With the launch of Pages earlier this week, many colleges and universities are scrambling to set up their institution’s presence on Google+. Browsing the nearly 200 institution pages established thus far, I found a mix of empty and flush pages, the majority of which appeared to me to be followed mostly by higher ed industry professionals, not institution stakeholders.
While the land grab is to be expected, it’s important to ask are we just being cutting edge for the sake of it, or is there real potential with the platform?
To understand the real potential impact Google+ can have on higher education we have to look past this week’s announcement of the launch of Pages and instead check out the largely overlooked launch of Google+ for Google Apps in Education users, which took place on Oct. 27.
Google Apps for Education customers, which includes 60 of the top 100 institutions, already utilize the service for mail, calendar system, documents and more. Now, for these institutions, Google+ is education’s social layer, threading together the entire student experience. Think pre-populated circles based on degree program and class year, virtual study sessions featuring multi-person video chat, screen sharing and collaboration in Google Docs, and a whole lot more. And that’s just the beginning.
In the case of Apps for Education, Google has brought the tools and the audience together. For the rest of us, we’re left putting time and energy into a tool with amazing potential, but currently extremely limited reach and return.
While this reality isn’t lost on Apps for Education customers like Abilene Christian University, Wake Forest University and Arizona State University, who are already on board working to integrate the platform into their current efforts, it is sadly largely lost on the rest of us. Our industry should be feverishly conversing over the potential ways Google+ could impact student success and enhance the student experience, not wondering how we can spread our already poorly served online audience across yet another platform.
But beyond the potential impact on student experience, there still is a very real marketing benefit to Google+ many aren’t discussing, and that’s Social Search. For Apps for Education customers, their students will spend years of their lives logged into their Google accounts, interacting with institutional content, talking about the institution, etc., and the implications of that could be huge, really huge.
So what does Google+ really mean for higher education?
For Google Apps for Education customers it means the ability to revolutionize the student experience, and see a potentially massive shift in SEO over the coming years.
For the rest of us, Google has given us a choice, we can either join the Google Apps for Education team, delivering a social layer on top of our educational experience, or we can do the legwork ourselves of trying to build an audience and then deliver them engaging content on a platform they have largely yet to adopt.
Realistically, it’s a marketers job to be innovative and on top of trends, so go ahead, set up your Page and put out some content. The platform will certainly be growing, so working out the kinks now will only help you down the line.
But while we’re investing all this time playing with a new shiny tool, let’s take a couple minutes out to ask our institution and ourselves:
Are we ready to provide a 21st century learning environment that integrates social media into the learning experience in an effort to enhance student experience and success?
At the end of the day, Google+ is a tool. We can either use it to address real problems and goals in new and innovative ways, or we can use it as another dumping ground for the same content we currently distribute elsewhere. The choice is entirely our own.