At a loss as to how to convey our personality through twitter

I have been reflecting on the lessons that we have learnt from our use of social media.

Over the last three years, we have intensified our use of social media to convey elements of the Cambridge MBA. Firstly, we have used different platforms, such as facebook, linkedin, launching a student blog and this admissions blog, and participating in a more active manner on online MBA forums. Secondly, we have experimented with different types of content. We have greatly increased the amount of video content that we use on our website and facebook pages. Our work in the marketing team has expanded beyond just choosing advertising channels to actively thinking about what type of content would be relevant and compelling to people who are interested in an MBA. This has required us to have a better understanding of the interests and accomplishments of our students and our alums.

Most significantly, a social media voice or personality for the Cambridge MBA has evolved. This is a slight departure from traditional advertising which emphasised channels and messages. While channels and messages are still important, in the world of social media, it is just as vital, if not more so, for a brand like the Cambridge MBA to have a strong personality and voice.

Voice and personality is where I find most business schools fall short in their social media initiatives. Most business schools treat their social media channels as extensions of their advertising channels, usually reproducing press releases or event notifications. In contrast, I believe that over the last one or two years, we have organically developed a social media personality that is collaborative, quietly confident, and insightful even if it means questioning popular mainstream beliefs about the MBA. I say that this has been an organic process because there was no grand strategy in the beginning that produced a set of guidelines that everyone had to follow. In fact, I think it would have been impossible to have developed this personality if there had been such a top-down process given how decentralised our social media content is — much of it comes from people outside my team and we don’t tell them what to say about the Cambridge MBA. It is a testimony to the strength of the core values of the Cambridge MBA that characteristics such as collaborativeness, diversity and the courage to look beyond the obvious keep coming up when students and alums speak about their MBA experiences.

So far, our biggest successes have been in the admissions and student blogs, both of which attract a sizeable following. Our facebook page (The Cambridge MBA) has also done well, attracting more likes than other schools’ facebook pages (which cover all their programmes, not just their MBA). I believe these platforms have been successful because they have not focused exclusively on getting people to apply to the programme. Instead, there is a steady flow of content that readers find interesting and relevant, even if the content has nothing to do with the MBA application process itself.

What still confounds me is how to make better use of twitter. Our twitter feed (@CambridgeMBA) has grown organically over the last one and a half years and now has about 745 followers, which is tiny compared to other business schools (eg @OxfordSBS has about 10,000; @insead has about 8,000 and @LondonBS has almost 18,000 followers). Even if one takes the view that it is not all about the number of followers, the level of engagement on twitter has not been as high as I was expecting. Yes, there is the odd retweet or favouriting, but I had hoped that there would be more discussion on our twitter feed. To me, twitter should not be just about broadcasting events but it should be a different way to build links between people who share the values and interests of the Cambridge MBA. I don’t expect all of the followers to go on and apply for the MBA, but I do hope that they gain value from interacting with the CambridgeMBA on twitter, and then by extension that value strengthens the Cambridge MBA brand. I don’t think we are alone in not fully grasping the value of twitter. From what I see, most business schools don’t go beyond tweeting about their events or information which could have just come from their website.

Don’t get me wrong. I personally love twitter. I find it a great way to keep on top of news and to find interesting people who share my interests. Perhaps it is because I love twitter that I feel we should be achieving a lot more through the platform, and we will see what we can do differently in this coming year. As a first step, we have set up another twitter account (@CamMBAInfo) which will focus exclusively on event notifications, application reminders and answering any queries related to the application process. This will free up @CambridgeMBA to focus on relevant and engaging content. We will continue to highlight student and alumni achievements but I also want to have more student- and alum-generated content, particularly on their views about current issues in the business world, which would be interesting and relevant to a larger community, and also strengthen the Cambridge MBA personality. Some of this would take the form of blog posts, while some of it would be in the form of audio or video interviews. It will be another new area for us, and hopefully, we can learn and adapt sufficiently that we will make better use of social media channels such as twitter.

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5 Responses to At a loss as to how to convey our personality through twitter

  1. Dear Mr.Chua,

    I have been reading your blogs/posts at multiple forums and whilst Twitter may reveal a certain data point, the personal approach espoused by the Admissions Committee is splendid.

    As an Indian living in America browsing British MBA programmes, I found the Cambridge MBA admissions approach quite unique and refreshing. What impressed me was that you did not mind rolling up your sleeves to engage supporters and detractors at forums such as Beat the GMAT and elsewhere.

    I had the chance to meet Ms. Luisa Marrone at the Houston MBA fair and I knew right then that I should consider Cambridge in my premier league list. I believe the personal approach that your team takes has helped candidates such as myself discern the good from the great. In the friendliness, collegiality and straightforwardness likes the greatness of your programme. Not to forget that the University of Cambridge was recently ranked number 2 in the QS World Rankings.

