THE BLOG
09/16/2013 12:29 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013

In Higher Education Social Media Is Your Job

I have altogether too many friends and colleagues in higher education who seem to think that being active in social media is a choice, on par with, say, choosing to watch Breaking Bad, or taking up golf.

A few still try to collect "cute points" for not being active in social media and remaining ignorant about it. "I wouldn't know the difference between a blog and a Tweetle," one told me. He was really pleased with himself.

Others righteously, publicly, and aggressively eschew the cute points and go after the moral high ground points of "Who has TIME for that nonsense?" or "People have forgotten how to have a real relationship..." Blah blah blah.

I'm here to announce that in the world of higher education, we are no longer awarding cute points or righteousness points to naysayers of social media. Those presentations are uninformed, and to be honest, they just annoy the hell out of me.

I remember back when a colleague of mine, in about 1999 or 2000, announced smarmily to the VP, in a Student Affairs meeting of 35 people "You'll have to send me a paper copy -- I don't "do" (and she actually did do the rabbit ears) email." You could tell she felt really special, and incredibly more sophisticated than the rest of us dunderheads. It became a great, if slightly shaming, moment in the history of that division. The VP of Student Affairs (a female half my colleague's age) said "Look, if you think I am sending 34 emails and sending you a copy in the mail, that is not gonna happen. Get somebody to teach you email, and please do it this week." End of discussion.

Higher education, in my experience, has never been an early adopter of technology or social media. I remember back even further, in 1995, I think -- one of our psychology interns at the University of Texas Counseling Center was sitting behind the receptionist and secretarial section of the main office, typing on a computer. I casually asked "What's up?" She said "I am emailing my boyfriend back in Champaign-Urbana." I said "What's email?" And that conversation changed my life. And fast.

I did some research, and then immediately told our ersatz computer-savvy counseling guy about the world wide web, and how useful it could be for therapists. He dismissed it out of hand, telling me the information on it was horrible and you could not trust anything about it. Bad idea, Jim. I said that was not the experience I was having. Blah blah blah. It went nowhere.

About a year and a half later, he came forth, championing the idea that we should all be connected to the world wide web, that it was a most excellent thing. Yeah, whatever, dude.

Nowadays, visiting prospective students almost invariably tell me that they have read our blog, that they are a member of our Facebook group, that they follow us on Pinterest, and so on.

Increasingly, people who work with, and for me, have to understand two things:

1. Uncle Sam does not sign our checks, but he might as well. That is where we are getting our money -- we get ~85 percent of our income from student tuition, much of that from financial aid, so to stay viable and sustainable, we need new students, and...
2. Business, these days, including the business of higher education, is, thankfully, in an era in which connectivity, developing relationships, leading with authenticity, and offering transparency, are the currencies of the realm. We need to build relationships with our prospects. And relationships no longer begin with a handshake -- they begin with a Retweet, a Like, a Share, a Subscribe, a Comment, an interchange in social media.

Recruitment is everybody's job. So consider this: If you are not active on social media, if you are not contributing to the recruitment of the incoming Class of 2014, you are probably not really doing your job, as I (and a growing number of others) see it.

If those seem like strong words, let me just say I think they are a very soft understatement.

At this point, you can no longer be an early adopter -- it is too late for that. But there is always time to get on the ball. You might want to consider doing so.

I mean the following in a helpful way, though it may sound like tough love: If you are dismissive of social media, and unwilling to contribute to the mission of your school by participating in it, that is being noted, and judged. I can guarantee you that.

Remember years back, when the older guy at the office was still making sexually suggestive comments, and still thought they were cute, or funny, but that era was long gone, and he sounded like a jackass, and he just totally didn't get it?

Don't be that guy in the social media conversation.

I get how those are different, but if you work with, or for me, and you are willing to say that the way my institution builds relationships with its constituencies these days is of no interest to you, and you have no intention of participating in those activities, you are saying a mouthful. Think about it.

Just a heads up.

Jim Nolan
President, Southwestern College, Santa Fe
swc.edu