Increased global access and use of the Internet present both challenges and opportunities for all sectors of our modern world. Post-secondary education is one sector that needs to consider how to best utilise the promise of the Internet (and, mitigate the risks) in order to maximise schools’ public profiles, their recruitment campaigns and their ability to understand and respond to the public discourse that can affect the reputation and marketing of their institutions.
A steady stream of recent media stories suggests that many post-secondary education institutions in Canada illustrate this need very clearly. These schools face challenges including declining student enrolments, increasing competition in international student and high-profile faculty recruiting, declining operations budgets, and increasing pressure on their ability to manage their public profile and reputation due to the ease of Internet communication among students, faculty members, alumni, host communities, etc.
In the past, institutions facing such challenges have turned to traditional response tools such as surveys, marketing campaigns, etc. While these may have once been sufficient, especially at “top-tier” resource-rich institutions, recent indications are this may no longer be so. The problems present-day institutions face have a new and added layer of complexity in the form of the Internet; specifically the ease and speed at which people associated with the school and the general public are able to share unfiltered information – both positive and negative. This has meant that an institution’s ability to attract talent or get in front of existing or potential problems/issues has never been more important. There is a real need to identify and use “positive” Internet messaging and to counteract the “negative”. We think that schools can be more effective in addressing many of their challenges by expanding their traditional toolboxes to include tools that enable the collection and analyses of the very same publicly available Internet data that are aggravating or amplifying many of the current struggles.
By taking advantage of the tools and methods that can analyse publicly accessible Internet data related to higher education issues, especially in social media channels, institutions can seize opportunities or sidestep pitfalls more quickly and effectively than ever before. For example, they can identify factors driving prospective students’ application decisions, including foreign students considering study abroad. In terms of an institution’s reputation and communications management, such monitoring and analysis can help institutions understand the nature of online discussions and how best to engage in those discussions, promoting a school’s “brand”, address criticism or keep a strategic communications campaign on track.
We have expanded on some of these points in a brief discussion paper. If you are interested in reading more about our thoughts on the many ways post-secondary institutions can benefit from analysing public Internet data, please contact us and we’ll be happy to share a copy of our paper.