I am relatively new to social media. Sure, I knew the basics. I had a personal Facebook page and a decent following on LinkedIn, but did I know how social media worked?  Not really. Could I leverage my social footprint and engage my clients? I wasn’t even close. Did I understand the broader implications of social media with my own college planning practice? I did not. The first year of my company’s anniversary was approaching and I didn’t even know what a hash-tag (#) was. I was in trouble. I realized that my clients (students and families preparing for college) had moved on to social media and I didn’t even know where the party was, let alone have an invitation to this party. I was out of the loop.

I wasn’t just forwarding links; I was creating original and meaningful content. I also gave my happy students and families a pathway to share their experiences on my social media outlets.

Now let’s fast-forward 3 months. With some invaluable guidance and teaching from Somedia Solutions here in Atlanta, I had a comprehensive social media strategy. I was using Facebook properly. I finally had an active Twitter account. You can now find my company on Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I became the first and only college planner in Atlanta with a regularly syndicated podcast. I wasn’t just forwarding links; I was creating original and meaningful content. I also gave my happy students and families a pathway to share their experiences on my social media outlets.

I made some waves apparently with some of the other college planners in the area. One group saw the competitive edge social media gave me and they hastily put together their own social media campaign. They too created a blog and announced a podcast, though it’s still in the process of materializing. They also adopted a “more-is-better” strategy by flooding twitter with an inordinate and repetitive amount of tweets. One morning last week, I saw 11 tweets posted before I grabbed my 9AM coffee. They reacted in one extreme: social media overdose. They placed themselves in a position of losing irritated followers. Instead of creating original content, their online posts and in-person interactions amounted to nothing more than a collection of thinly veiled sales pitches. As a result, an upset prospect gave them a recent 2-star review on Yelp and they are now grappling with that issue. It’s unfortunate and unfair because I know this group is better than that. I’ve seen 2-star reviews on Yelp almost destroy companies like this one. If they only leveraged social media with more “share worthy” content and created avenues for their well-served and happy clients to post on their behalf, they might have been better equipped to handle this issue.

It’s unfortunate and unfair because I know this group is better than that. I’ve seen 2-star reviews on Yelp almost destroy companies like this one.

I am telling this cautionary tale as a learning opportunity because I don’t want students to find themselves late and desperate to arrive at the social media discussion the same way this college planning group did. Without a comprehensive social media strategy, these students may find themselves making desperate and ill-advised decisions too. The most common ill-advised reaction is not a social media overdose or “more-is-better” strategy like the one above, but a “less-is-better” social media blackout. That’s the problem with college planners today. The few that advise on social media mostly preach some version of the grandmother test. Kat Cohen from IvyWise advises this very test: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. With this kind of advice we are not helping when high school juniors and seniors just shut down all their social media. What if juniors or seniors found themselves with the equivalent of a 2-star mark against them but in the form of a compromising photo or offending post from the past? How would that affect their college admission chances? What should they be doing right now? Surprisingly, they need to adopt a social media strategy that is not unlike mine: Let's leverage engaging social media to highlight the best parts of you.

Kat Cohen from IvyWise advises this very test: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. With this kind of advice we are not helping when high school juniors and seniors just shut down all their social media.

About 2 months into my new journey into social media, I met Alan Katzman, CEO of Social Assurity. He completely transformed not only my view of social media but he made me realize that these high school juniors and seniors are digital natives that understand the mechanics of social media as a natural extension and second language. We are not supposed to teach them what social media is. They already know. The fact is that most college planners don’t even broach the subject. They don’t know how or they haven’t been taught. Many college planners can't manage their own social media properly and are subsequently ill equipped to handle the social media conversation with a student.

...we preach college planning from an academic, financial and social aspect. So, how can I possibly advise them socially if social media isn’t part of the conversation?

With Alan’s help, I realized that I was missing the point almost completely. I not only had to master social media to reach and engage my clients but I also needed to show my students how to engage the colleges they were hoping to attend. I was doing my job helping students get into college, but I was missing the mark from a social media perspective. I found that there was an untapped strategy in my college planning process. Remember, we preach college planning from an academic, financial and social aspect. So, how can I possibly advise them socially if social media isn't part of the conversation? How do I guide a student that has more technical social media know-how than I do? Again, they were born into the digital age and I was not. Alan showed me that I don’t necessarily have to teach them the mechanics that they already know. Instead I have to teach them the mindset that they are no longer posting on social media to impress their friends.

...I don’t necessarily have to teach them the mechanics that they already know. Instead I have to teach them the mindset that they are no longer posting on social media to impress their friends.

Students are now posting for their future circles of influence including college admissions officers, scholarship steering committees and future employers. I have to show them that social media is the application before the application and the interview before the interview. We need to teach them that there are other people outside of their group of friends that are evaluating and weighing their social media output and making decisions about their future. As we have seen, there are professionals and companies that struggle with social media in the real world. Knowing this, our students need to master social media sooner rather than later.

I have to show them that social media is the application before the application and the interview before the interview.

Stay tuned next week because Social Assurity has figured it out. They have a plan and we’re going to outline the process.

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