The Art of Engagement

 “The opposite of control is trust. Resist the urge to control.”

A psychologist at Duke University recently offered these words of advice to prospective parents, but these same words can be applied to business too.

The 2012 Edelman Trust barometer shows a significant decline in CEO trust. Employees and a  “person like me” are more trusted as spokespersons for an organization. Social networking, micro-blogging, and content sharing sites saw the highest jump as trusted sources of information.

People no longer accept “corporate speak.” They want to engage with a “real” person – someone who listens and understands their concerns. Instead of disseminating messages with a well-rehearsed voice, companies need to relinquish control and allow their employees to engage in the conversation. The public wants transparency – employees can bridge the gap.

Students, too, are delving beyond the glossy admissions brochures and  “corporate college talk” – one blue booklet begins to look like another. Last year CNN highlighted the use of social media by universities to attract applications and enrollment.

The key to any successful campaign is communicating with the audience wherever they are. High school, students live in the online world. To compete, universities need to be creative and engage with prospective students in the social space.

Postcards with QR codes, linking to websites generate more excitement than yet another heavy envelope with tons of reading – at least they did in my house, if only for the novelty factor.

Facebook pages are the norm for accepted students to initiate conversations, build relationships, and learn more about the institution they may or may not attend. Yes, the pages are password protected, and monitored by current students or members of the admissions team, but the university has little control over the conversation. It has to let go and trust its own students to be its voice – a more transparent and trusted voice.

Over the past week, I have watched universities use social media to engage accepted students. From welcome YouTube videos to mobile apps with maps and schedules, universities are pulling out all the stops to connect with their audience. At Duke, the students were provided with a special hash tag at the start of the visit and told that the best would be read at the closing ceremony – who doesn’t love a competition! Kids uploaded pictures from around campus and professed their love for the school. The university resisted the urge to control the message. Not only were the students engaged, but the university also received wider publicity through all the follower networks – a win-win all round.

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3 thoughts on “The Art of Engagement

  1. Colleges and Universities certainly understand that their audiences will respond on social media. I am not sure that larger corporations really understand the benefit of social media yet. I think many companies, lead by traditionalists still don’t quite grasp that this is good to give customers power.

    For colleges and universities it make perfect sense to engage students in social media. The schools thrive by giving students power.

    How do banks thrive by giving customers power? My point of view has always been that it is free market research. By letting your customers talk about your brand you are getting inside information about what they need or want or think.

    However, I think companies are too afraid of the negative that they can’t benefit from the positives of social media.

  2. Hi Carol,

    This is an insightful post, and inspires me with new ideas about my social media plan~

    I agree that people no longer accept “corporate speak”. Apart from the emotional considerations, I feel more substantial inconvenience as a non-native speaker. Last time when I wanted to open a gas account, I made more than ten calls to National Grid just because I couldn’t understand its automated voice response.

    Your discussion about engagement with students helps me with my social media plan, which happens to be how a university builds its awareness among prospective students. Hashtags and online competitions are great strategies to encourage students’ participation. I also agree employee and alumni can be the bridge between the university and students.

    Thanks for this inspiring article!
    Sandy

    • Sandy,

      Sorry to hear about your experience with the automated voice machines. I have to confess, I find them extremely frustrating and impersonal – and I am a native English speaker. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to engage with a real person on the phone. This is not good for reputation!

      I’m glad my post gave you some new ideas! I enjoyed watching the buzz social media generated amongst the students. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most effective.

      Good Luck,

      Carol

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