The Web 2.0 workshop I co-chaired for the European Association for International Education included 27 individuals from organizations across 14 countries. Their roles ranged from advancement to public relations, but emphasized student recruitment. Sweden and the Netherlands were the most prominently represented, with one-third of the participants between them.
Participants absorbed a number of case studies, showing how various institutions have used Web 2.0 tools to engage wide-ranging audiences (with equally wide-ranging degrees of success – a couple of them being outright failures). Along the way, we discussed the trials and tribulations of relying on user-generated content, trying to obtain institutional support, and receiving uncertain returns on investment.
A few key ideas cropped up, and I share them here for consideration or comment.
Despite the talk about "user-generated content," many of the cases and examples discussed involved universities talking about themselves on user-dominated platforms. There's a difference between a university's communication officer using Facebook to share information about the institution, and alumni or students using Facebook to share their opinions about the place.
Some questions arise:
- Will university managers eventually adapt to the collaborative, networked aspects of the Internet?
- Will they eventually stop relying on one-way content, using social platforms to broadcast magazine articles and press releases?
The research side of the academy relies heavily on network effects to share and publish information. Scholarly journal citations are proxies for connections in a network – they connect authors whose work depends on mutual relevance. Furthermore, they publish publicly and as widely as possible so as to benefit everyone. But many of the international student recruiters at EAIE are publishing information primarily (or solely) to benefit their own institution.
When will institutional leaders fully support and invest in distributed communication (like the content on social platforms), instead of assuming it's something "young people do"? Probably not until the people currently in lower- and mid-level management positions rise to the top ranks of institutional leadership themselves. They're the ones who best recognize, through first-hand experience, the outcomes that widespread use of social technologies is generating.
A final thought occurred to me as the group dispersed and our workshop discussion faded from the hall.
Which of these two alternate futures is more likely?:
Scenario 1: At some point soon, mere marketing will cease to attract any attention at all. Ads that rely entirely on manufactured images and broadcast "stories" will be invisible to an audience increasingly accustomed to so-called authentic voices and content. This will make the recruiter's or fundraiser's job one of brokering true stories that reflect users' experiences, instead of manufacturing fantasies designed to appeal to people's desires.
Scenario 2: Marketers become so adept at manipulating content that users will be left wondering what is authentic and what is hype, which stories, profiles or brands are the real thing, and which ones are made up to fill a niche created by the demand for the services or programs they are in the business of providing.
Are you facing these dilemmas already?
How are you approaching them?
Are you succeeding?
How do you know?
Leave a comment...
Photo of EAIE reception in Nantes, France by Andy Shaindlin