Flying Blind, Web 2.0-Style

Colleges are beginning to pay attention to social media:

As prospective students, current students, and alumni increasingly make Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube their portals to the world, many colleges that once balked at engaging their populations in the social media realm are now seeking to leverage these sites to attract applicants and boost fundraising efforts. “Put the words ‘social,’ ‘Facebook,’ or ‘Web 2.0’ in the title of any higher education conference session and you are guaranteed a standing room only crowd,” wrote Jennifer Copeland, general manager of the enrollment marketing firm DemandEngine, in a recent report.

But even as more and more colleges create profiles, fan pages, and Twitter feeds, the question of how best to take advantage of these adolescent technologies — and how influential they actually are in terms of recruiting students and prompting donations — remains largely unanswered.

I’d say there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical here, especially given the tendency to automatically assume that whatever the Kids Are Up To These Days can be useful or profitable in a marketing sense. But take the recruitment angle, for example. There is an entire industry already set up to match students with the colleges that are best for them. What are the odds that, in a given instance, a Facebook app would succeed where that industry failed? It just doesn’t seem likely.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.