Social Networking | Feature

Everything You Need to Know About LinkedIn University Pages

Now that LinkedIn is targeting colleges and universities with its professional social networking service, it's time for schools to sort out what kind of commitment to make and dive in.

This summer, LinkedIn announced University Pages, giving schools the opportunity to create a more structured and consistent presence on the social network. Hundreds of institutions have already jumped on board--with 200 more pages going live each week, according to the site--lured by the chance to reach LinkedIn's fastest-growing demographic: students and recent graduates. As of August 2013, that segment stood at about 30 million strong among LinkedIn's 238 million members worldwide.

Why LinkedIn? As education market researcher ICEF Monitor pointed out recently, schools need to make a bigger push "to link their programming to industry and to prove that their degrees result in post-graduate success." LinkedIn University Pages do just that, displaying information on where alumni work and live, what they studied, and what skills they have.

But like any new campus endeavor, getting the most out of your institution's University Page takes some fine-tuning. Campus Technology has reviewed some four dozen blogs, articles, advisories, videos, and webinars and checked in on dozens of LinkedIn University Pages to bring you this compilation of guidance.

Put a Plan in Place

Don't forget the basics of any tech implementation: finding an executive sponsor, creating a plan, getting stakeholder buy-in, following through on execution, and reporting progress and results.

"Involve the right internal stakeholders to build out a strategy," advised Kevin Grubb, assistant director of student services at Villanova University and a consultant on social networking.

There's no doubt that LinkedIn is a valuable tool for a university's marketing and career services teams, noted Mike Richwalsky, senior director of creative services and e-marketing at John Carroll University. But that doesn't mean there aren't other parts of the university that need to be brought into the planning. Among the areas that may want to weigh in: alumni relations, university communications, admissions, and career services.

"It's all about having a plan," according to ed tech company Hobsons. Schools should consider a number of questions, including: How does a LinkedIn page fit within your overarching communications strategy? Is LinkedIn where your audience is, and if it isn't, how can you attract them? Will it be worth the extra effort? And how will you measure success and communicate wins and losses to stakeholders?

Setting Up Your University Page

A placeholder page for your university probably already exists--waiting for someone to sign up as its official administrator. According to Josh Clemm, a technical lead for LinkedIn, data scientists on the site's "higher education team" have pored over the service's millions of member profiles "to create a standardized list of more than 23,000 institutions worldwide." For example, if an individual user's profile mentions "Sierra College" in the education section, LinkedIn has used that data to calculate how many alumni are members of the site, where the bulk of those alumni work, etc. Those stats are displayed on the University Page with the caveat that the page "isn't quite ready."

In order to request administrator access to an official University Page, be ready with a few items:

  • The URL for your school's official website;
  • The country where it's located;
  • The e-mail address for the person to be designated as the first LinkedIn "administrator";
  • The existing "company" page that may already be associated with your school; and
  • Any other existing University Pages that are part of the same university system.

Once LinkedIn has reviewed the request, it replies by e-mail.

Of course, the site won't accept application requests from just anybody. Make sure you can provide:

  • An EDU mail address that can be confirmed through your LinkedIn account;
  • Proof that you're a current employee of the school and that your position there is listed in the Experience section on your profile; and
  • Confirmation that your school page doesn't already exist.

Administrating the Page

The LinkedIn administrator is the person who can update school information, upload images, and reach out to members of the university. Admins must also have a personal LinkedIn account.

Admins will see an "Edit this page" link at the top of the University Page, which serves as the workspace where he or she can upload a logo, a cover photo, and a gallery of photos and videos to show off the school and designate "notable alumni." (A LinkedIn algorithm can automatically select notable alumni if desired.)

If you have multiple departments within the institution that will be involved in the LinkedIn pages, you may decide to have multiple administrators. Those individuals can request Admin status by selecting "I'm faculty or staff here" in the menu in the upper-right section of the University Page. An e-mail will be sent to existing admins to let them know about the request. They can choose to approve or ignore it just like a standard LinkedIn contact request.

Company Pages vs. University Pages

If your institution already possesses a "company" variety of LinkedIn page, sorry to say it can't be merged with the University Page. LinkedIn has a ready explanation for how to distinguish the two: It says that the University Page "is the destination...for your school to market itself and build a community," whereas, the Company Page "is the place for your school to brand itself as an employer."

You'll be excused for getting these confused. After all, most University Pages we checked listed the universities or colleges themselves among the top one or two places where their alumni work. (You can tell whether you're on a University Page or a Company Page by looking at the URL; the former uses "school" in the URL; the latter uses "company.")

Villanova's Grubb suggested that schools "shift" in the direction of taking that "employer" angle more seriously, by making sure to post institutional jobs and other information related to internal workforce issues on the company site while preserving the University Page for "ongoing announcements and updates." Don't think of this as an instant solution; it's more of a philosophy to help make ongoing decisions and it'll take a while for users to remember what goes where.

Groups vs. University Pages

A group page is where the LinkedIn networking action--discussions, job postings, and news--traditionally has happened. Interested people join the group and participate in its activities.

In contrast, the University Page is a public page-- nobody has to join, which means you have no insight into your institution's "list." As official LinkedIn "Ambassador" Lindsey Pollack, shared in a webinar for career advisers, "Having a LinkedIn group is like having a database of the career paths and current contact information of thousands of your alumni. Many schools are already using their LinkedIn groups as a supplement to their existing databases because people are more likely to update their LinkedIn profiles than to send new contact or employer information to their universities."

To best take advantage of both formats, use the University Page to publicize groups available; use the group pages themselves to allow participants with specific interests to converse with each other.

