Branding in Education – Role of social media and technology

 

Why are private universities and institutes so popular? Why is it that even my maid’s daughter had LPU, Sharada, and Amity in her mind? Why is it that some colleges that are dedicated to produce involved professionals remain hidden from the masses? Why is it that so many institutes dedicated towards producing professionals seeped in excellence and brilliance have to struggle hard to fill seats available? Lots of you must have noticed that money pumped into branding resulting in students gravitating towards inferior places of higher education is so starkly obvious. Branding is no longer an exclusive domain for soaps, detergents, gadgets, clothing, footwear, and movies. Even authors have jumped on to this bandwagon and are aiming to be brands rather than writers. This is equally true of education. Brands today are successfully using social media, technology and education to enhance their image and I believe that education too can uplift its image as a brand if the right vehicles are used.

If less than perfect institutes and universities of higher learning can brand themselves with a fair degree of suavity, why must the real behemoths lag? I was talking to a professor about branding education and he gave me an exasperated look of annoyance and said, ‘Listen, we focus on communicating the best in subject matter… and the best minds come towards us anyway. Branding will only increase clutter and will be a headache for us.’

Dear professor, I beg to differ with your opinion. It is time for serious-minded institutes of higher learning to start using innovative technology as well as the vibrant social media because these vehicles converse well with people and businesses. Acceptance of technology and social media projects a mature interaction with the present. The former brings in objectivity when harnessing the minds of people and businesses is needed and the latter is all about a subtle subjective influence.

I know there will be many who may disagree with my opinion, but what matters is not if branding is a necessity but how can branding aims be adopted and executed. So how can this be done? I believe that education needs to explain perspectives in both 140 characters as well as long posts that are incremental in more than one way. Branding in education isn’t just letting the world know about the way e-boards, websites, power-point, videos, audio, skype, Facetime, hangouts, and the internet have been functionally adopted… but it must be aided by twitter, blogs, email, and other updates on the social media platforms. This is what humanises a branding effort and allows both an objective as well as subjective perspective to reach out. Terms like target audience, page-views, impressions, and online discussions are as real as they can ever be.

However, not every facet is crystal clear and a lot needs to be fully understood, assimilated, and communicated to the right people by those who understand these mediums well. It is no longer enough to have digital blackboards and websites with a mention of courses that can be pursued. It is no longer enough to have a couple of lectures on PowerPoint and claim to be tech-savvy. It is no longer enough to have online admission forms and an online display of results. It is no longer enough to think that a powerful set of alumni and a continuous flow of an excellent word-of-mouth promotion. It is no longer enough to just have a two-column advertisement in a daily newspaper. It is no longer enough to have a three-line mention of convocation where the Chief Guest is a Minister. It is no longer enough to gloat over the fact that a free wifi is available for students and faculty to use and flourish. It is no longer enough to believe that a passive page on Facebook or a twitter account that has a few anorexic tweets about admission procedure is the ultimate in online communication. It is no longer enough to add ‘social media awareness’ to the tasks allotted to a few disgruntled faculty members. It is no longer enough to list baffling topics of research papers that the faculty keeps adding to their resume. It has to be all of this and MORE.

Educational institutes need to have a dedicated staff that understand everything about social networks and know how to manage it well. They need to be vibrant catalysts of content that weaves in texts, images, audios, and videos, must know where to publish and how to share all this. They need to be firm believers in the values that a pro-active presence on the social media can rake in. They need to be experts in communicating and teaching all this to others in the staff who have so far been detached observers of this march. The truth is that a dedicated group of experts helps but the entire staff must be geared up to add a momentum to this movement. It is no longer enough to have a professor say with a flourish that he has invites for guest lectures in universities abroad… all this needs to be broadcast well. These detached observers of the march of social media as a branding tool need to be gently eased into the mainstream of new-age fundamentals, so to say.

There has to be a sympathetic understanding of not just the newer add-ons in the world of technology but also of the myriad ways in which the youth today interacts in the online universe. It is no longer enough to sit back with a smug smile and mutter, ‘A one-page advertisement in a daily will be released at the right time. What more do you want from us?’ There is a lot more to be done, sir. The best institutes of higher learning must not suffer because they did not adopt the tenets of social media branding when they should have. Let me warn here that if this is not done whole-heartedly, we may end up in having a massive population of mediocrity graduating out of institutes that have nothing much besides a fascinating social media blitz!

Before I go any further, let me examine a few facets that I find rather alarming in our colleges and universities…

  • The social media interactions are still considered to be a taboo and too many people who matter still think that it is only for light-hearted banter.
  • Blogs of educational institutes are either not there or have a forced feed of articles with very little that will encourage reading.
  • Twitter accounts are almost absent and where they are, the communication is limited to official propaganda.
  • Platforms like Instagram, Vine, Periscope,
  • Terms like reach, analysis, and engagement are considered to be too exotic to be taken seriously. Managements still think all this is for everything other than education and that only professional agencies are geared to tackle them.
  • Most of the faculty members are far away from blogging conversations, YouTube interactions, and the inclusion of images as a viable tool for branding.
  • Social media interactions as a branding tool even on the college or university websites is missing as they are thought to vehicles where only circulars are scanned badly and uploaded.
  • The use of technology applications are still limited to MS Office and have not travelled beyond.

Amy Jo Martin writes that the ‘social media is changing the way we communicate and the way we are perceived, both positively and negatively. Every time you post a photo, or update your status, you are contributing to your own digital footprint and personal brand.’ It is necessary that the quality of conversations on the social media is above par… and my personal opinion is that it is a good idea to choose platforms carefully before rushing headlong into it. It is also equally vital to have the faculty, students, and the alumni to be adequately encouraged to participate meaningfully.

