The Social Networkers

The Social Networkers

Before the internet bubble burst in 2000, many business schools rushed to introduce e-business courses into their programmes. A decade on, the emphasis has shifted. With sites like LinkedIn attracting a new user every second, what students now want to learn, and what schools such as Harvard, HEC Paris and the London Business School are keen to teach, is how to monetise social media and meet a demand for media-savvy employees.

But isn’t there the risk of producing a class of e-monkeys with iPads? Andrew Stephen, assistant professor of marketing at INSEAD, believes not, focusing his course on the psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics for gauging how effective campaigns are. “The course teaches principles of integrating social media with traditional media and other marketing and business strategies,” he says, “so that students see how all the pieces of this complex puzzle fit together.” With a media landscape in constant flux, he encourages students to adapt given tools and ways of thinking that will be valuable in the future.

However, with a few exceptions, business schools have been slow to embrace social media, particularly in the way they market themselves. While most institutions will have a presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, their use of them still appears haphazard. Search YouTube for Columbia Business School, for example, and you’ll quickly find material ranging from student interviews to presentations from guest speakers. But users are more attracted to the offbeat: the official videos from the admissions office attract just a few hundred page views, while Every Breath You Take, a parody by Columbia students about the dean wanting Ben Bernanke’s job, has been viewed 1.8 million times.

Student attraction campaigns with the level of imagination and enterprise found in the wider business world are rare When Dutch school Nyenrode launched a Facebook campaign under the name of the 13th-century knight who built the castle the school uses as its campus, many eyebrows were raised. “The idea,” explains programme director Désirée van Gorp, “is to link the entrepreneurial focus of Nyenrode and the MBA with the founder of the Nyenrode estate, himself a successful entrepreneur in the 1300s.”

And for a generation more comfortable with messaging in 140 characters than producing a 400-word essay, the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business recently offered a full-tuition award to the applicant who most creatively answered an admissions essay question in tweet form.

Though many see this as a promotional ploy, rather than a serious approach to self- analysis, the school is at least taking a step towards the new rules of engagement with young professionals.

“As a community we need to be reaching out to potential students in much more imaginative ways,” says social media advocate Paul Healy at Belgian school Vlerick Leuven Gent. “The people who will make up the next generations of MBAs don’t just visit the online world, they live there, and if we want to get the brightest and best we need to be communicating with them in the places and in the ways they have come to expect.”

Some schools do seem to be making effective use of social media. The Tuck School in New Hampshire, for example, has invested in a customer relationship management (CRM) system which encompasses students and alumni and which connects them through a social- media platform called Chatter. “If a school has an active careers department they can all too easily end up talking at rather than with people, pumping out information through all available channels such as email, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like,” says Tuck’s career development head, Rebecca Joffrey. “This system helps us to achieve what social media should really be about – creating dialogues which build really effective connections.”

In the post-downturn age, top schools are teaching that the way ahead is through sustainable business, rather than the ‘fast buck’ approaches that led to the financial crisis. In this context, social responsibility and the idea of acting as a good corporate citizen are becoming embedded in MBA programmes. Schools are encouraging their students to use social media to put social responsibility into action with as much energy as they might use for a marketing campaign or a job search. The Desautels faculty of Canada’s McGill University, for example, took students on a field trip to India this year to give them a first-hand view of the country and hands-on CSR experience. Everyone taking part was tasked with using social media to raise funds for the education of girls in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas.

Perhaps it is in altruistic projects such as this that social media may provide its most significant contribution to the development of our next business leaders.

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