Social Media and HBCU Admissions: An Analysis of Two-Way Communication

Social Media and HBCU Admissions: An Analysis of Two-Way Communication

Erica C. Southerland (Howard University, USA) and Jacqueline R. Lewis (Old Dominion University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0311-8.ch008
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In a time of immense competition by all universities for top students and financial support, HBCUs have a special challenge to move beyond the laurels of tradition and innovatively participate in the modern market of college admissions. This study is a follow-up comparative deductive content analysis of the use of social media by admissions offices of top HBCUs according to U.S. News and World Report. The presence of these institutions' undergraduate admissions offices on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the usability of these sites have been measured against the principles of two-way communication. The results show diversity in social media use amongst institutions and certain changes and improvements made on each site since the time of the 2013 pilot study. Findings and recommendations provide insight into next steps for HBCUs to remain competitive in the digital age, according to best practices in public relations.
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The youth of today, the “Millennial” generation, represents a tremendous communication challenge for everyone from parents and politicians to colleges and companies. Millennials thrive in an always ‘on’ world. …This world of interactivity and hyper-communication has fundamentally changed how teenagers and young adults receive, process and act on information (Barnes & Mattson, 2010, p. 1).

Redd (1998) discusses the need for HBCUs to be mindful of new admissions barriers and practices in order to maintain longevity. Mainstream institutions or Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) have begun to fully adapt to digital communications and admissions. Keller (2011) highlighted the benefits of digital admissions. “Analyzing…Web data to drive online decisions brings enormous rewards” (p. 2).

Greenwood (2012) succinctly discussed the need for participation in social media by college admissions offices. “Colleges linking SNS [social networking sites] pages on their homepages provided their prospective students with an extremely easy and efficient way to connect with the school and ultimately making the likelihood of matriculation higher” (p. 28).

Theoretical Framework

The most highly recommended and modern of the four models of public relations is two-way symmetrical communication. This model depends on research of an organization’s publics and the situation the organization is addressing. The results of the research help the organization to craft proper communications and interaction with its publics. This model also allows for feedback and ongoing communication between an organization and its publics, thus communication can be continuously adjusted to help foster mutually beneficial relationships (Grunig & Hunt, 1984).


Main Focus Of The Chapter

Deductive category application works with prior formulated, theoretical derived aspects of analysis, bringing them in connection with the text (Mayring, 2000, p. 4). This study examines the social media presence of the top 20 HBCUs according to 2013 U.S. News and World Report rankings. Two coders, within a six-week timeframe in 2013, separately examined these sites for the use of social media and the ease of use in finding pertinent information on these sites based on a model developed by Greenwood (2012) in examining PWI social media sites in admissions. The same coders evaluated the sites within a six-week timeframe in 2015 based on the ranking list used in the pilot study for uniformity. The institutions’ social media use for admissions was analyzed and compared to the original study. Additionally, results will be measured against the principles of two-way communication.

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