A number of studies have been conducted by various research organisations aimed at examining the impact of social media technology (SMT) on higher education institutes, especially with respect to the different kinds of SMT deployed, the extent of their use and the social implications and effectiveness on student and alumni networks.
The success of social media in the field of communication is reflected by research findings which reveal that 96% of the millennial population use at least one social network (National School Board Association, 2011)1. Just as social media has opened up new avenues for companies to communicate with their target market, colleges and universities too are adopting social media to extend their reach and impact.
Although there is a great potential for social media with reference to academic institutes, only limited research has been conducted in Pakistan regarding its real and potential usage and effectiveness. Yet, it is crucial that we investigate how higher educational institutions can incorporate social media technology in functions such as learning, student engagement, marketing and recruiting and use it to connect with their students and facilitate them effectively.
Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other social media interfaces are highly recommended by Dr Rachel Reuben based on survey2 results of 148 colleges and universities across the world. According to another study conducted by the University of Massachusetts for Marketing Research (2012)3, use of social media by the admission offices has increased – 95% of the student population were using at least one form of social media in 2009, compared to 61% in 2007. Furthermore, a survey by the National School Boards Association (2011)4 confirmed the high usage of social media by students, reporting that 60% of people on social networks were talking about topics related to education.
SMT, although a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan, has gained immense popularity in a short span of time and has transformed the way young people communicate, interact and socialise. By mid-2013, estimated mobile penetration stood at 70% and internet at 16%. This includes over 125 million mobile subscribers (making Pakistan the fifth largest mobile phone market in Asia); over 30 million Pakistani netizens; and around eight million Facebook users (70% of whom are below 30). One can imagine the potential of this rapidly growing media on the young and by extension the potential social transformation of the country.5/6
According to an international survey titled Social Media Strategy for Education, (May 2012)7, 70% of students want their colleges to have a presence on social networks, of which 51% want to be contacted directly through a social media network and about 81% access the net wirelessly.
Considering that universities target college students between the ages of 18 and 24, and by extension alumni, parents, potential donors, faculty, staff and other stakeholders, it is imperative to integrate social media platforms into the overall marketing and communications plans.
A baseline study of social media interfaces such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from May to July 2012 and then to March 2013 was conducted to compare the popularity and activity of social media pages of various business schools, including the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Karachi School for Business & Leadership (KSBL), the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi and Stanford University, with Stanford’s social media activity and achievements used as an international benchmark for comparison. For the study, different social media metrics – number of comments, reviews, queries, clicks, click-throughs, Facebook visits, YouTube views (YouTube was still in use when the survey was conducted and continues to be popular via proxies), re-tweets, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, talking about, as well as traditional measures including in-house surveys and focus groups – were used to assess the social media activity of the leading business schools in Pakistan.
It is evident from the statistics (given in the charts above) that these schools have realised the importance of social media as a cost-effective platform with the potential to reach their target audiences in real time; yet, most of the time these institutions use social media as a supplement to their traditional marketing campaigns. Thus, the activity on these pages often seems stagnant without a goal-oriented approach.
Leading universities around the world are devising social media policies aimed at aligning social media activities with their overall strategy. This brings discipline to social media activities and prevents random and inconsistent stunts. However, most Pakistani educational institutions lack a social media strategy, let alone the notion of allocating separate budgets, HR and expertise to social media. In fact, while a few private universities may have hired digital media marketing agencies for their selective programme campaigns, the majority rely on their staff and students for this purpose.
The few exceptions include IBA which developed a social media hub in 2009 by establishing a presence on social platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. This was followed in 2012 by the introduction of a social media strategy based on four key design principles – listen, engage, interact and inform. The strategy is aimed at increasing IBA’s visibility on social platforms, thereby attracting talented students and faculty. Secondary goals include improving internal communications and using social media in the classroom. However, in terms of marketing, IBA still has yet to develop a streamlined approach and develop a stronger, more focused presence on new media.
LUMS has established a separate social media team to look after content development and monitor various social media platforms. According to Shehzad Zia, a senior marketing officer in the department, “LUMS plans to initiate a blogger outreach programme and build an active brand ambassador network. We ensure entries on various video platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Vimeo and YouTube through which we promote our alumni achievements.”
KSBL seems to have established a social media presence from the start by launching a Facebook page as early as 2008 (the School only started functioning 15 months ago). Ever since, KSBL has managed the page with regular postings and real time responses to public queries and messages, although most of the posts and updates are primarily announcements related to seminars and lecture arranged by the School. KSBL also has a Vimeo presence and uploads videos about student and faculty activities.
According to Sibtain Naqvi, Head of Media and External Relations at Habib University, “Social media is an increasingly critical tool to reach out to the younger audience and we are mindful to address our target audiences in a way they are comfortable with and through a medium they are used to.”
1 . (2011). Online Social Networking and Education Survey. National School Boards Association.
2 . Reuben, Rachel. (2012). The Use of Social Media in Higher Education for Marketing and Communications: A Guide for Professionals in Higher Education.
3 . (2012). Social Media in Higher Education; Data Analysis of Relevant Studies. University of MassachusettsDartmouth Centre for Marketing Research.
4 . (2011). Social Media in Higher Education; Data Analysis of Relevant Studies. National School Board Association, USA.
5 . Evans, Peter. (2013). Pakistan – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts.
6 . (2013). Pakistan Market Trends 2013: Online, Mobile, Social – Things are About to Take off.
7 . (2012). Social Media Strategy for Higher Education.
Dr Erum Hafeez Aslam is Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, IBA Karachi. email@example.com