Open Colleges taps into social for better student interaction

Distance education provider says Facebook is one of the primary platforms today for supporting students

The benefits of Facebook as a platform for communication between organisations and their fans or followers is well established. But Australia’s largest private distance education provider is taking that one step further by using Facebook as a primary platform for supporting students.

Open Colleges’ Facebook page has received more than 115,000 likes, and is a popular digital hangout for its 40,000 students. While the numbers are impressive, Open Colleges’ general manager for marketing and communications, Kevin Lynch, says more important is the level of interaction that students have on the page.

“We’ve seen huge growth in how many questions and queries we are getting from prospective students on Facebook, but in addition to that we’ve seen a huge growth in current students engaging with other fellow students,” he says.

For this reason Open Colleges has added a number of staff to its community management team to help handle the workload. Responding through social media makes sense for Open Colleges as its demographics means much of student’s study takes place in the evening.

“From the hours of 7.30pm to midnight we get a lot of questions from students either through Facebook or our own social tool through our learning platform,” Lynch says. Questions are on everything from course work to support issues.

“The important thing is how timely and responsive we are to the questions that students or prospective students might be having,” Lynch says. “We pride ourselves on quick turnaround time and try to resolve issues straight away. We have dedicated resources that focus on social day in, day out, because it is a great way to engage with prospective students and customers as a whole.”

He adds that the feedback Open Colleges receives through Facebook is usually more honest and at times blunt than what it receives through its Web page.

“There’s always more we can do,” Lynch says. “There are more people using it, and the people who using it are using it a lot more, because people are starting to feel more comfortable with social as a medium.

“Our students are getting huge value from Facebook to communicate with other students, to communicate with their trainers and assessors, and to communicate back to us. They might have great suggestions on how we can improve a course or a service. So for us then it is really a great market research tool.”

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