I post, therefore I am. As businesses new and old turn to social media to restructure how they market themselves, other types of institutions are making a similar push—our university included.
It’s a strange time to be a college student, in part because the marketing for college never really stops. Ten years ago, administrators would have been scratching their heads had you told them that monthly promotional videos would be a necessary educational expense, that they would need to build and pay to continually expand a group of professionals remotely tweaking student perception of the institution they attend.
Recently, Boston College promoted a video on “resilience,” matching up with a university-wide campaign to reduce student dependence on University Counseling Services. What an incredible move for the university to make: no need to hire new mental health professionals—students just need to a video strengthen their willpower.
Boston College social media is not just a reflection of our experiences as students, and it’s not just about attracting new students or bringing back alumni. It’s powerful retention marketing, and as I near the end of my time as a student, I have a tough time differentiating my experiences from the experiences I have been made to feel.
If you look at education as a service industry, the potential upside of marketing to current students is tremendous. Consider what the acquisition costs are for a single student: from marketing the institution to managing the admissions office, every student who comes to Boston College will have likely cost in the thousands to acquire. If they do not stay for four years, the University does not only lose a hefty chunk of tuition, but also will likely lose a lifetime worth of donations.
To maximize consumer lifetime value, retention marketing for current students should be the number one business goal for a university.
When I think about some of the people I know who left Boston College, pressures from mounting student debt and mental health issues seem to be the common denominator—and I wonder if some of them would have been better served as individuals had they realized Boston College wasn’t the right fit for them sooner.
The greatest shortcoming of social media I’ve noticed throughout this course is the ubiquity of marketing in most every form of it. The more time I spend on sites like Facebook, the more sure I grow of thoughts that are not my own. I am hesitant to call this learning, because in most cases—rather than the inverse—these thoughts found me.
For this reason, I would argue social media necessarily has a tenuous relationship with liberal arts education in that its effects often run counter to natural curiosity and inquiry. It provides us with evidence in support of most any thought we might have, while generally augmenting our deepest biases. It synthesizes thought, without necessarily giving any evidence in support of it.
Promoting a love of Boston College should not be the highest goal of this institution. The cohesion of student thought around an idealized university will not enrich our education or actually improve the institution.
Instead, such messaging serves as a tactic in maximizing our value as consumers.
This class taught me to analyze social media as an instrument of power, to realize that the people who feed us these videos and images want our money. They might, but do not necessarily care about the well-being our our souls.
It also taught me that, with all its flaws, social media can be made to serve a platform for learning. It can help organizers stand up to institutions of power. It does not need to represent the truth, but it can, and it has the ability to surface truths that might have otherwise been discarded.
I post, therefore I am.