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Digital Natives: Higher Education's Multicultural Marketing Challenge

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OK, here is something the world needs.

Authentic, committed, serious, spirited, informed, good-humored, action-backed, energetic and collaborative conversations and team-building around "Social Media and Higher Education."

Oh, sure there are LinkedIn and Facebook groups that kind of look like they could be having these conversations, but mostly they amount to a thinly veiled "Guy Selling Something And Not Really Asking Questions Or Listening" kind of thing. Higher ed is not even really very present in those groups, to tell you the truth.

So why is higher education so seemingly uninspired by social media, whereas, for instance, the entrepreneurial and business worlds are all over it?

This is exactly the conversation I had very early this morning with Adam Karwoski, CEO of Social Brand U out of the Atlanta area. Adam has primarily been a B2B guy until he realized the tremendous service he could provide for the higher ed sector, which generally has been woefully behind the curve in the social media revolution. Adam set out to make a difference.

Ever-so-reasonably (by the way, I am not in business with Adam, and don't even know the guy outside a 30-40 minute conversation we had this morning), he planned a sure-fire win-win strategy for institutions of higher education. "I create, with you, a social media marketing plan, and hire YOUR students to run it and serve as evangelists for your school, and you reap tremendous benefits from the enhanced visibility and increase in enrolment." Close to a no-brainer for any college or university not already on the social media bandwagon.

Except, Adam tells me, higher ed is not biting.

What the hey?

Adam had read one of my blog pieces in The Huffington Post related to "Social Media and Higher Education" and called me for a consultation. We traded notes, traded war stories. We commiserated. We were coming from two different directions, he being Consulting Guy, and me, President Guy. But our experiences were similar.

Which is surprising. In case higher ed has not taken note, the Digital Natives are taking the planet earth by storm. Egypt runs on smart phones. Maybe two billion people are on social media of some description. Enrollment officers in American universities should be completely, and totally, and wildly enthusiastically, and irreversibly, and energetically all over social media.

And they're not. I can't even get a conversation going on LinkedIn or Facebook.

What the hey?

Business people make or lose fortunes, reputations and future opportunities by the quality of their marketing decisions and business strategies. People in the academy, the public sector, and the not-for-profit sector, do not. They make their salary if the school or company does well, and they also make their salary if the school or company does not do so well. That has to be a part of it, wouldn't you think? Not enough motivation to take on the herculean task of creating a social media presence for an institution of higher ed? That is where the Adams come in.

If those Deans of Admissions or Deans of Enrollment who are ignoring Adam were offered, say, a 10 percent finder's fee or commission from the tuition of each new student they attracted through social media, do you think they would sign up for a high-powered social media initiative engineered by an experienced professional, using their own current students' testimonials? Do you think they might find that "discretionary fund" that they forget about when they tell Adam "Yeah, we don't have that in our budget..."

I don't know. I'm thinking "Yeah."

Some worlds are slow to change, or resist change altogether. I am a psychologist. I get that. Fear, lethargy, inertia, comfort, suspicion, skepticism, lack of interest, lack of life force. And on and on. It's the bread and butter of the psychotherapy business.

But here's the thing.

Social media is coming -- the biggest, fastest communication train in the history of the world, and it is coming right down Main Street in higher education, whether the academy is hiding out in the stacks or not. The only question is not whether the members of that industry are coming along, but whether they are coming along willingly, or coming along kicking and screaming.

It is a multicultural moment in the history of higher education, and while there are those that are embracing this tectonic shift, much of higher ed cannot see it yet. This is not a "developmental psychology" issue, where once these crazy kids grow up they will see things the way WE see it, by golly. No, social media is an entirely new cultural phenomenon, a true paradigm shift. Increasingly, Southwestern College prospects visit the school already knowing me, my videos, my blogs, my Facebook posts, and my dog Barney, though we have never met.

It's a great historical tidal wave of Digital Natives that is coming -- indeed, they have already hit the beach, and they are looking into going to college and graduate school. They know what they want, and, a half-billon or so strong, they want Social Media, and by God, they are going to have it.

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