Technology has changed the way international educators work with and connect with their students. There has been no other platform in the past 10 years that has had such a transformative effect on international education and the way we communicate as technology and in particular, social media. How can your institution get the most out of social media for communicating with students?
Depending on who you ask, some may say that due to social media, people, particularly those within the college-age range, are losing the art of engaging in face-to-face communication. Yet others insist that social media has only enhanced student’s communication. In reality, it is not necessarily one end of the spectrum or the other but instead, social media has necessitated that people – especially those not accustomed to social media – think of communication differently. Students in particular may actually be communicating and interacting more than they did pre-social media; however, they are just doing this in unexpected and sometimes misunderstood ways.
Rather than debating the type of communication and/or interaction that is happening, international educators should instead be looking to harness the idea that they are communicating and interacting, period. Most international educators have a difficult time having people respond to e-mails, flyers, etc and should be seeking to explore what attracts students to social media and how they too can harness this attraction and use it to capture this target audience in meaningful ways.
Starting out with social media
The best suggestion is to simply jump in. This doesn’t mean trying every popular social media tool all at the same time. What it does mean is trying something and making a concerted effort to use social media as a daily part of your duties. It is much better to use one social media to its fullest potential rather than attempting to use ten social media tools using less than half of their potential. Additionally, by concerted effort, this means not just posting for one or two weeks and then, when the number of targeted followers hasn’t been reached, give up. One misconception of social media is that it creates instantaneous fame. This is not true. Social media takes time and extreme patience. Social media ‘fame’ does not happen overnight but occurs after much effort, trial and error.
Social media for all international educators
Social media is not just for those working with study abroad students, even though they seem to be the most active. There are numerous ways all international educators can engage the international community by using social media. For example, international student recruiters/advisers can create Pinterest boards that illustrate what students can do or see on your institution’s campus. This could include everything from academics to student clubs and organisations and much more. English language specialists can create assignments for their students that require them to engage people on various social media platforms to encourage realistic English language interaction. These are just some examples; almost all aspects of international education can have some sort of social media interaction incorporated into them.
Plan ahead for success
A social media plan or calendar is a great way to try things out and be able to track what works and what doesn’t. Social media does indeed require a plan to make it work successfully. Yet what works for one office/organisation may not work for another. Some students respond better to graphics, some to polls, some to contests. It is all about the trial and error in finding out what works for your students. One thing to keep in mind is the location/country your international audience is located in. Some social media platforms are more prevalent in certain countries than others. For example in China, Ren Ren is used more than Twitter. It is important to work with the technology that your target audience is using rather than impose your preferred form of technology on them.
Tracking your progress
The majority of social media tools make it easy to track the success (and failure) of various posts. Facebook Insights is a great tool which illustrates which posts generated the greatest interaction and reach. These analytics can be tracked over time as well. By using analytics such as these, you will be able to determine what works and what doesn’t for your students. What is important is making use of this information, not reinventing the wheel but instead continuing with what works. This will build your audience and interaction.
Social media does create interaction, just not necessarily the interaction everyone understands, appreciates, or expects. This doesn’t mean it should be ignored or cast aside because it is not what people anticipate when they consider ‘interaction’. Instead it should be embraced and harnessed to its fullest potential especially since it is not going anyway anytime soon. In order to reach this potential, this requires collaboration, creativity, and most of all patience.
By Mandy Reinig, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, USA