The right way to make an impact through social media and technology is to create conversations where participation is encouraged. I have a nagging feeling that this is shunned primarily because authorities are afraid of criticisms and flaws being pointed out in a world that is open to all. The first step is obviously to get rid of this fear. Where is the point in being afraid of learning from students? After all, they are the ones who know this medium well and so it is best to include them and the alumni as moderators.

In another discussion it was revealed that many institutes consider social media participation more as an entertainment than a serious vehicle for branding. This is a misconception as social networks intrinsically take care of a lot of audience demographics like age, gender, urban or rural location, income, education, and where most of the target audience spends their time. I have been on the Facebook page of a lot of institutes and I discovered that most of them lacked activity. A continuous presence as well as a close monitoring of responses is essential. I mean, where is the point in uploading an update and then forgetting to respond to responses? To encourage responses and to ask your audience to share updates is a perfectly good strategy. Why not make your best students the social media ambassadors who can interact in a language that most of the students understand and feel comfortable with? Why can’t the faculty answer queries in short and crisp videos that give the entire concept of answering a new dimension? Look at the state of the websites of many institutes and you’ll know the way relevant images and videos would change them. The younger generation is connected 24×7 and I will strongly recommend even campus tours to be broadcast on Periscope which gives such a startlingly fresh perspective to decision-making. I mean, in this age of the internet, why expect prospective students travel hundreds of miles just to attend an open day? Why not use technology and the power of the social media to communicate your point of view. By the way, none of these interactions need to be judgemental… they can merely show things as they are in real time and the right TG will latch on.

I know that all this may seem like a huge task for just one person to conceptualise and execute… so the right way out is to delegate responsibility to departments to take care of their branding once the platforms and other nitty-gritties of this technology are taken care of.

Everyone in an educational institute knows what an academic calendar is… why not have a social media calendar as well? Even events for the year can be planned with the social media promotions in view and a major advantage will be the inflow of ideas that would otherwise have never existed. The social media, by the way, is an appropriate place for the creation of hot topics and so the existence of discussion forums can be such a treasure of revelations. These are things that need some planning and cannot be done off-hand if they are to be used as tools for branding.

The blogs are a great place to talk about things that concern the students and the prospective student just as much as they are vital to promote institutional research. Let me add here that such activities also have the potential to keep the faculty from stagnating…

I remember that I did mention the role of reach and analysis of the sort of good role in branding that social media interactions result in. Every interaction on the internet has the power to influence opinions. So whether it is twitter or Facebook or a blog or the video-sharing platforms, everything can be quantified and measured. There are new tools emerging on a daily basis and I am aware of tools like Talkwalker Alerts or Social Mention or Mention that can tell an institute a lot about the performance of brand mentions and the engagement levels. It is fair to be aware of these tools because after all, this is a part of what technology in branding in education is all about. It is about time that people working in universities and colleges are comfortable with terms like sentiment analysis, tag cloud, and demographic data. This is the sort of information that helps one engage meaningfully with the right and the top keywords, users, hashtags and sources. Tools like SocialBakers and AnalyticsPro are what many experts in the PR and advertising industry use to understand how your brand compares to others on the social media. These tools give enough idea on the change in course if needed… and branding naturally gets firmer.

It doesn’t matter if you are teaching zoology or biochemistry or marketing or finance or literature… your social media conversations need to be perfectly poised. Believe me even research is tremendously enhanced if one is not lost in this world of social media engagements. Talking of new technology, I did come across Swayy that had the ability to drop interesting content into a dashboard where it is ready to be read or scanned when there is more time. The best part is that this material can also be shared through the social media platforms… and our teaching staff will soon realise the importance of the speed with which knowledge and information can be accessed and shared. There is another application called Compfight that does all your hard work when you are searching for the right images or photographs and need to be sure that copyright infringement is not there. This app searches Flickr photos that have the correct Creative Commons licence for commercial use.

Technology is moving at a rather clipping pace on the internet and the slower one is in adopting them, the faster one moves towards oblivion. Now if you’re searching for what is happening in the world of sustainable architecture, to give an example, you need to go to Tagboard that monitors keywords and hashtags and pulls in content that exists on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and Vine, to name a few. As a teacher your efficacy is naturally enhanced when you have information of the latest buzz in your field. There are many such tools that exist and if you search you will surely reach one that you are comfortable with. ManageFlitter is one tool that cuts out the clutter from the stuff that may surround you on the social media platforms and which can put off many serious minded researchers.

I have mentioned that our teaching staff in educational institutes must be comfortable with blogging… besides this, they also need to be comfortable promoting what they create. Social media tools like Hootsuite, TweetDeck, and SocialOomph play a major role in sharing and distribution of content. After all, a great article on the blog must not be allowed to languish in solitary confinement and must reach the maximum number of readers. To be fair, these are tools that may sometimes cost money but they are all a part of the new technology that is gaining height right in front of our eyes and remaining unaware of them is not going to help at all. This is true for education today… and diving into the depths of this merger of social media and technology is essential for all sorts of educational institutes, particularly those that are good and deserve not to be forgotten by our internet savvy generation.

A healthy mix of social media branding with mainstream techniques in branding are anyway being used effectively by the lesser known and moderately talented institutes today. There is no reason then for the bright sparks in education dissemination to lose this race in the branding universe.

.

.

.

Article published in InsightBuzzar on 18 August 2016:

2016_08_18_InsightBuzzar_Branding in education

2016_08_18_InsightBuzzar_Branding in education

Branding in Education - Role of social media and technology

Branding in Education – Role of social media and technology

.

.

.

Arvind Passey
18 August 2016