Social media marketing goes to college campuses

February 24, 2009
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Members of the Davenport University communication department wanted to find the best way to connect to students — as well as possible new recruits, so they decided to take their efforts where they would have the best outcome: online.

With the staggering growth of social networking sites, Davenport saw the need to dive in and hire someone to manage the university’s social marketing efforts.

“This person is going to implement, advance and measure Internet communications and social media for the university,” said Kathleen VanderVelde, director of university communication. “It’s going to be much broader than just social media, but their first priority will be developing social media initiatives and measuring them.”

She listed video sharing, Web communities and other social media outlets as some of the ways the university will expand its reach.

While it is an outward effort, VanderVelde said it is also important for faculty at the university to embrace it.

“If we’ve got prospective students making comments on blogs, asking questions about financial aid, that someone from financial aid is watching these blogs and is able to step in there and answer questions for students,” she said. “That is what we’re really after. We’re not trying to say, ‘Come to Davenport. Come to Davenport.’ We’re trying to build that relationship with a prospective student so they know that we’re good people and can get answers from us and trust us. We’ve got to have the administrative back-up to be able to answer those questions and have that dialogue.”

VanderVelde said social media is key not only for student recruitment, but also for retention.

A Muskegon-based marketing firm, Qonverge, has tackled that issue by launching a closed social networking site for students of Muskegon Community College called Harump.

Harump works like Facebook or MySpace in that users can create profiles and share messages and pictures. This network, however, also attends to the specific needs of MCC students.

“It’s a social network that’s exclusive to colleges and universities,” said Jason Piasecki, CEO of Qonverge. “The idea of the site is not to replace popular social networks like Facebook and MySpace, but complement them and do something that’s very localized for a specific college community or geographic community, and have some things that are a little bit unique for the users of the site.”

The site, which launched in BETA in May 2008, is being used by roughly 10 percent of the MCC population, which includes faculty and students. There are also approximately 100 businesses using the site that service that community.

“All of (the businesses) are using the site to hopefully connect and reach this college market,” he said. “The Muskegon Museum of Art can go on and can have a profile on Harump and advertise different exhibitions that are going on. It can be very measurable and trackable when someone prints off a coupon that’s watermarked with a Harump logo. Best of all, it’s free for them and is meant to complement their existing marketing.”

MCC came to Qonverge to help them reach the younger population. Qonverge found from research that younger demographics are much more responsive to social networks.

“(MCC) gave us total freedom to investigate which mediums they’d be more receptive to and everything came back to social networking,” he said. The company then integrated Harump into a marketing campaign that included other more traditional mediums such as posters around campus, banner ads on the MCC Web site, and more.

While using social media is now a staple for marketing, both Davenport and Qonverge made it clear that it should not replace more traditional methods, but complement them.

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