Business schools have been strangely slow to participate in some of these new media, despite, or perhaps because of their own efforts to provide a networking base for their own students. At the latest GMAC business schools conference, the information sessions on web 2.0 and social networks prompted sighs and confusion from many of the participants. They expressed concern about losing control of the institutional message in a social forum, or through student blogs over which they have no control.
Not so ESADE Business School in Barcelona, who have incorporated elements of the Facebook format into their new website. “We have observed how many of our students are connected to one another through sites such as Facebook, often long before they even arrive in Barcelona to start the programme”, explains Marketing Director, Nuria Guilera. “It is natural for future applicants to want to connect with them as part of their MBA research, and we wanted to facilitate that process. Blogs by current students such as Morgan Witkin have proved very popular, and provide a valuable sense of life at the school.”
The power of open connection has not been lost on Italy’s leading business school, SDA Bocconi. Francesca Roveda handles the schools international outreach, and is pleased to combine physical presence at MBA Fairs and information sessions with online exchange. “As a school we need to participate and contribute to social networks to which our students want to belong. We can address applicant’s questions about the admissions process, whilst also sharing people’s views about the MBA experience. Milan is a great city to spend a year, and Facebook is a fun way to get everyone’s input on the best ice cream in town, places to visit, or where to go skiing on the weekend.”
Recognising that Generation Y is inundated with marketing messages, business professors see social media as part of a contemporary trend that emphasises authenticity, talking with consumers, not at them. They applaud attempts to open the dialogue with ‘digital natives’, those fully convergent with internet and mobile communications tools. Matty Smith, former Senior Development Fellow at Henley Business School comments, “The convergence of communication and internet technology is driving changes in social behaviour and the ways in which we do business. More business schools are turning to social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Second Life, primarily as a mechanism for marketing through their alumni.”
The faculty at Warwick Business School have also embraced tools such as Apple’s iTunes U, where presentations and lectures can be downloaded to an iPod or iPhone to then be watched anywhere, at any time. Dr Juliane Schwarz, a Research Fellow at the school’s Research Unit for Innovation Knowledge and Organizational Networks (IKON) publishes on iTunes her work on the changing roles of networks and benchmarking their impact – perhaps a case of do as I do, AND as I say.
But does the flexibility of downloading coursework for private study, and connecting with other classmates via the web ultimately detract from building the network of friends that are part of the MBA experience? Students at Nyenrode live on campus in a memorable castle on the outskirts of Amsterdam. For Victoria Bressers the on-campus village makes it easier to develop meaningful, lasting friendships. “The programme itself does the job of connecting students, whether during class time or when working on group assignments. The social networking sites provide a window into their private community space, further enabling classmates to better understand their personal contexts.
Social networking is also proving invaluable for alumni fund-raising and job search. Dave Celone at the Tuck Business School in the US sees LinkedIn, Facebook and other sites as additional tools the Tuck alumni office is using to ensure that alumni have easy access to one another. “While social networking sites are a novelty to many schools, Tuck has, for the past 10 years, had its own proprietary online tool that empowered its alumni to search for jobs, engage easily with other alums, look up reports, do research, and communicate seamlessly with the school.”
As schools scramble to assist alumni in the fallout from Wall Street, Facebook could put another face on the MBA job search.
But a majority of schools continue to watch the social media phenomena from the sidelines, as their students set up their own Facebook groups and post You Tube clips to accompany their MBA experience. Aren’t they missing the boat? Research suggests that 63% of people who spend time online consider reviews and product comparisons from other consumers to be as credible as expert reviews from independent third parties.
If consumer reviews works for online bookstores and travel advisories, what can it do for business schools? And what will it do to a business school that fails to join the social network?
Whilst writing this article, an alumnus of one of the top 10 European business schools contacted me. Per Jansson is from the Class of ’95 and was lamenting the absence of Facebook groups from his alma mater. “I was just searching Facebook for an alum group – but there is nothing. A few of my friends on Facebook are also alum of the school.”
Time for some schools to engage the network.