On campus almost every student has a mobile phone, has Facebook, and sends SMS or BBM day and night. It appears to be the perfect setting for wide-scale Twitter adoption. But it isn’t. At most, maybe a quarter of students on my campus use Twitter. This research (see infographic below) shows stats for millennial microblogging that are even lower.
In light of this, should higher ed be putting resources into communicating on social channels? Is it worth the time and energy of our very creative and dedicated new media communications pros on campus, to master micromessaging when so few of our students are even tuned in?
I think yes and no.
Yes, because as numerous studies have shown, it’s imperative for brands to participate in the social web, to manage perceptions. As well, it is an effective channel to reach far-flung connected audiences and networks in real-time. That’s especially important in terms of what marketing prof J.H. Beneke calls “the competitive imperative” for higher ed to market itself to prospective students on social platforms (link opens PDF of his 2011 study). And of course, those tweeters who are online tend to be not just early adopters, but also influencers.
No, because if we are envisioning Twitter as a form of mass-blast communication, we are sadly mistaken. The reality is that those 140-character messages are simply not reaching most of the student body. So who is tweeting? In my experience more than twice the number of 4th year students are on Twitter as compared to first-year students.
What’s the alternative? The best way to reach the most students is a coordinated cross-channel Twitter/Facebook-wall/email/SMS/campus-newspaper messaging combo. Which raises a new set of questions, including whether students read email, and if they will read SMS from their schools on their phones.
Communicating with digital natives? It’s complicated.