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An Open Letter from Generation Y to College Career Center Professionals: How to Leverage Social Media and Web 2.0 Tools to Reach

An Open Letter from Generation Y to College Career Center Professionals: How to Leverage Social Media and Web 2.0 Tools to Reach Students

Our names are Stuart Schultz and Christopher Schonberger and we started the web 2.0 company Gradspot.com in order to provide resources and tools for soon-to-be and recent graduates transitioning to life after college. In the week following our first NACE Conference in Las Vegas this year, we have spent a lot of time thinking about what we heard from career service professionals regarding social media and web 2.0—and, more specifically, how it fits in with students' expectations of their career center (as well as our own experiences as recent grads in the job market).

We'd like to take this opportunity to synthesize some of the ideas and strategies that resonated with us at NACE and share with you some of the ways that we believe you can truly leverage a social media and web 2.0 strategy to connect effectively with students and help them through their job search. We want to move away from the vague (albeit interesting) discussion of the “power of the Internet” and leave you with actionable advice. But most importantly, we want to show that we believe that the most effective way for you to leverage social media and web 2.0 platforms is to use them to effectively communicate your content with your students, whether that's job postings, on-campus events, helpful articles, or general tips and tricks.

Before we begin, let us be clear about where we’re coming from. We're not, nor have we ever been, college career professionals. However, through NACE and the work we do at Gradspot.com, we've had many opportunities to hear how college career professionals are leveraging social media and web 2.0 tools to aid their students’ job search and career development, as well as where their (and their students’) concerns lie in the use of those tools. And perhaps most importantly, we're Gen-Y'ers who have engaged with students and fellow grads to find out what they want from their career service office (Stuart graduated from Emory University in 2004 and Chris from Harvard in 2006). So, we’re approaching this discussion not from the perspective of “career services best practices,” but instead from the way in which Gen-Y would want to interact with and utilize career centers via social media and web 2.0 tools. Finally, we know that many of you are even already pursuing some of these strategies, and that’s very exciting.

What We Believe Web 2.0/Social Media Really Is

In Michael Welsch's closing address at the 2009 Annual NACE Conference, he called Generation Y the "Me/diated Generation," one that leverages media (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) to communicate with their peers in order to "find significance." We do not need to emphasize the degree to which the Internet has revolutionized communication, nor remind you that this generation has truly grown up on the Internet—we were the first on Facebook and we’re sometimes called the “YouTube Generation.” The explosion of social media and web 2.0 (with its emphasis on user-generated content and community) has enabled its adopters to communicate effortlessly with not only friends and associates, but even with organizations, brands, employers, pets (have you seen Dogster.com?) and, of course, you, college career center professionals.

Because of its vastness, the Internet phenomenon tends to breed dialogue that remains in the abstract, making social media feel like some magical Shangri-la accessible only to those who “get it.” The point we want to make is that all this “stuff”—Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.—is just a tool for reaching students more easily and more effectively. As technologies, they have nothing to do with being “hip” or “in touch.” Better yet, you don’t have to use emoticons or say “OMG” or even create a viral video to be part of it all. You just need to be visible so that you can do your job of helping as many students as possible.

Ultimately, harnessing the tools of social media can be incredibly enabling for career service professionals because Generation Y lives on the Internet (they spend an average of four hours online per day)—never before has it been so easy to reach them without giving away free pizza.

Gen-Y Lives Online…But Where?

According to Quantcast, the top ten sites visited by individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 include social networks Facebook and MySpace, search engines Google and MSN Live, and content portals Yahoo, YouTube, AOL, and Wikipedia. Included in the top 50 are Twitter and blog networks/platforms Wordpress and Blogger (note: even the fiftieth site is extremely well-trafficked). Amazingly, somewhere between 90 - 98% of all college students are on Facebook, and according to Mark Sisson and Chris Wiley's (University of Dayton) NACE 2009 presentation "Facebook Revisited," college students spend an average of one hour per day on it. In addition, they also shared that 15% of the college students they polled use Twitter.

Notice that this list clearly doesn’t include career services websites (or Gradspot.com, for that matter!). I’m sure that’s no surprise. So instead of trying to work against the grain by trying to attract them with your career services website, why not go out to where your students live (e.g., Facebook) and then leverage Facebook to share you content and even push them to your own websites.

