Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This study examines social media as a relevant marketing strategy for higher education institutions and seeks to better understand how incoming university students utilize social media to communicate with an academic institution and ultimately make a college attendance decision. A basic history of social networking websites is explored, with emphasis on how this new technology is used in public relations and marketing for non-profit organizations, such as colleges and universities. In order to understand social media use from the students' perspective, individual uses of social networking sites are examined through the lenses of uses and gratifications theory, online identity construction and community. As an innovator of social media strategy for academic institutions, Marquette University is used as the subject of study because of the school's major effort and commitment to connect with key stakeholders through social media websites. This study employs a triangulation of qualitative methods for data collection, including interviews with members of the Office of Marketing and Communication team, focus groups with new students and a textual analysis of the official incoming Marquette University student group on Facebook.
Results of the study indicate that social media sites were not a major influence in the student participants' decision of where to attend college. However, once they already knew where they would be attending college, university-sponsored social media resources were extremely helpful in easing the incoming students' transition from home life to campus life through early experiences of identity building, forming a personal network and two-way dialogue with school representatives. The insights derived from this study are useful in helping public relations professionals in higher education better understand and apply social media practices to build relationships with prospective and incoming students.