Saturday, 14 September 2013

Did Learner Voice Just Go Viral? LinkedIn University

I am currently working on a report that has taken almost a year to research and pull together, so am extremely excited at the prospect of finally publishing it. 

The topic of this report is all about how important the relationships between educators and their technology suppliers are (a rough executive summary for this report can be found here - Technology in FE)

Something that this report considers is why so many of educators faviourite EdTech tools are free and developed by the major main stream tech providers like Google, Apple and Microsoft et al as opposed to dedicated specialist EdTech providers... is LinkedIn about to join this group of providers with the launch of their Linkedin University Pages. 

For all the money that colleges and universities spend on promoting their institution at the moment, I wonder how any of them compare to the potential impact that this new initiative from LinkedIn will have in a few years time?

This looks to me like a great opportunity if colleges embrace this free advertising for the college... but could it also be a risk for any college who continues to dismiss social media?

Learner Voice... Just got amplified.
UK Further Education colleges get assessed by education inspectors for  their "Learner Voice" strategy, which effectively asks "Does the college listen to the needs of their users and customers?"

With LinkedIn's announcement I sincerely hope that the colleges' answer to this question is a resounding "YES! We do."

I have recommended that colleges watch Scott Stratten's Unmarketing presentation - Social Media and Engagement Explained in previous posts... please find the time to watch this today, its full of really useful marketing advice. One of my faviourite comments from this presentation is; 

"There is no such thing as a social media success... social media amplifies you brand.  If your product sucks it will suck more on social media" 

Is your college prepared for current students logging onto your LinkedIn University page to discuss their college experience with your prospective students?

Social Media Guidance and Digital Citizenship... Just became a priority
Related to this announcement may be the fact that social media guidance for students may have just become more of a bit more of a priority for the college.

I have highlighted in the past how social media should be embraced for students as this can greatly benefit their job prospects - Social Media and Better Job Prospects.

LinkedIn's announcement perhaps shifts the focus of social media guidance benefiting students to being advantageous to the college... and to help prevent making your admission departments' job a lot more difficult.

In the "Audacity of Hope" Barak Obama discusses the importance of media relations by observing "I am whatever the media says I am," and how public opinion is formed by how the media portray his speeches and decisions. We see this in the UK as politicians cosy up to influential media moguls, to try to avoid any bad press.  

Most colleges will be aware that bad press is unavoidable in the age of Social Media and, in many instances, the damage is done once the comments are posted.

Prevention is always better than your marketing and PR department having to comment on a bad press event. This is where social media guidance and training can be invaluable.

One of my favourite example's of responsible social media use is from Maccalaster College President Brian Rosenberg in his  2011 commencement address, where he advises graduates to be responsible, and remember what the college has taught them, both educationally and in terms of core values.

For some example Social Media guidance policies please see P15 of this Twitter in Further Education Guide

Corporate Image Vs Social Identity 

Social Media sense of humor? Might be a little risque
 ...but its got 3.5mil views
While I talk about education & technology on social media - and hope that the content is relevant to educators - one of my own social media policies is to refrain from "talking shop"  "There is a reason its called social media" I remind myself.

Like any brand, college's want to put its best foot forward, they want people to go to their website and get the professional, corporate vision of the college. 

But the colleges' corporate image may be a little different from the students perspective on social media... and may even be more like this "Honest College Ad"  (Warning: this is very funny but does contain some strong language).

Humour can work for colleges and one of my favourite examples is again from Macalaster's Brian Rosebergs and his tour of the college on President's Day... its very funny. I wonder who is going to be the first UK College Principal to film a similar kind of video? 

Playing Devil's Advocate... But Quality Matters

"If we were a good university we wouldn't need this commercial"
 The Honest College Ad

As an educator do you find the fact that your employers, government ministers, sending their children to private education is just a little hypocritical? Why don't they have confidence in their own product?

If you said "Yes" to the question above, what happens if we ask, would you encourage your kids to attend the institution you work at? If not, why not? If the reason is due to an issue of quality, is your decision any different from the politicians who get criticised? 

"Great products are at the heart of today’s leading companies. No longer is the product independent of sales &marketing" Dave Feinleib, author of Why Start Ups Fail.

