2016 marks the start of something new in the college planning space. Game Theory College Planners will provide our students and families with specialized social media training as an integral part of their college planning. Why now? Incorporating social media into our college planning process could not come at a better time. Kaplan just released the results of their latest survey: 40% of colleges admissions officers surveyed stated that they view an applicant’s social media.

The problem is that the current state of college planning and social media gets summed up in one sentence: Don’t do anything stupid! After surveying numerous students and parents, I have confirmed that this is a message that the high schools are also sharing with their students. Unfortunately, this advice simply creates a culture of avoidance. When colleges can’t find you on social media, it can be a red flag. I think it’s clear that social media is something that is here to stay.

I think it’s clear that social media is something that is here to stay.

I will be in Las Vegas this week with an opportunity to present social media training to some of the top college planners in our industry. It is my hope that we will all collectively transform the state of the art of college planning. I simply cannot understand how a college planner can properly help a family unless they have the tools needed to navigate the growing use of social media in the admissions process. I encourage you to either reach out to me or find someone like me that can help you with this.

If you help students with college planning, I have five pieces of advice for you…

1.         Don’t bury your head in the sand. Social media isn’t a trend and the writing is on the wall. Colleges are looking and if you cannot explain what a hashtag is and how it works on Twitter, you are in trouble. Your students are engaging in social media and what they post (or don’t post) can have a tremendous impact on their college admissions.

2.         Know which social media outlets you need to have and use. Not all social media networks are created equally and they all work differently. Each social media platform also caters to a specific audience. Can you name a college that is not on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter? Do you have a presence on these networks? If not, then why?

3.         Find someone to train you on social media. You are an expert on college planning, but chances are that you just do not have the level of training and experience to properly manage your own social media. Your students are tweeting and posting. When students and parents come to you with social media questions, don’t let your blank stare kill your credibility.

...chances are that you just do not have the level of training and experience to properly manage your own social media.

4.         If you are a guidance counselor or high school administrator, you need to build a formal and comprehensive policy on social media. I cannot begin to even count the numerous schools that I come across that simply do not have this. Do you have a LinkedIn presence? Can you post an online recommendation for a student? How do you overcome age restrictions on certain social media outlets? What are the disciplinary guidelines for posting while on or off campus? Where can faculty leverage social media to increase classroom participation and how do they draw the line outside of the classroom? What is the policy on privacy and your students?

5.         Get to know Social Assurity. During my extensive training and reworking of my social media strategy last year, I came across Alan Katzman, Social Assurity’s leader and founder. Do yourself a favor and take a look at what they have built. This organization is the only one that I can find that shows students how to manage and leverage their social media instead of running away from it. Other organizations simply monitor social media or specialize in “damage control.” Alan’s expertise and training platform is now integrated my college planning practice. I simply cannot imagine being an effective college planner without their help. This is not an endorsement, but simply a statement of fact. There is no one else that is doing what they are doing.