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Effective Practices

New Media Come to Business School

Across the world, an increasing number of business school alumni are turning to places like Facebook to do the kind of networking that not long ago might have been conducted over lunch, by snail mail, or on the telephone. A recent visitor to the Facebook page of the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, for example, could access a video about the school, get news updates, and look over the shoulder of students reporting casually on their study abroad experiences. 

The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has started a YouTube channel to post a variety of material. Fuqua also provides content for Apple’s iTune video channel, including recent discussions of the turmoil on Wall Street.

As yet other examples, the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California-Irvine created a Twitter feed to communicate with prospective MBA students as well as a Google Group community for admitted students.
 
A recent study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research found that across academe, 26 percent of schools are using search engines to research potential students, and 21 percent are using social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. As early adopters of new media, business schools may be ahead of that curve. As new media continue to evolve, however, business schools are fast recognizing that they need strategies to make coherent business sense of the tools now available.

Stanford University, for example, consulted with Forrester Research, Inc., which focuses on the business implications of technology change, to assess its audiences and objectives in the context of new media. Forrester’s insights helped the school determine the right questions to ask, reports Ralph Rogers, director of marketing and communications at Stanford Graduate School of Business, as it framed a strategic approach for the school’s engagement with the new media. New media “is another communications mechanism,” Rogers says. “It needs to fit into an overall strategy.”

Among other experiments, Rogers says Stanford has tested different applications of Facebook, including classes that interact on a Facebook page. Stanford’s alumni association has a closed page on Facebook for which members must have a Stanford email address. Last year, new admits to Stanford’s MBA program shared information on a closed Facebook page. Stanford also created a link from its MBA program’s official page to Twitter, where participants can “microblog” brief updates on sessions, schedules, and other items of interest.

Stanford grapples with the inherent fact that the spontaneity of new media doesn’t allow control of messages as directly as did more static media. Rogers reports that while most postings are responsible, “occasionally there are some comments that are not as glowing as we might like them to be.”

Nonetheless, Rogers says, “we think these vehicles provide a more rounded sense of this place, or at least a different sense, than well-edited web copy or a brochure.” New media, he says, provide a good way to address those who want to know, “What does it feel like there?” and “What do the students think?” As Rogers says, “There may be a few pimples, but the picture is more realistic. It’s not a Photoshopped supermodel, but it’s honest, it rings like it’s honest, and people read it like it’s honest.”

Elsewhere in the world of new media, the scope of b-school blogging continues to expand. The University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, for example, recently announced a blog where experts at the school can interact online with practitioners in business, one of the first such platforms in South Africa. And following the success of “Dean Bruner’s Blog”—written by Robert F. Bruner, dean of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia—the school is starting a host of other blogs that will be penned by faculty and administrators in such areas as alumni relations, development, and marketing. Darden also has a weekly news podcast and is developing an Internet TV channel.

Business schools are also finding new uses for video. For its YouTube channel, the Fuqua School of Business produces polished short videos that use animation and other techniques to show how some of the school’s fairly esoteric research applies to everyday life. At the other end of the production spectrum, says Chris Privett, Fuqua’s media relations manager, the school purchased several dozen video cameras that it lends to students so they can document their own version of the Fuqua experience.

Fuqua views these activities in the context of the university’s commitment to “the application of knowledge in service to society,” Privett says. At the same time, he adds, they are also a good way to market the school. Before its recent announcement of a major global expansion, for example, Fuqua made sure that its alumni and student networks on Facebook and MySpace could link to the webcast of the event. Privett finds that people who network in places like Facebook are open to receiving information, even if it has marketing bent. “We’re trying to give people what they want, in the venue” they prefer, he says. “Social networking sites are where people are, so we feel that’s where we need to be.”

As an 18-year veteran of public relations work, Privett believes new media have also turned PR upside down. Whereas once he measured success by appearances in print, for example, he now says, “I’d rather get a really great mention in an influential blog than get a one-line mention in a Reuters wire story.”

Privett finds that almost every meeting he’s in identifies another use for new media. Like his colleague at Stanford, Privett believes planning for the new media is critical. “We’re trying to be careful not to take a shotgun approach. You need a plan to do this right; it’s not just a question of maximum saturation. We’re trying to make sure that everything we do fits into our overall goals, reaches the audiences we know are looking to receive our communication, and make sure we are giving them what they need and what they want. It’s a process that is being fine-tuned all the time.”

Privett describes Fuqua’s foray into new media in this way: “We’ve put the parachute on, and we’ve leapt out of the plane, but we haven’t quite pulled the ripcord yet.” Where business schools will finally land in this realm remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that they have very much taken the first big steps forward.

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