Regular readers of this blog know that training young people to use social networking/social media effectively is something I am very passionate about. I also think that, used properly, it is an invaluable tool for admissions departments, alumni offices as well as a way for current students to chronicle student life.
There was an article in this morning’s NY Times (link) focusing on the MIT Admissions Department’s embrace of social media by selecting student bloggers to write about what life is really like at the Cambridge geek factory. (And I say “geek” with love.) The powers-that-be at MIT have been able to get past the fear of “What if someone says something bad?” and given students, AND commenters it should be noted, an unedited forum to sell the school. Let’s face it- high school kids today know when they’re being BS’ed. Hell, my seven year old sees a commercial on TV and said to me, “Dad, it doesn’t really do that. This is just a commercial.” I honestly don’t think I was that savvy at 7, so imagine what kind of filters 17 and 18-year olds have.
But back to MIT bloggers: they are chosen by means of a contest that grades their writing samples. According to the Times article, once incoming students arrive on campus, “[T]he bloggers are sought out as celebrities during the annual ‘Meet the Bloggers’ session at Campus Preview Weekend.” One of the bloggers, for example, wrote about her love of anime, something that would have little chance of making it into a slick brochure or marketing video. Yet a prospective student who was also loved anime saw the post and reacted, “I never would have guessed that people at MIT are interested in anime. Oh, well…+1 on my Why I should go to MIT list.”
STILL think current students are poor ambassadors for your school? My response to that is the same thing I say to companies who are unsure if they should let their employees blog, tweet or otherwise speak on behalf of the company. If you can’t trust your employees, you have a bigger problem than just deciding on your social media strategy. Further, if you have a sub-par product, maybe the key tenets of social media- transparency, openness, conversation and engagement- make you a poor candidate for a social media strategy. You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.
And in regard to the “what if someone says something bad?” fear, here’s an anecdote: One blogger complained about how the resident advising system was making it impossible for her to move out of her housing. The housing office requested that the admissions office remove the post, but they did not. Rather, they suggested that the housing office leave a comment or rebuttal on the blog. “Eventually, the system was changed.”
That, party people, is the essence of blogging, in particular, and social media, in general.