Recognize Your Competition…And Learn From It

We're clearly not the only ones to recognize that college students spend so much time on these social media and web 2.0 platforms. Companies and products (Nike, Sony Music, Hollywood studios, video game producers, gossip websites, etc.) have recognized this as well. And in a conversion we had at the NACE conference, author and speaker Lindsey Pollak pointed out that these multi-million and -bilion dollar brands are your competition in vying for college students’ attention - and they're VERY good at attracting that audience.

While marketing budgets play a huge part in their success, the real reason that these organizations are able to attract this audience is because each and every one of them provides stellar content. As the Internet cliché goes, “content is king.” And what you have going for you is that you have the best and most timely content for college students (whether you know it or not): job postings and job leads. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t leverage social media to spread your content in just the same way that major brands and corporations do. The key is to reach students where they are most engaged, and to use these channels of communication to deliver job postings, on-campus events, helpful articles, and any other content that will help with their job search.

How to Get Started

While we were not able to attend the technology summit portion of the NACE schedule, we attended several technology-related breakout sessions (including “Facebook Revisited”) and spoke to career service professionals about their online strategies. Many schools have successfully created a Facebook presence (for example, you can see how the Florida State Career Center uses its Facebook fan page to push out content; you'll need to be logged into Facebook to view this page), while other counselors expressed their misgivings. Here, we now hope to provide a simple roadmap for kicking off a social media campaign for your career office, or perhaps tweaking it to be more effective if you’ve already begun.

Create a Social Media/Web2.0 Guidelines Document

One of the most consistent concerns we've heard from career centers about leveraging social media and web 2.0 tools is that students feel this approach can be invasive (e.g, is it “weird” or “aggressive” for career service professionals to “friend” students on Facebook?). This makes a lot of sense, particularly as students constantly see shock stories of employers using Facebook photos as justification for firing people and weeding out candidates during the hiring process. Thus, many Gen Y’ers see people involved with the job-hunting process not as friends on Facebook but as critics and even threats to their success.

We believe that you can mitigate this suspicion by first creating a set of guidelines distributed to the students. In other words, make it very clear to them that you aren't reviewing their profiles; rather, you’re just using social media to convey helpful information. You might even go as far as to create your own privacy policy, which could be distributed via email. Or at the very least, explain to students how to become friends with you while still keeping their pictures/info/etc private (easily done with friend groups and privacy settings in Facebook and explained in this article).

Create a Presence

If you only pursue one strategy in the social media and web 2.0 realm, it should be to create a Facebook profile and a Facebook fan page (here's a second fan page tutorial). The big brands and organizations are doing it, and we highly suggest that you do as well. That said, this isn’t the Field of Dreams: you can’t build it and expect students to come. Instead, we suggest taking a proactive approach to rallying “fans” for your page. How do you do this? Well, because Facebook does not allow you to invite people to fan a page who you aren’t friends with, you should also make a profile for the career center (it could be a school mascot or a well-known counselor).

The goal of this profile is two-fold: (1) it provides a platform to seek out and friend your students so that you can invite them to your page, and (2) it has an often overlooked legacy effect that can be extremely valuable: a few years down the line when you're trying to figure out where your students are working/living, you'll have immediate access to them, as well as the pertinent information they choose to share publicly. How many relationships with students have you lost that Facebook could have helped you to effortlessly maintain?

The double-edged sword of Web content is that you have to update frequently (or at least somewhat frequently) to compete with all the stuff racing across students’ Facebook news feeds, Twitter accounts, etc. (More to come on this later.) For this reason, it makes sense to create a communal account so that (a) more people can pitch in, and (b) if the employee who's managing it ever leaves your career center, the career center will still maintain the account (and thus the contacts).

Tweet the Job-Hunting Revolution (or Just Bookmark It)

If you want to go the extra mile, consider also creating a Twitter account for your career services office (check out this simple guide to Twitter to get started). Although the study presented at NACE showed only 15% of the student population uses Twitter, that's still 15% that you might not have been communicating with otherwise (plus, whatever the Twitter users pick up they’re probably pushing out to their non-Tweeting friends via other channels). The nice thing about Twitter is that it's an open/public platform and people expect you to "follow" them, so there is less of a stigma about an organization “following” (synonymous to “friending” on Facebook) an individual.

Another interesting tool to consider using is the social bookmarking and tagging tool, Del.icio.us. With this tool, you can aggregate helpful content from around the web (e.g., how to write the perfect resume) and categorize it in a way that makes sense for your school (e.g., by industry, by stage of the career process, etc.). Students can then visit your Del.icio.us page which is publicly accessible and review the articles you found to be helpful. Of course, you can always just add links to helpful articles to your career services website (and that might be preferable), but in the event you don’t have the resources or time to build that functionality out or easily maintain it, Del.icio.us will provide you with all of the tools you need, for free. Check out tutorials for Del.icio.us here and here.