    In an age marked by viral social media strategies, I will not be surprised to see your Twitter statistics escalate dramatically. As an applicant and admirer, I will be sure to sign up for @CamMBAInfo!

    Thanks for making the MBA application process more ‘chirpy’.



  2. I’d point out that the @CambridgeMBA twitter feed is being run quite differently to the feeds of the other schools against which you are benchmarking. Their Twitter feeds are the impersonal voices of their programmes, whereas @CambridgeMBA is the voice of Conrad Chua. The stats would suggest that the impersonal approach is more followable. Perhaps people prefer formal b-school tweets, or simply tweets that have the school logo as the account avatar? Your account doesn’t look like it’s 100% official at first glance because the user name and the twitter handle don’t actually match. The account has not been verified either (blue check mark logo).

    I’d also point out that people don’t just consume tweets one by one. If you click through to the other schools’ Twitter pages, you are greeted with nice neat rows of news and links to articles and blogs, whereas, when viewed as a single page, the @CambridgeMBA feed is more of a jumble of conversations, news and retweets. I personally would be more inclined to follow the nice neat rows because I just want the headlines from a b-school to be honest. It’s worth thinking about how best your Twitter can be of service to your audience, rather than what you would like to do with it.

    I wonder how many of your followers have followed you after clicking through from your website, versus how many have followed you from within the Twitter platform in real time? Your website analytics should be able to show how many people have clicked through from your site to your Twitter account. If the click-to-follow conversion rate is very low, that would be worth examining.

    Engagement is not the only way to use Twitter. It can be used to simply push out content and drive clickthroughs to websites, blogs etc. Some of the most followed Twitter accounts are entirely one-way communication, from the likes of the BBC or New York Times.

    I think your blog is very good and Christoph Loch had a great blog also, although he seems to have stopped updating it now. Those are your very unique social media content propositions in the b-school context and, if I were you, my social media strategy would focus on spreading that content and driving traffic to the JBS website.

    Your tweets are just the medium, rather than the actual message.

    • Tia

      You’re right that @CambridgeMBA is run very differently from the other business school twitter feeds which are run more like RSS feeds.

      It was a decision that I stumbled upon early on when I was posting on twitter. I did not want @CambridgeMBA to merely rehash what was on our website, or media posts that appeared on our website. I felt that twitter offered the possibility of engaging with people from a wider audience, people who might not have thought about the Cambridge MBA but shared our values and interests. So I tried to be more discussive, participated in conversations revolving around hashtags such as #MBA, and also used twitter as a platform to thank our supporters.

      Maybe, as you say, people just want a neat feed and it might make sense to disentangle @CambridgeMBA from my own personal views. That’s something that we will revisit (we have thought about this before) although all the best social media practices that I have heard say that is good to have a personal voice coming through and not sound too corporate.

      I also suspect, and it is difficult to get a sense from twitter, that many of the followers are not lokoing to apply for a Cambridge MBA. In which case, the question will be whether the twitter feed is a good means to raise the profile of the Cambridge MBA, and if so, how to get more engaged followers. Questions that my team will have to ponder over in the coming year.

  3. Hi Conrad,

    I would suggest thinking about your target publics for the @CambridgeMBA feed and working backwards from there. I say “publics” because it is likely that there will be more than one.

    For example, the potential long term followers of any business school Twitter feed are likely to be journalists and bloggers who cover MBA programmes, plus the school’s alumni, recruiters etc. Those are people who will be interested in JBS year after year.

    Reaching potential applicants is also definitely a key priority, although their interest in following may be more transitory. However, I don’t think you would necessarily have to have wildly different content for that public in any case because the human interest side of JBS life will also appeal to the other publics.

    It’s also worth considering what resources you have. As mentioned you have two unusually engaging school blogs, student and alumni news, press coverage but Cambridge is also a very visually appealing place and Burberry for example gets an insane amount of shares for its daily Facebook postings of scenic London photos. You might have room to add some “destination marketing” to the mix because it’s always a bonus if a school is sited somewhere pretty.

    Lastly, it’s worth thinking about what you want your Twitter followers to do. Stay on Twitter, tweet you, retweet you, visit your website, all of the above…? This might also depend on the public. For example, you might prefer an influential journalist or blogger to share your content, while you might prefer a potential applicant to contact the school so you can capture their details.

    The downside of having lots of conversations on Twitter is that they still don’t display very well on that platform and can be hard to follow if you are not participating in the interaction. While you can now click to “view conversation” it still feels a lot like eavesdropping. Presumably it would be more useful for marketing to capture someone’s email rather than their twitter ID?

    I don’t think we could have this kind of conversation on Twitter!