In preparing for my presentation at the WhippleHill User Confrerence last week, my mind has been grappling with the idea of student participation using social media in my schools marketing efforts. Canterbury, like many independent schools, has a fairly traditional marketing plan that calls for shinny brochures to go out to prospects, a nice neat website where they and their parents can get a glimpse into the world of Canterbury, photos, podcasts, and video content round out the experience. What I can’t get around is the notion that this model is not only skewed, but completely broken. While we, like other independent schools have dug in and added social media to our marketing repertoire, we haven’t done nearly enough.

 

Back in the day when a prospects’ only option for finding out about a school, it’s culture, its academics, and its students was through a planned visit, a friend who was at the school, or the shinny brochures we would send them,  life for the communications and marketing folks was fairly straight forward. Want to get some media coverage, submit a press release, want to send out school news, design a paper news letter, etc.

 

Today’s world, and today’s audience is vastly different. The typical high school student gets his or her news through an RSS feed, and knows what is happening almost instantaneously. They are in touch with hundreds of friends on facebook or myspace, and they are fluent communicators in multi-media. So the challenge for most communication departments has become how to keep up with these kids and their media habits. The problem with this approach is two-fold. First, no matter how fast we run, we won’t catch up because they are moving as well, a target that does not want to be caught. Second, they are selective participants, meaning, if they don’t like it, they won’t read or view it. Finally, the content has to be relevant to them and their world, and there is no better way to be relevant then to work with their peers to deliver meaningful messages (meaningful to them at least.) This does not mean that we professionals need to break the child labor laws and drag students into the marketing arena. What is does mean is that student content-videos, editorials, speeches, artwork, blogs, have a major draw within their own circles. When a student puts a video on youtube of their friends band, it will go viral almost immediately within their online circles. They, like most people, enjoy seeing their work published and online-the modern day 15 seconds off fame, over and over again.

 

The catch here is that we, as professional marketer and teachers, need to work with these students in order to help them improve their content, round out their stories, and correct their content before going live. It is important to remember that we are first and foremost educators, and while we may be behind the students in content proliferation, we certainly know the importance of structure, content, and design. There is more to a story then “DLTM, TYVM”, and it our job to teach them how to develop it.

In the end, participation does matter, and if you want to reach your target audience, then you may want to rethink the way you traditionally do it. After all, traditions are made to be broken.