The University of Southern Queensland (USQ) is increasingly turning to social media tools and virtual environments to attract students and improve its services.
The university is using the conversational power of social networking tools such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to build relationships with potential and existing students.
It is also using virtual environments, such as Second Life and ExitReality, to create a customer service presence and host interactive information sessions and e-careers fairs between graduating students and potential employers.
The move to social media and virtual environments is the second phase in a wider strategy of better managing relationships with students and prospects, according to Cameron Loudon, manager of digital marketing at USQ.
The first phase, initiated in 2001, saw the rollout of a CRM system from RightNow Technologies to help it better manage phone and e-mail inquiries. The system was updated in 2005 and saw the university move to adopt a contact centre and a new CRM methodology which saw all customer communications managed through the contact centre, and each student or prospect assigned a single student relations officer.
According to Loudon, the adoption of social networking and virtual environments as the next phase of its approach to CRM lay in its ability to form an ongoing conversation with customers.
“In traditional marketing you have a message that interrupts the potential or existing customer -- they are watching TV or reading the newspaper and are interrupted by something that says, ‘hey, look at me’,” he said.
“In social networking, you are involved in a conversation with the customer -- it doesn’t interrupt them and stop what they are doing. USQ is a relationship brand -- we are about having conversations with our customers and prospective customers -- so social media is becoming a key part of our strategy.”
Loudon said USQ had experienced success with Second Life in particular, in which it has created a virtual shopfront, complete with a service bell and staffed by people in its real world contact centre.
“There is a virtual bell you can ring it and it creates an e-mail which is then sent to and logged in [CRM suite] RightNow and can then be addressed,” he said. “That way we can track the effectiveness of that channel and manage inquiries in a standardised way.”
He said that Second Life was influencing the content and form of courses on offer at the university -- such as creating a Second Life component in the university’s Master of Online Education degree.
“You wouldn’t have an entire course run in Second Life, but certain aspects of the learning process -- collaboration, chat, see someone face to face -- is conducive to certain kinds of learning and teaching environments,” Loudon said.
“It calls for new products or components in courses. . . and is an opportunity of us to ask how much of a market it is and is it worth investing in at this point. Unless we had researched it we would never have known it was a possibility.”
While USQ was benefiting from its use of social media and virtual environments for their ability to offer new market intelligence and ideas around new products and services, many organisations were likely to feel challenged by the lack of control available over messaging in social media, Loudon said.
“It is a change in mindset, as you have to go and be part of the conversation,” he said. “Engaging with people who may be saying not very flattering things about you can be very confronting. . . but these conversations are happening anyway, so why not be a part of them?”