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Tufts University and Social Media Engagement

Interview by Dean Tsouvalas, StudentAdvisor.com, with Daniel Grayson, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Tufts University for eCampus News, September 2012.

At Tufts, what does it mean to be successful with social media in admissions?

Daniel Grayson: Success is all about one word: “Vibe” (yes, capital V). In all our outreach, whether through pubs, the campus visit, our traditional website, or our social media efforts we want our prospective students to garner a sense of our values, attitudes, and personality. We know that the intangible quality of a school’s “vibe” drives our students’ ultimate university selection – so what we put out needs to reflect the vibe of Tufts. Personality matters, and every post or tweet needs to reflect that. Of course, easier said than done – even before you jump into the process of created content and building out media platforms, you have to answer the question, “What is my Vibe?”

What is Tufts’ primary purpose for social media?

DG: Engagement is our primary aim. Bit.ly and our own analytics let us capture with a fair degree of accuracy what the click-through rates are for the news articles we push through social media posts, and it’s not terribly robust (especially on Twitter). Regardless of how active and vocal followers are, they don’t like to click on news links. The most potent benefit is fostering a sense of connection between students and our office. There are times when posting a news article furthers that effort (even if no one clicks), so I do not advocate ditching all news posts, rather, I’d suggest reframing the purpose of those posts around that sense of connection. For our current students and alums, that sense of connection is a form of social capital on which Tufts can build our programs and develop better outreach tools. 

How do you grow your fans and followers? What tips do you have for schools looking to get more fans or followers?

DG: Consistency of presence and broader integration are our main strategies. Integration means that someone should be able to consume our work with the fewest number of clicks possible. Twitter/Facebook/blogs/Tufts.edu should feature each other without being redundant and navigation needs to be easy. Usability is often overlooked, I think, in the rush to jump on the bandwagon. If getting people to your Facebook page means driving them away from all your other content, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Updates need to come regularly, and they need to be consistently relevant or interesting. I once had a political science professor who said that people will only consume information that is either useful or gratifying to them – and I wholeheartedly believe that. To that end, a post with a link to an article featuring a professor profile or a retweet of a press release from your PR office isn’t particularly useful or gratifying, so why would the average person care? Media is about momentum, too. A few articles or Facebook posts in a row that fail to meet the “usefulness and gratification test” mean that your followers stop paying attention to you. A few in a row that catch the eye mean that the next post is more likely to attract attention. Highly engaged followers can become the sort of evangelists who drive more traffic to your work.

Tufts hosts many student blogs on their blogging platform, Jumbo Talk. What is the value of student bloggers and why did Tufts decide to start a student blogging system?

DG: Tufts is aspirational, and we want students to choose us over comparable quality, though better ranked, institutions. For a student to do this, they need to believe that they will be happier at Tufts, that they will be more likely to find friends and that they are more likely to be challenged intellectually with us than with another school. That isn’t about ratios or class sizes or stats; it’s about personality and intellectualism. Our prospective students need to have a deep understanding of the qualitative pieces for us to reach our aspirations, and the blogs are perhaps the best vehicle to develop that. More than any other feature on our website, the blogs are where we get the most positive feedback, and that doesn’t surprise me. More than any other feature, the blogs are where our personality and intellectualism shine. 

Do you have any suggestions for applicants who have social media accounts and are interested in Tufts University?

DG: Use Facebook and Twitter to track down current students and to verify the claims that you hear from the admissions office. If a school says that undergraduate research is easy, then use the internet’s tools to find current students who aren’t tour guides and ask them, “is getting involved in research easy?” There’s tremendous potential for applicants to completely sidestep the admissions offices in their search for an educational home – and while I believe there’s a lot of value to connecting with an admissions office, there are now so many unofficial channels available to today’s applicant that did not exist even 5 years ago. Use them.

Can you share Tufts’s next step for your evolving social media strategy? What’s next?

DG: We are in the process now of hiring six first-year students to be our Admissions Communications Board. These students will produce our web content and keep us honest and current in how we present Tufts. We’ll let them, with shaky hands and imperfect editing, produce our YouTube videos and grade our work on Facebook and Twitter. We did this last year for our publications and I was so consistently impressed with the insight those student brought to how we can make a brochure relevant. They kept us on our toes, and now a new crop will keep us moving forward with web and social media.

 Read Dean's full interview with Daniel Grayson at eCampus News.

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