Also, Linked allows University Page administrators to specify that only certain members of their audience see a specific update on the page. For example, if the university wants to notify alumni from a specific year about an upcoming networking event or notify a graduating class in a specific college about a career fair schedule, that targeted messaging can be handled at the time the update is posted. Administrators can create custom updates filtered by location, industry, company, and seniority.

The Basic Content of the University Page

A LinkedIn University Page includes default information:

  • The aforementioned stats about alumni and what they're up to;
  • Basic descriptive and contact information;
  • People of note who have attended the school;
  • A "featured group" box with information about one of the university-affiliated groups;
  • A "See also" section where the "company page" can be referenced;
  • A "Similar schools" section that attempts to list institutions that are comparable in some way to the one in the University Page;
  • Updates and news, posted by the institution as well as LinkedIn members who have questions or comments; and
  • Images and videos.

In sections where there's no additional information available, the section simply won't show up.

Targeting Alumni

A primary use for the University Page is to woo and stay in touch with alumni. Becky Vardaman, a digital strategist for Converge Consulting, proclaimed it a "wonderful, data-driven way to approach...Alumni Relations activities." The data summaries compiled by LinkedIn provide broad information about where alumni live and work, which can help with "planning for alumni events, messaging, and giving campaigns."

However, caution is also advised, said Kristin Simonetti, a senior editor for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). While the University Page "creates a one-stop alumni shop on LinkedIn," its existence can also be misused or even abused. For example, in the "struggle" to figure out how much communication is too much, will the school's new LinkedIn presence "help or hinder that challenge?" Likewise, if the LinkedIn page has traditionally been focused on career development and networking, what happens when the page has been blown open to be used for all kinds of activities related to the institution? And could you experience "territorial disputes," as multiple offices within the university become feverishly involved in social media activities?

Also, how much control should you impose on alumni activities? While legitimate job postings are surfacing on University Pages, so is spam--posts that look like they could come from alumni but that also appear on practically any other University Page you might look up.

Both MIT and the California Institute of Technology host private LinkedIn groups specifically for alumni. To facilitate that transition from student to graduate to professional, those groups also allow students access before graduation. At MIT, an alum.mit.edu e-mail address allows a person to be automatically added to the group; other potential members are vetted by the Alumni Association. Caltech verifies every candidate's status.

Career Services Kickstart

A second major business case for the use of LinkedIn by institutions is to enhance the career services provided to students and alumni. This can take multiple forms.

Career services staff can request introductions from alumni to their employers, suggested Pollack. For example, if you're trying to identify possible contacts to help in setting up an internship program with a particular organization, hunt down alumni in that organization and ask for introductions to the correct people. When you do that, however, she added, make sure to state the intent and "give an out" so that respondents can decline gracefully.

Career services staff can also help students employ LinkedIn as a professional tool for jumpstarting their careers, said Pollack. Support can include:

  • Reviewing student profiles for typos, relevance, and completeness;
  • Running a photo booth in the career services office to help students create professional headshots;
  • Helping students compile an accurate but relevant set of keywords to include in their profiles; and
  • Training students in how to develop their network of faculty, fellow students, advisers, family members, and contacts in industry.

Some institutions have compiled rich collections of resources for teaching students how to network. For example, Brandeis University provides a page titled, "Overview: Networking 101." Before any student can join the university's LinkedIn group, he or she must read, sign, and return the school's social responsibility and integrity contract," watch an 11-minute online workshop about networking, and answer a brief quiz.

Going Beyond the Basics

Images and videos can make a University Page more appealing, reported Jen Doak, an online communications specialist at CASE, "particularly to younger (and probably not as career-minded) members."

Marketer Janelle Vreeland recommended using those photos and videos to provide examples of student life: "Make sure that you give your potential students a look at life on campus with a glimpse of dorm life, campus events, and any other extra-curricular activities that will help paint a broader picture of what campus life will be like."

Marketing software company HubSpot recommended several ways to "leverage" the University Page: encouraging students to provide testimonials about their experiences with the institution; jumping on questions from potential student applicants to provide more specific and detailed information when they indicate a particular interest; and creating a parents-only group.

Although University Pages are only a few months old, some users and institutions are proving to be old hands at using this new branding platform in intriguing ways.

  • Amplifying news about former students. The University of Illinois promotes news not just about itself but about its alumni. Recently, the institution shared a small extract from a Forbes.com article about an alumnus who runs a socially-conscious law firm.
  • As additional marketing for online events. Villanova provided a linkback to an archived webinar recently held by its Office of Continuing Studies.
  • As a forum for continued discussion on research. Stanford Graduate School of Business linked to an article about gender diversity in high tech and posted a question to spark dialog.
  • Broadcasting affiliated groups to expand membership. Princeton recently promoted its alumni group.

Pitfalls

Of course, this is a fledgling effort and all is not perfect. Carnegie Mellon's student newspaper, The Tartan, editorialized that University Pages brought "little new information" for students doing research on potential schools. What it provides is already available in other places, the paper insisted.

Hobsons questioned whether schools have any control over the ads that appear on their University Pages: "Will LinkedIn allow for competitor schools to advertise on other University Pages?" it pondered. Well, yes, it will: During the writing of this article, St. Joseph's University was advertising its online master's program in secondary education on almost every university site on LinkedIn.

Likewise, the company asked how colleges and universities will be able to track their ROI. John Carroll's Richwalsky posed a similar concern: "I hope LinkedIn builds in some analytics functionality, showing profile views, post views, interactions (beyond 'likes'). This type of information will help me decide if this medium is something worth devoting...time to."

For most schools, LinkedIn will become one of several useful channels to reach out to potential, current, and former students and others with an interest in the institution. So the introduction of University Pages probably won't require an all-out effort so much as a measured response. Perhaps the best advice comes from Anthony Juliano, a trainer and consultant who specializes in LinkedIn: Provide value and "over time you'll build some relationships."

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