What's the Point of Pinning?

Social media’s become a survival tactic for colleges and universities. Every 140-character tweet or uploaded Instagram photo of the campus quad helps make each school seem relevant. The goal is to attract prospective students, retain current students and impress the alumni enough for them to open up their wallets and dole out the dollar bills. Yet, while many of the local colleges have excelled at social media — and we’ve commended them — where do we draw the ‘must-have’ social media line?

After calling out Greater Boston’s colleges for being mute on Pinterest, we received a comment asking, “Why should a higher education institution just automatically jump on board a social media platform because it’s the soup du jour?” The reader, although I disagreed with him at the time, was right. He suggested schools look long and hard at which social media channels they choose to invest in. That’s good feedback, and I’d add that schools make sure they’re using the basics right before tacking on any additional extras.

What’s an “extra?” Well, Pinterest. Yes, you’ve heard it here first, folks. I’m admitting “defeat.” Pinterest isn’t necessary for schools to be ahead of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking at Boston College garden gnomes and comparing Babson beaver tails, but schools need to make sure they’re engaging on other platforms properly before extending their reach.

What can Pinterest help a school do, exactly? Nothing a Facebook wall or some properly hashtagged Instagram photos can’t do. Hard to be “ahead of the trend,” if you don’t know how to benefit from the trend in the first place.

Google+ continues to fall flat with me, as well. Although I may have suggested schools start setting up accounts (again, admitting defeat), the level of engagement still isn’t there. Mike Petroff, the former web and enrollment technology manager at Emerson College, who’s now a digital content strategist for Harvard, admitted:

The engagement, in my experience, is not there yet on Google+. But, as Google puts more effort into sharing, and [creating] recommendations in search results based on +1’s and Circles, schools will have an edge if they start early.

If Google+ is similar to creating a Facebook page, however, why not just stick to Facebook and make sure you’re amplifying and engaging your following there?

During orientation time, I can see schools utilizing foursquare much like Boston University’s Dean of Students Kenn Elmore did. I also find extreme value in student-run blogs, like Berklee Blogs, because who better to connect with prospective students than current students?

Yet, the two focal points of every college and university should be Facebook and Twitter. If you’re going to focus on social media, you might as well focus on the two most popular social media networks in the United States.

In a recent report completed by UMass Dartmouth, they found nearly 100 percent of the schools surveyed were on Facebook. So, with that many schools in one place, colleges better make sure they’ve devised a way to stand out. If the goal of social media is to attract and connect with students, they need to make sure they’re attracting and connecting with students in the right way.

Eighty-four percent of surveyed schools also said they were using Twitter. And what could be easier than Twitter? You’re giving followers all they need in 140-character chunks. If schools focus on meaningful content and engage, they’re likely to see more followers than they would by making a few boards on Pinterest.

The message is this: Social media is important. As some would say, it’s a necessity. Before spreading yourself too thin, however, make sure you’ve got the basics down and build from there. Social media is only as strong as the strategy behind it.