My Technology in FE report looks at how hard it is to create a great EdTech product, but is true for any sector or industry... its hard work! But,in the age of social media, its also a sound strategy.

So the next time that your in a crisis meeting with your admissions and marketing team to discuss a fall in admissions or a poor recruitment campaign, you may want to call other departments into the meeting, and find out if you are dealing with a marketing issue... or challenges based on "network effects" and "feedback loops" - College Brand & Identity - Just Do It!   

Dealing with Negative Posts... Build a Community
I'm not sure what level of moderation colleges will have on LinkedIn's University pages but there may well be the potential of negative comments being posted. This is perhaps unavoidable as students can tend to blame their college or university if they struggle to find employment.

If a student attended college 2 years ago and was expecting a job to fall into their lap at the end of their course, but is out of work, they may feel that the college has let them down... their college has not delivered what they had expected.

There are many reasons for the economic downturn, all of which are outwith the colleges control. However, if a student says on social media that the college didn't help them find a job, and there are enough comments, then this is what will stick. This is how Dell found themselves in "Dell Hell" in 2005.

One of the best strategies that I have heard of to deal with any kind of negative influence is to take the time to build up a community of online proponents, before any bad press occurs, as the proponents can work to neutralise the influence.

"Hoy! Critics Leave em Teachers Alone"
I attended a conference where a school have taken the time to build a community online, so they could communicate with students and parents across a number of platforms.

The school was earmarked to get academy status (the bad, failing kind not the independent kind), this upset everyone at the school. Instead of the teachers coming out to defend themselves... the people from the community that they built up did - students and parents tweeting and blogging in defense of their teachers and articulating how and where the school was undergoing changes.

Rosenberg highlights that negative comments are inevitable, and might be an inevitable part of the Colleges' LinkedIn University page. But there is a big difference between there being nothing but a few sporadic complaints about the college on the page; and one that has an active and vibrant community, one with students who are taught and encouraged to create responsible, constructive content about the college.

Then, anytime there is an incoherent, rambling rant about the college, there could be numerous well thought out replies that limits and dilutes the potential impact of these kinds of posts.  

I enjoy following Ohio State University's hashtags for this reason - students tweeting to the world about the great time they've had at the university. 

Check out #OSU1000 to see how the university gets loads of free advertising... and enough positive learner voice sound bites to fill a prospectus

LinkedIn - Student Style
What's the worst thing that would happen if college LinkedIn staff profiles were written in a style aimed at appealing to prospective students? 

Other radical ideas might be to explore ideas like the "Many Voices of Sweden" - an odd Twitter experiment...which has become a multimillion pound tourism boon? Brave, yes. Some unexpected Tweets? To be expected. Controversial, absolutely? Sleepless nights for Sweden Inc's Marketing Department? I'd be surprised if it didn't! Was it successful? 

Or what about O2's social media masterclass when their network went down? Marketing didn't cause this problem, and a poor response could have fanned the flames... but boy did they get their sleeves rolled up and help with the fire fighting!

So the next time you're brand encounters a storm in a tea cup because of a social media catastrophe you can do what O2 did by using humour, do what Sweden did by giving up control of their brand to the many voices that make up their community.

...And if the storm does blow into a full scale hurricane - you can see where this is going can't you? But decorum prevents this blogger from spelling it out.... but this particular brand of humour didn't do Scotland's image any harm check this link for more details - Scotland's Hurricane

Or what about encouraging Tweeting in class and as part of your course work? After all students are going to to this anyway, better to do it in a controlled environment rather than to be as deluded as Sheldon Cooper and his Lecture Tweets... would this not be instant Learner Voice data that could go towards self assessment data?

Any college with a marketing strategy that includes trying to control their brand by refusing to acknowledge, explore and embrace the role that social media can play, is increasingly looking like a risky strategy. Especially when there are open invitations like this;

Welcome Higher Ed Professionals

We're here to support all you do, from preparing students for careers and engaging alumni to marketing and admissions outreach.
                                                                                  LinkedIn University Homepage

So congratulations! Your LinkedIn University page awaits you today. It could take the college brand to great places! Log in and sign up and you'll be on your way! ...and will you succeed? If my experience is anything to go by, you will indeed! 98 and three quarter percent guaranteed.

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