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Universities weigh in on new LinkedIn ‘University Pages’

A new LinkedIn tool may help higher education institutions more effectively share achievements, attract students and promote their brand – but it has yet to pass the test with Canadian universities.

BY SHARON ASCHAIEK | JAN 08 2014

LinkedIn University Pages enable prospective postsecondary students to explore universities worldwide in a one-stop shopping approach. Followers can stay current about an institution’s news and activities, ask questions about programs, see the career outcomes of alumni, and view profiles of notable graduates.

Universities, meanwhile, can use the free pages to post text, images and video that highlight their academic and social qualities to help them build a community. Unlike LinkedIn’s company pages, which promote organizations as employers, University Pages are designed for institutions to share news, engage with prospective students, provide resources to students and alumni, and even create targeted communications to graduates by their location, industry, company and organizational seniority.

For LinkedIn, this quasi matchmaking service for the purveyors and users of higher education was an obvious marketing tool. The professional networking site’s 259 million members include more than 30 million recent graduates and students, who make up its fastest-growing demographic; so the demand for an easy way to research and compare universities is there, and growing. The site’s 23,000 universities, meanwhile, gain a huge audience because everyone who is registered with LinkedIn and who lists the universities they’ve attended in their profile is automatically added as a follower of that school. So it is a centralized place to inform and connect with prospects.

LinkedIn expects the new service to lead to more members – recently it reduced the minimum participation age to 14 – and more user activity. Since the pages’ August 19 launch with 200 active universities, about 200 more universities have been adding University Pages each week. There are now approximately 1,500 pages for universities in more than 60 countries.

“It made sense to build an ecosystem around education,” said John Hill, LinkedIn’s higher education evangelist (his actual job title). “The pages allow universities to interact with any of the people they want to engage with— potential students, their parents, alumni, faculty, staff and companies.”

One institution that has actively embraced its page is the University of British Columbia, which sees it as a core component of its overall marketing and communications activities.

“For us, it’s a fundamental piece of our social media strategy, because people expect brands to be on LinkedIn,” says Juliana Fridman, director of interactive marketing in the department of development and alumni engagement at UBC. “People attend universities to better themselves, and LinkedIn has a close relationship to your professional life, so it’s important for us to do a good job on this page.”

Determining how to do that requires many decisions about what to post and how often, how to respond to comments and how to differentiate the channel from UBC’s company page and alumni group on LinkedIn, as well as from its profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Some of those decisions were made easier by UBC’s inclusion in the pages’ test phase, which allowed Ms. Fridman access to a private LinkedIn group to ask questions and provide feedback. That early involvement let UBC hit the ground running at launch time with an up-to-date page.

Currently, Ms. Fridman is experimenting with a mix of posts about university news, research breakthroughs, fundraising successes, and campus events to see which ones resonate most. For example, she created a targeted update about a UBC alumni event in Shanghai, China that was visible to only its 1,500 graduates in the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, she and her communications peers in the Prospective Students and Student Services departments are creating formal protocols to govern the nature of content, editorial tone, frequency of posts, and interacting with followers.

The transition to LinkedIn University Pages was not as seamless for Concordia University, which was not among the institutions included in the test phase. Lucy Niro, Concordia’s director of web communications, got notified after the fact by LinkedIn that an empty page in its name was available.

“It took us two to three weeks to populate our page. For anyone who saw it when it was empty, the implication was that we couldn’t get our act together,” Ms. Niro says. “I thought it was not best way to get buy-in from the university community.” She was directed by LinkedIn to its resources for page administrators, which include an overview document, tutorial, video tour, and frequently asked questions.

After a few months of posting two to three times a week about inspiring university news, research and graduates, Ms. Niro has mixed feelings about the page. She appreciates the audience of about 107,000 followers, compared to some 11,000 who opted in on its LinkedIn company page. And, she says, the ability for prospects to view the professional fields and places of employment of Concordia graduates is very useful. But she doubts young teens will flock to the site in significant numbers and even if that happens, it’s currently impossible to easily identify those followers.

It’s a criticism echoed by Ms. Fridman at UBC and Mark Farmer, digital strategist in communications and public affairs at York University. Since most of the comments and likes on York’s page are by alumni, not pre-university students, York still relies on Facebook to interact with prospects. “We are looking for more robust analytics on what’s happening behind the scenes,” says Mr. Farmer.

For now he monitors the success of posts himself. The most popular so far was a video of a student learning he had won a year’s free tuition through a York contest, generating 47 likes and four comments. “It would be helpful if LinkedIn did some more promotion to the high school student demographic,” he says. “As word gets out, I think we will see more engagement.”

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