Using Social Networking Tools to Connect with Students and Graduates
By Rebecca B. Reynolds, EdD, RHIA
One of the challenges facing the health information management (HIM) profession is recognition of our profession as a career option for students. In the past, representatives attended university career fairs, visited classrooms to talk about the HIM profession, mailed brochures to prospective students and built websites to provide program information. These methods are useful and provide value to meeting students in traditional environment. However, the students today are more likely to check their Facebook or Myspace pages between classes than visiting with friends in campus student center.
Connect, Connect, Connect
Every generation has unique qualities and the current, college-age students have particularly unique communication practices. They are known as the plugged-in generation and have grown-up with a cord connecting them to a computer, the Internet, MP3 players, and other media sources. They want to be continuously connected, and as a result they have created social networking and social networking technologies.
We have several goals for Facebook including creating a virtual presence on Facebook for student recruitment. We also envision Facebook as an informal website and a place to include program updates and other information. One of the challenges is that the format and content requirements of our university website are formal and structured. It takes time for updates and changes to be made to the university website so Facebook allows the information to be available immediately. Using Facebook does not require knowledge of any programming languages. It is easy to begin using, even for digital immigrants.
All you need to create a Facebook site is a web browser and e-mail address. The service is free and allows a user to create a personal web page. When a user creates a Facebook account he or she is asked to answer a series of questions about where they live, where they went to school, personal interests and other facts. Most of this information may be omitted by the user. Facebook has a back-end database used to help you locate other Facebook users who live in your geographic area, who attended school with you, or who share the same Facebook friends. This allows you to connect easily with many former students from your program. For example, if you locate a former student on Facebook, you can see their Facebook friends. Some of their friends might also be former students with whom you can reconnect.
Current students are a wonderful resource for getting started. They can help you develop your site, critique it, and help you troubleshoot. One tip is not to use Facebook to share personal information that you don’t want applicants, students, and others to see. It is amazing how much personal information you learn from what people share on Facebook (OMG!).
Facebook is an easy way to stay connected with your graduates and alumni. As they change jobs, start families, or relocate, it is an easy way to stay in touch with them and stay connected.
Recruiting Students: Invest in the Program’s Website
HIM programs are often challenged with the issue of insufficient funds for advertising their offerings to the communities they serve. Wisely spending one’s limited resources to stimulate the biggest bang for the advertising buck is an essential recruiting strategy. To determine where to target recruiting strategies, Jim Condon, MSA, RHIA, CTR, assistant professor in the Department of Health Informatics at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), began asking new Health Information Administration (HIA) students how they each became aware of the HIA program at MCG. Nearly 38 percent of the students said they learned about the program on the Internet, either through visiting the AHIMA website or the program’s website. The remaining means by which students learned about MCG’s program are:
A parent, relative, or friend (17 percent)
An HIA professional (9 percent)
A health care professional (7 percent)
A magazine or book (6 percent)
A guidance counselor (3 percent)
Other means, including school presentations, career fairs, and students currently enrolled in an HIA program (19 percent)
Mr. Condon suggests that programs should invest enough time to ensure their websites are attractive, informative, user-friendly, and up-to-date. If the program’s website is not maintained by someone familiar with the program, it is critical to establish a program liaison who can convey updates expeditiously and accurately to the institution’s web designer. In addition, the program liaison should surf the program’s website looking for broken links, missing and expired documents, and out-of-date web pages. One’s own experience while visiting the website is probably the first impression a prospective student will form about a program. The more time a prospect explores the website, the more likely he or she is to contact the program for additional information.
Program response is another critical aspect of recruitment. When a prospect uses an e-mail link located on the program’s website to ask a question or seek additional information, the point of contact person should respond as soon as possible (if only to acknowledge receipt and thank the prospect for his or her interest). A prompt response leaves the impression that the program is organized, well run, and values the potential student. Even if the prospect decides against applying, the seed is planted for possible future contact in the event the prospect’s future plans change.
Program websites offer program directors and student recruiters tools unavailable 15 years ago. As health information technologies and careers in health informatics become more popular, programs should not ignore the opportunity that a well-designed website affords to capitalize on the strengths of the program and faculty.