Man the Ship

Some of you may be thinking, "I don't have the time for this." And that very well may be the truth. But do you have any juniors or seniors pursuing a work-study in your career office? Not only will they have the time and probably cost you very little, but they're familiar with these tools and could be the perfect spokesperson for your social media strategy (again, recognize and respect your students privacy by making it clear they won’t be used to gain access to students’ private information).

Start Sharing Content

Once you've put this infrastructure in place, it's time to share content. As we've said, content is king, and communicating these days is all about pushing out great content. “Content” can mean job listings, interesting/helpful third party articles, invites to events, etc.

The way we suggest you do this on Facebook is to create "status updates" from your career center page that detail new job listings, events, on-campus interviews, etc. While we think that it will be easiest to reach your students across these social media and web 2.0 platforms, we still think it’s fine to ultimately use these tools to push your students back to your main websites as well. So, for example, if you’re sharing a job posting, consider just putting the employer and title in the status with a link to the actual posting.

The beauty of status updates (whether they link back to your site or not) is that they'll appear on your fans' (i.e., students') feed on their Facebook homepage. Thus, it's a great way to be highly visible to them when they sign onto Facebook (which, as we know, is something they do a lot). Via Facebook, you can also organize events (which also appear in students’ news feeds and are thus viral) as well as share helpful third-party content in a format more comprehensive than a status update.

As mentioned before, a career center that appears to be doing all of this is FSU’s, whose Facebook page can be found by clicking here.

You can also pursue a similar strategy for Twitter, although you'll be limited to 140 characters per update. Share helpful info and include links on Twitter as well.

(To shorten URLs to conserve precious characters on status updates and Tweets, try using a url shortener such as Bit.ly or Is.gd.)

Finally, consider using Del.icio.us to tag external content and categorize it for your students. There are a TON of websites out there with career information (i.e., QuintCareers.com, WetFeet.com, and of course Gradspot.com) and pertinent news every day (e.g., news reports on the industries that appear to bucking recession trends). Why not identify and share them? It can also go a long way towards showing your students that you’re keeping up with the current job hunting environment and sharing the best info that’s out there with them in a format they're used to. The more relevant you are, the more they’ll engage with you.

Lastly, don't forget YouTube. There are a ton of educational videos about careers.

And remember: all of this is something your senior/junior work-study can help with.

Consider Going Niche

Having a general Facebook page or a general twitter account is certainly the first step, but after speaking with students, we learned that they'd prefer to only see updates (i.e., content) regarding the specific industries that interest them. For example, they might not want to follow a general career services feed, but they would probably track something like “State U. Job Leads – Finance” or @SUjournalismJobs. Of course, you can't necessarily create and manage a new page per industry (or a new Twitter account per industry, for that matter), but you can probably break it down into a few. You might find that you'll get better pickup as a result.

Consider Creating Your Own Content

By no means do we expect you to blog (and we don't think students do either - remember they can turn to a lot of other places for content, and they will). But have you considered taping on-campus seminars and company meetings and posting them to YouTube or another video platform? All it takes is an inexpensive camcorder, some readily and freely available software, and an upload to YouTube. This, at the very least, will enable you to share your meetings with the students who couldn't make them – hence, just another easy way to ensure you’re reaching as many students as possible. (We highly suggest using a free third-party platform and embedding videos through them because they’ll take the responsibility of making sure everything’s working...and do you really need control over these videos by hosting them on your own servers; what are you controlling anyway?)

We were impressed by the original videos and web tutorials presented by the UC-Irvine Career Center in their session, but even if you don’t want to commit that much time to creating videos, you can still “generate” a lot of great content by just turning on a camera at opportune times. As UC-Irvine’s site demonstrates, interviewing alumni or HR representatives who come to campus is another great way to get perspective and tips for the job market that you can then share with students.

Ask Questions

If you have any questions about the concepts and suggestions we’ve discussed above, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Just send us a message via the Gradspot.com Contact Form (or the contact details on our business cards if you happened to have picked one up during NACE) and we’ll set up a time to chat.


We created Gradspot because when we left school, we found that there was a dearth of resources available to help us take the next steps. With that in mind, we were very excited to see the passion and commitment of so many career service professionals at NACE, and we hope that these ideas will help your office to serve students and alumni in this rocky economy (and well beyond).

Chris Schonberger and Stuart Schultz

©2010 Gradspot LLC