A few years ago, career services professionals at colleges and universities in the U.S. didn’t have much use for social media. But all that has changed. The Career Advisory Board, established by DeVry University, and the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) have released a new national survey, “Career Services Use of Social Media Technologies,” about college career centers sentiment toward and usage of social media. According to the research, more than 63 percent of college career advisors responding report their offices as enthusiastic about using social media in the recruiting process and more than 65 percent claim they are personally enthusiastic about it.
College career centers have witnessed impressive growth in the adoption of social media technologies over the last three years. For instance, 92 percent of respondents report using Facebook, 89 percent use LinkedIn, 72 percent use Twitter and 45 percent use YouTube. Clearly social media has proliferated in the consciousness of career services professionals across all types of colleges and all geographies.
One way communication
However, college career centers have been slower to adopt these technologies as truly social channels. Rather, most career services professionals still leverage them in a similar fashion to email: one-way communication devices to share career center-related information with constituents including students, alumni and employers. Only about 25 percent of respondents use social media to engage in back-and-forth advisement sessions with students and only 20 percent of respondents engage with students daily on social networks. Perhaps most surprisingly, only 11 percent spend time each day leveraging social media to communicate with employers.
Considering the potential of social media to help college career centers do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, there is room for improvement in how advisors currently apply these technologies. The Career Advisory Board believes that this evolution has been hindered by two primary factors: a lack of understanding about how to use social media to build relationships and concerns about privacy. Our recommendations focus on addressing these obstacles.
Using social networks to build deep, one-on-one relationships
Only 25 percent of survey respondents indicate that they have received university-sponsored training on social media. The fact that college career advisors have been left to figure out social media on their own may explain why many are employing it as next-generation email. As stated earlier, advisors often post a message or notice on a social network and that will be the end of the exchange. There is little or no interaction and little or no tracking of conversational activity.
Advisors may set up groups and neglect them as static entities, thinking that “if we build it, people will come.” We know that this is not the case on social media. Students and other constituents will join and regularly visit a center’s group or page because it continually provides value to them and a chance to engage productively with people they know.
College career centers can better reach constituents on social media first by selecting a network on which to focus their attention. Informational interviews with students and employers, for instance, will point them in a specific direction. On the networks themselves, counselors should research related groups or pages that constituents may already be visiting frequently and start sharing relevant content there – before they set up their own properties.
Instead of “friend blasting,” career services professionals should connect selectively – sending unique and highly personalized invitations to each individual based on compatibility. The purpose is not to collect contacts, but rather to view, comment and converse on postings so that advisors can develop relationships that will eventually move offline. A student is much more likely to attend an event or seek in-person advice from an advisor he or she has already learned to like and trust through social media.
This is an equally important strategy for enhancing employer and recruiter networks. Tens of thousands of employers and recruiters tweet out information about job opportunities on a daily basis. If a college career advisor follows several of interest and comments on their posts, employers and recruiters will gradually begin to know them and what their students have to offer. Reaping the full benefits of social media requires some effort and forethought on the advisor’s part, but once that investment is made and sustained over time, the opportunities and efficiencies are endless.
Mitigating privacy issues
Of course, all this advice is moot if college career services professionals are afraid to use social media because of privacy concerns, and indeed many of the survey respondents do not employ social media in job counseling or other identity-sensitive activities because of the lack of adequate privacy controls. Almost 40 percent of career services professionals with more than 15 years of experience believe that privacy issues present a serious barrier to the effective use of social media. Younger respondents are not quite as fearful, but a significant 26 percent of them still rate privacy as a problematic issue.
These concerns are not totally unfounded. At its core, social media encourages a looser rein over personal interactions and information. However, there are concrete steps career services professionals can take to control their privacy and the privacy of their contacts, including the following:
Read all policies carefully: You don’t enter a credit card on a website without vetting the site thoroughly, and career services professionals should do the same due diligence with social networks. Advisors must also be vigilant about who they accept as connections, understanding that some profiles are faked in order to steal information. Finally, they should search any external applications to ensure they are legitimate before installing them on social media profiles.
Set privacy controls manually: Some social networks assume you will share everything with everyone unless you direct them otherwise. Career services professionals should cautiously review all of the applications and site features that are authorized to access their data. Profile passwords should be difficult to guess and should be changed approximately once a month to halt hacking attempts.
Use a separate email address and account for work activity: It is easier to draw the line between personal and professional when career services professionals maintain social media accounts specifically for school-related engagement.
Don’t let social networks “find people you know:” Once social networks have permission to tap into address books, career services professionals will lose control over how and when their friends, associates and students will be contacted.
Be conscious of logging in and out: Career services professionals should always type the address of their preferred social network into the browser directly to avoid accidentally logging into a fake site. And finally, after a session is finished, career services professionals should log out to prevent device thieves or nosy visitors from accessing their data.
Sophisticated social media adoption in the college career services population is not yet where it needs to be, but it is within reach. We hope these recommendations will help college career services employees achieve a level of comfort and proficiency with social media that will enable them to make these technologies a true partner in doing their jobs better every day.
Alexandra Levit is a business and workplace author, speaker, consultant and a member of the Career Advisory Board.