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Why Facebook is rubbish at student recruitment


Why Facebook is rubbish at student recruitment


Marshall McLuhan said that when new communicative technologies first hit the market, the initial hype always out runs capability and expectation. Malcolm King, educational marketing expert, reckons he’s right, especially when it comes to Facebook.

I had just updated my Linkedin site and was putting the finishing touches to a short YouTube video when I checked my Facebook site for the 10th time that day to see what my friends were doing.

An acquaintance had posted of a picture of their blue heeler dog, dressed in Scottish tartan with its two paws cocked up and sitting on its hind-quarters. The caption read ‘Scotty thinks he’s a kangaroo.” And that was the most interesting post of the past 24 hours.

This is a short story about Facebook. It’s excellent for keeping in touch with people like Scotty and his owner but is absolute ‘rubbish’ at recruiting prospective TAFE and university students.

For the past 20 years I have worked in politics, marketing and as a lecturer in communications and professional writing. The last four years I have worked in-house for a number of universities and smaller RTOs, helping them to promote their programs, staff and students.

Why do people make such outrageous claims for Facebook marketing?

The Canadian media and communications guru Marshall McLuhan said that when new communicative technologies first hit the market, the initial hype always out runs capability and expectation.

Another reason some social media spruikers make whacko claims for Facebook is that they have a financial investment in spinning a particular line. As Stendal said, “The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his are the same.”

I understand that Facebook is just one part of the marketing mix, but it doesn’t work. And here’s why.

While we value horizontal or peer-to-peer communication, we only hold in esteem those people who are opinion leaders in a specialist field. Facebook is a mélange of interconnected ‘relationships’ (is it really a relationship?) not by academic interests or fields of endeavour.

For that kind of information, you need to go to Google and type in the type of stuff you’re interested in, e.g, degree physics/rockets/space/Adelaide or diploma alternative health/physiology/Melbourne.

You might even find a university Facebook site and join but ultimately, the core and most vital information will come from the website or dare I say it, going into a TAFE or university and asking questions in person.

Peer-to-peer recommendations only work if you have a long, sustained and tested relationship. By tested relationship, I mean where an individual has previously provided sound and accurate information that has benefited you. This is not what Facebook does.

For example you might note that a friend who is a medical student has tagged Adelaide University on his Facebook page. Ask yourself this. Is his Facebook page or indeed, anything he says on his Facebook page going to swing you around to (a) study medicine and (b) study medicine at Adelaide University (c) study anything?

Pursuing higher education is one of the biggest decisions that most people make-second only to buying a house. HECS fees run between $16,000-$100,000 depending on the qualification.

To assume that a people will choose to spend thousands of dollars and several years of their lives at an institution because they read a Facebook page or tweet about a university is optimistic, to say the least.

If you’re a social media marketer and you’ve read this far, you’re probably spluttering with rage and can cite numerous success stories where Facebook has led students to enroll.

I know that there are numerous examples where internal Facebook communications has led to possibly a happier (or less anxious) student body – but when it comes to providing the data on Facebook prospective student leads – it’s just not there.

I have a few minor but important issues with Facebook. Two years ago, Facebook was the hippest thing around. But then reality dawned. Your public profile could be misused and Facebook would do little about it. Stories spread of employers or prospective employers ‘spying’ on workers or candidates.

Then Facebook limited ‘wall’ updates to those you interact with most, carving out the flotsam of posts but also removing the marketing tool that most attracted itself to businesses – the ability to continually communicate with their prospective (self selected) customers. So profiles became little more than a place to direct people to visit, little better than your website and most likely not half as good.

With it also came hefty increases in advertising rates – often up quadruple in the space of a year or so – the real motivation behind the business changes Facebook made.

People ramped up their privacy positions, not only generally but also to those within their so-called circle of friends, the lists of which got increasingly culled.

In the last 6 months the U.S has posted a loss of around 6 million users and Canada a loss of 1.5 million. This is the first time these countries have posted losses. Britain, Norway and Russia have all posted losses of at least 100,000 each.

I am not suggesting that we’re seeing the birth of an anti-social media revolution with 22 year olds wandering out of their bedrooms and going to the beach.

There are still about 500 million Facebook users worldwide and Google has just launched its version of ‘Facebook’. But its time we reassessed the utility and outcomes of some social media claims.


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