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Study: MBA Programs Don't Connect Social Media Dots

Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites play limited b-school admissions roles, a UMass survey says.

Business school applicants who think they can Tweet their way into an MBA program may be in for a surprise.
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Business school officials use social networking to promote their MBA programs but fail to track the return on those investments, according to a recent University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth study.

Marketing on Facebook is ubiquitous at the 70 surveyed business schools—which researchers selected for their top U.S. News rankings—and 96 percent promote themselves on Twitter and 87 percent on LinkedIn. But the "missing link," the study finds, is that 65 percent don't track which social media interactions yield applications.

The survey is a "wake-up call" for b-schools, says Nora Ganim Barnes, the director of UMass Dartmouth's Center for Marketing Research who conducted the study with Stephanie Jacobsen, the former MBA coordinator at the university's Charlton College of Business.

"They are heavily involved in social media and they think they're doing a hell of a job, and in reality they're not ever tracking these people—these thousands and thousands of people coming to their Facebook page ... to see if they become applicants," Barnes says.

It also may be a wake-up call for business school applicants, who could have unrealistic expectations.

"If the applicants are using social media in an attempt to impress or wow the schools with their posts or comments, candidates are wasting their time," says Los Angeles-based admissions consultant Linda Abraham, the founder and president of Accepted.com and author of MBA Admission for Smarties.

[Learn how some grad school applicants use social media to bypass admissions officials.]

That's consistent with Sarah Ramsey's experience as director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA program at the University of California—Irvine's Merage School of Business.

Social media can give applicants the "upper hand" in collecting information about schools, but "it is unlikely that current social media interactions will improve chances of admission," Ramsey says. The school doesn't formally account for interactions with applicants on E-mail, at events, or through consultations during the admissions process, "but candidates are being observed," Ramsey adds.

Although the UMass study reveals gaps in b-schools' grasp of social media strategy, it also shows that schools value social networking. Three quarters of the surveyed schools maintain an "official" MBA blog, and 82 percent plan to invest more in social media in the next year, including purchasing new software (30 percent), paying for new training (28 percent), and dedicating more staff and resources (11 percent).

"If I were a grad student, I would get on those portals. I would make friends," says UMass's Barnes. "Even if it doesn't influence your application, once you get there—to be able to say, 'Hi I'm Charlie. We had that discussion.' I think it opens doors."

[Read a study that says b-schools shortchange business strategy.]

But applicants should be aware that MBA admissions processes remain "pretty traditional," and test scores, references, and qualifications trump Twitter and Facebook dexterity. "I don't think social media has any place right now in that process," Barnes says.

One possible exception, however, is trolling around on applicants' social media handles to search for content that could potentially embarrass the school. Particularly when a large scholarship is at stake, Barnes says, schools definitely use social networks to vet applicants.

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