, the institution’s website should serve as the hub for the online brand while social media tools serve to extend that brand.

The second key is figuring out goals for each of your channels: Brad J. Ward took this concept a step further by suggesting a social media recruitment funnel.

He cautions that his funnel is not meant to be all inclusive (and others have commented that some of these social media tools can be used outside of the categories Brad assigned), but the general concept is pretty straight forward: Seek. Engage. Retain.

It’s a great illustration that really helps to make sense of the social media landscape. But at its core, the message that Brad is trying convey is not all that different than what you’d expect from ANY marketing initiative. Here I’ve broken it down into 3 stages. You begin with lead generation and qualification (stage 1), continue with lead nurturing (stage 2) and move to analysis (stage 3) to hopefully improve stage 1 and 2 the next time around.

Now, what matters here is not necessarily the channel but the action. Can you figure out ways to leverage social media to help you at each of these stages? If so, great. If you’re looking for inspiratoin on how to use social media to supplement your other marketing efforts, here are six tips published recently by DMNews.

If not, you better make sure your other channels are working for you.

Ultimately, you want to focus on finding the right channels to address these stages and help students move through another funnel that we’re all familiar with already.