I was recently sitting on a panel in my community, asking and answering questions from a bunch of students from a Lower Mainland university, working on a soci-economic project that compared the growth of 2 Vancouver Island communities hit by hard times. Now, before you say “what the heck does that have to do with Social Media?” let me assure you that you were not alone.
When I asked this group of 18 students, how many had Twitter accounts, I was surprised to see only 3 put up their hands. Really? Only three? I honestly thought that this generation of digital agers would have been significantly engaged, but I was wrong. So, when I went online to ask those who were on Social Media, if they had any idea why so few had that Twitter connection, I was struck by the answer that I am usually hit with when talking to a group of people in the business community; Social Media doesn’t fit with what they are doing.
It’s More than Marketing
Perhaps it is our fault. As Social Media promoters, advocates and mega-users, we have been working to raise the profile of Social Media as the ultimate marketing and customer service tool. We push hard the B2C and B2B potentials, perhaps to the point that those who are not part of, or interested in, the “business world” are looking at it and saying “there’s nothing for me here, so why bother”. As I pondered that question of “it doesn’t fit” this solely academic exercise by these students, it became abol we call Social Media, than arranging parties or promoting products to the masses. As I pointed out in the conversation, accessing Social Media as part of their project research would allow them to tap into a much broader range of information, directly from the source; the people in the communities.
Students Become Advocates
Educational institutions are businesses. Some are publically funded, other privately, but they all have the same goal: educate and prepare for the future. Some schools in Canada are adding Social Media into their circullum, but only specific to some programs. In the YouTube video “Social Media 2013” by Erik Qualman, it states that Generation Y & Z consider email passé and that some universities have stopped distributing e-mail account. This is strictly a communications strategy, with seeming little thought to helping the students use Social Media for far more than just letting them know what the next assignment is. Active conversations between the schools Social Media managers / faculty and the student body creates a potential marketing stream just by the conversation existing, not to mention helping address issues that arise amongst the student, demonstrating the value of customer service as a marketing strategy. If students have their questions answered in the public forum of Social Media, they are more likely to promote the school as a great place for an education.
Social Media as a Research Tool.
As I went through the list of course available at one Univestity, I found that there wasn’t a single course available that could not benefit from having Social Media involved. From Arts to the Sciences to Business and Commerce, there is some facet to which learning how to leverage Social Media can benefit the learning process. A Poli-Sci student can engage in the process of following and creating discussions on Twitter (#BCpoli is one of the most active hashtags in British Columbia, right now, with less than 2 months before a provincial election). An ocean biology student can follow the entire track of whale migration on the west coast, just by following the Facebook posts by Whale Watching outfits. An art student can get their work seen and comment on via Pintrest or Flickr. A Commerce or Marketing student could spend days in the world of Social Media analytics, see what works and what doesn’t. The added benefit of helping a student learn to use Social Media as more than just a communications tool is that you are letting loose a new type of employee into the job market; one that truly is Social Media savvy.
If you are an educator in a post-secondary institution, here are some things you can do to get your students more active in using Social Media;
1) Make it YOUR preferred method of communicating. If students know that this is the best way to get a hold of you, they will use it.
2) Invite your student to join you in Social Media conversations, whether those conversations are started by you or simply involve you.
3) Encourage your students to make use of Social Media as a component of all of their research and work. A couple of extra marks never hurt the old GPA.
4) Connect your students with alumni who also use Social Media. Not only does it help build their networks, it also connects them with potential mentors and thought leaders in their fields
Social Media is not a fad and it is not going away. Perhaps we should ensure that those entering the workforce of the future are ready for it.