Toronto Star Interview – Social Media

The Toronto Star phoned recently, wanting to discuss how colleges and universities in the province are using social media to interact with prospective students.

You can see the original story in the Toronto Star, Metro News Toronto, and on Mississauga.com.

Campuses reaching out through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter

Louise Brown Education Reporter

“OMG, my college just tweeted me.”

Moments earlier, the student had been complaining over Twitter: “I’m on hold with Humber College and I’ve been waiting too long.” Out of nowhere came a Twitter reply: “This is Humber; how can we help?”

Humber twittermeister Nick Farnell is one of a growing crop of “social network” whiz kids being hired by colleges and universities to connect with undergrads.

So excited was this student to learn that his college uses Twitter, he tweeted about it.

“If you’re 17 or 18, you’ve had email all your life,” said Farnell, “and it actually seems sort of official and formal, so social networks are a good way to communicate on their terms.”

YouTube videos, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds – these are the new recruiting and customer service tools of today’s post-secondary schools.

And no time is more busy on these sites than now, as frantic applicants swap questions on sites like Humber College’s Facebook

“Did anyone get accepted yet into practical nursing?”

“Anyone going into Radio Broadcasting in September?”

“Funeral services anyone?”

The more students gather on-line, the more schools are heading there to meet them.

When giant University of Toronto felt two years ago it wanted to convey a warmer image to prospective students, it created 52 video testimonials from real students and professors for its website and ran 24 of them as “flash ads” on some 70 strategic websites plus its own dedicated YouTube channel.

It seems to have paid off. Nearly 1,000 more applicants cited the U of T as their first choice this year, up 8 per cent from last year and the biggest jump since 2003. U of T officials credit the new videos for helping get a fresh message out to teenagers.

“Young people consume video; videos are their currency,” said Sarah Keogh, the university’s director of marketing. “You don’t just tell them the U of T isn’t impersonal – you show them.”

Even Ivy League universities are turning to video pitches. Yale’s recent campy 16-minute musical That’s Why I Chose Yale, a spoofy tribute to High School Musical, drew fire from some for degrading the school’s elite image. Harvard’s By The Numbers was parodied soon after with On Harvard Time

In a recent survey of social media on Canadian campuses, Vancouver researcher Nicole McLearn found more than 1,400 official Facebook sites, nearly two-thirds of them set up by students in a certain field of study, most often science and arts.

Shakithya “Shakz” Mahendram is in Grade 12 at Mississauga’s Gordon Graydon Memorial Secondary School and is one of more than 250 students who have joined a new Facebook site for prospective students at the U of T’s Mississauga campus.

“Pretty much the entire world lives on Facebook, and this site gives students a way to find answers directly instead of trying to find a phone number or go to an office where the hours are limited,” said Shakz, 18, who has applied to the teaching program.

“I’m always on the computer and I wanted to know everything about the Mississauga campus and there were quite a few videos of students at the U of T.”

York University has hired four “e-ambassadors” to monitor its 4,000-member Facebook site, its 3,000-follower Twitter feed, its Flickr program for photosand Vimeo for sharing videos.

Leave a Comment

Let me know what you think.