Graduate Management News
Q & A

Five Questions About Online Communications for … Michael Stoner

Whether your business school is deeply into social media or has barely gotten started, online communication consultant Michael Stoner offers this reminder: “Having a Facebook page is not, in itself, a social strategy.

“To many people, Facebook equals social media. But many other people—including me—are cautious about using Facebook exclusively, or too widely, because of concerns about too much communication being forced through a single channel.”

Stoner, who spoke at the 2011 GMAC Annual Conference in Boston, is president of mStoner, a marketing and communications firm with a focus on higher education. In a follow-up interview, he talked about the growing importance of the mobile web, more misgivings about Facebook, and his initial impression of Google+.

Photo by Billy Howard






Q: With so many online communication options, what do you think a business school marketer’s top priorities should be?

A: The mobile web is huge. Right now, if you have to choose between really developing social channels and making your website mobile friendly, work on your website first. That’s especially important if your admissions website uses a lot of Flash. Mobile devices can’t read Flash, so you need an alternative.

Developing a social strategy should be your next priority. And since people are already posting updates and content to social sites through their tablets and phones, it should include a mobile component.

Q: After researching several business schools’ social media efforts before your GMAC presentation, you didn’t see a lot of activity. Why do you think that is?

A: One of my hypotheses is that business school marketers may perceive their audiences as businesslike and data-driven—people who make decisions based on factors that don’t communicate well on social channels, which are more about engagement. I’ve also wondered if business school marketers imagine that the people they’re trying to reach are too busy to spend time on social channels for anything other than socializing.

I do agree that Facebook isn’t the place to convey data; your website is better for facts and figures. But when people are considering business school, they’re very concerned about making a good fit—which is the kind of information you can’t convey by data alone. You’ve got to convey nuance, and that’s where social media could fill a role.

Q: So for business school marketers who want to get started with social media, what’s a smart first step?

Just answer the questions all good recruiters ask themselves: Who you trying to recruit? What are their demographics? What do they need to know? And how can you augment your existing marketing channels to reach them more effectively?

Social media is just another communication channel, but because it’s new, people are intimidated. Some of the tactical issues are different, but the strategic issues aren’t hugely so. Just as there are certain questions to answer before doing an email campaign, it’s the same with social media.

Q: You’re openly skeptical about Facebook. Why?

A: While I think Facebook is a valuable tool, a lot of people make hugely overblown claims about it. It’s important to be realistic about what it can and can’t do. For example, it’s not a one-way channel. One of the worst uses for it is to move out your press releases by Twitter and link your Twitter account to Facebook—so that your Facebook feed is just repurposed headlines from Twitter. For graduate schools of business, there are lots of ways Facebook can be really, really useful. But not for pumping out press releases.

And again, social isn’t just about Facebook. There are good possibilities for engagement on LinkedIn, and some institutions use YouTube creatively.

Q: What’s your early impression of Google+?

A: I'll confess that I haven't had a lot of time on it yet, but it looks really promising. One of the major drawbacks of Facebook is that it lumps everyone you know into one big group, and everyone sees everything you share. Google+’s Circles work more like real life: You can share something with a specific group instead of your whole network.

In addition, there are many ways in which Google+ could integrate with other well-established Google services and tools. Colleges and universities already use a lot of these services— especially if they subscribe to Google Apps.

But no matter which tool you use, going social requires a leap of faith. That’s why I recommend setting up some experiments. Then use the data and experience you gain from your experiments to guide your future endeavors.


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