It’s been widely reported that Google pulled most of the business and organization profiles off Google+. However, they should be back in the next few months (with analytics), and universities need to be ready this time (compared to most campus’ delayed foray into other popular social media). I have to say, I like the opportunities for higher education recruitment more on Google+ than Facebook because of the circle and hangout concepts.
The College Search Circle
Circles will allow prospective students to follow information from a variety of schools they’re interested in without feeling committed because they joined an online community. For most people, the college search is a deliberate process that takes anywhere from a few months to a few years. In my experience administering university Facebook pages, students don’t like a page until they’ve applied to the school. However, a savvy consumer could create a “college choices” circle and start following all of the campuses they’ve shown interest in. Savvy campuses would provide highlights of campus life, information about the admissions process, testimonials from students and alumni, and engage with prospective students via…..
Campus Preview Hangouts
I love the possibilities for hangouts led by an admissions counselor. Just think – in the university profile they could list regular hangout hours for prospective students. A counselor starts a hangout at the scheduled time, and all prospective students suddenly see “ABC College is hanging out. Ask questions about the admissions process!” or “ABC College is hanging out. The Chair of the Engineering Department is with us today!” Hangouts can be your virtual college fair table. If hangouts remain limited to 10 people, they not only allow for small group interaction, but may promote the concept of scarcity. Can you imagine students refreshing ABC University’s Google+ profile near the scheduled time so they can be one of the first to join a hangout? That’s what I call an intentional college search.
Hangouts to Increase Student Engagement
When I was administering the University Housing Facebook page at UW-Milwaukee, I realized that students were clamoring to meet one another before school started. Hangouts can facilitate this! Have a student employee (mentor, orientation leader), lead scheduled New Student Hangouts and invite students to meet one another. Since the construct of “stranger” has diminished (they”ll be meeting each other on campus soon), I predict that the behavior I witnessed on Facebook would manifest itself into video chat in hangouts. Students who have created relationships prior to campus will then, hopefully, sustain those relationships in a positive manner when they arrive, and they may manifest into higher levels of student engagement.
Prospective vs Current Students
My cursory brainstorm of Google+ uses for higher education seems to make it clear that campuses should establish a presence for prospective/new students (headed by the admissions office, first year center, etc) and also establish a separate presence for current students (headed by student life, university relations, etc). This recommendation is based on the assumption that it’s more likely for students to find the university presence (and add them to their circles) than vice versa (the university adding students to prospective vs current student circles). Remaining relevant on a social media platform depends on providing relevant information and opportunities for community building. Admissions hangouts and application information would push a current student away, but information about campus events, tuition deadlines and involvement opportunities might encourage them to stay connected.
What Do You Do Now?
If you work in one of the afore-mentioned areas, make sure you start using Google+ personally to become acclimated with how it works (yes, that means video chatting in a hangout). Start talking with decision makers about the possibility of being on the service. When business/organization accounts become available, you can distinguish your campus from others by being one of the first to utilize Google+ effectively. This is scheduled to happen during or shortly after Q3 2011, which coincidentally, is the beginning of college recruiting season. Just a thought.
Do you see other implications of Google+ for colleges and universities? Feel free to share in the comments. Also, connect with me on Google+! I’m always looking to expand my higher education circle.