3 Reasons Social Media is Right for Community Colleges

According to research from Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research, Social Media has moved beyond the experimentation stage in higher ed and is now being used at almost 100% of institutions to engage students. While you’ve probably attended webinars, read blog posts, or seen conference presentations on the topic, very little of the content is focused on community colleges.

This is unfortunate, because community colleges are an extremely important part of the higher education system and have unique needs that may be addressed with strategic use of social media. While some community colleges are hesitant to invest time or resources into these new mediums, this article contains the top 3 reasons why social media is right for community colleges.

1. Community College Students Are Active on Social Media

One of the first things we hear from institutions who serve a diverse or non-traditional student population is, “our students are different, and probably don’t use those sites.” While, on the one hand, your student population may be different than a traditional 4-year institution’s student population; the research shows that students of all ages are extremely active on social media sites.

The graph below is just one example showing the adoption of various social networks for users 25 and older. As you can see, the vast majority of social networking users from the world’s most popular sites are in fact over 25.

It’s important to keep in mind that these percentages should be thought of in relative terms. For example, just because 96% of LinkedIn users are over 25, it doesn’t mean that it is the best network to reach a particular audience for student engagement.

Networks such as Facebook have more users than LinkedIn, as well as more time spent on site. But, can meaningful student engagement happen on Facebook? Absolutely. We’ve been working with researchers from the Gates Foundation and found these themes for community college students engaging in our private Facebook communities.

  1. Offers of help, support and encouragement
  2. Major/career dialogue and advice
  3. Organizing people around interests/activities
  4. Connecting around identity or shared interest/experiences
  5. Procedural information-seeking (especially financial aid info)
  6. Academic-based questions and help-seeking (“socio-academic”)
  7. Transactional campus requests (book buying/selling)

We’ve broken down some of these themes into two main buckets for our final two reasons. 

2. Students Need Social Connections and Support

Since many community colleges lack a residential college community, it’s important for students to be able to connect virtually to foster relationships and social connections. While some institutions are currently using tools such as Facebook or Twitter to push out messaging to students, the true nature of social networking is to enable students to connect with each other.

If you look at our list above, numbers 1-4 are all ways students can improve their college experience by connecting with one another. Whether it’s a full-time, part-time, or non-traditional student; having a “go to place” for online community building can create the social support systems necessary for student success.

Here’s one example from an online community around non-traditional students connecting around a shared identity hardship.

social media and non-traditional students

Not only can students get benefits from the social aspects of Social Media, but they can also turn to online communities when they are lost or confused in the college process.

3. Students Need Help Navigating the College Process

When students today have a question, they often go online to find answers. Social Media provides an outlet for students to share what questions they have and to receive help from fellow students and administrators who can offer support online.

According to the Community College Survey for Student Engagement:

Recent high school graduates attending a two-year college often have difficulties in navigating the college system, their issues range from enrolling and registering for appropriate classes, to learning about available student aid.

Social networks and digital channels have the power to connect to students where they are and help them navigate the college process.  Our new Announcements feature, allows community colleges to reach their student body via SMS Text Message, iPhone Notification, Facebook notification, and email – all within one easy to use system.

While this won’t replace face-to-face or over the phone questions, we’ve already seen a great response from students who prefer to receive important information in these mediums. 

How are you engaging students with digital and social media? Share your successes and questions below!