Internet Gives M.B.A. Schools Global Reach
By CRIS PRYSTAY
SPECIAL TO THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 30, 2008
When Duong Pham, a human-resources manager in Hanoi at a technology company, began researching M.B.A. programs on the Internet three months ago, she came across the "MBA Networking" group on Facebook, which connected her to thousands of current business-school students, alumni and prospective students. She fired off all sorts of questions, ranging from how easy it was to get part-time jobs at various campuses to whether Virginia, the site of a student massacre last year, was a safe place to study.
One student at Oklahoma State University’s William Spears School of Business told her she could land a job teaching undergraduates if she talked to certain professors. A Vietnamese alumni of George Mason University’s School of Management in Fairfax, Virginia, told her the shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University was a freak incident and that the state was a safe place to live.
Such social-networking sites are "a great place to do research. You can get very useful personal advice and opinions from a lot of people," says Ms. Pham, 26 years old. She hopes to apply to business school later this year.
Business schools are moving quickly to harness the power of cyberspace chats to tap students from around the world. Many M.B.A programs are setting up their own social-networking sites and blogs, making it easy for prospective applicants to contact both current students and graduates. The Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, for example, has set up blogs, discussion boards and a searchable database where prospective students can locate alumni with similar job experience and undergraduate degrees. Saïd Business School at Oxford University has a site that links blogs about university life that are run by students at the request of the school, and private blogs of other students; the business school also set up its own YouTube.com channel last year, where it broadcasts in-depth interviews with alumni, promotional videos and videos made independently by its students.
The National University of Singapore’s Business School has created Web site joinnusmba.ning.com to allow future and current students to mingle online, while its students set up a Facebook site and "NUS MBA Buzz Blog" to document their lives online. NUS Business School’s Career Services Office, meanwhile, uses LinkedIn, a popular professional social network, to showcase the résumés of the program’s M.B.A. candidates and alumni.
"It’s important to have an online presence," says Anthea Milnes, recruitment and marketing manager at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. "We are coming through to what people call ‘Generation Y’ — these are people who grew up using technology and are highly tech literate. This is the way they prefer to communicate." She notes that prospective students "look on an M.B.A. as not just as a return on investment or a career move, but as an experience. Using videos, blogs or social-networking sites, we can convey the experience in a more compelling way."
Last June, Toronto public-relations firm On-Q Communications Inc. decided Facebook might be another avenue for a client, MBA Tour, to reach young people; the tour sets up information sessions in convention centers, hotel ballrooms and campuses world-wide for a global list of business schools to woo prospective students. While Facebook, which started in 2004, is best known as a way to find old schoolmates and colleagues, and keep in touch with friends, many Facebook members use the site to do research and network with business contacts.
"Marketing in these kinds of nontraditional ways is key," says Peter von Loesecke, managing director of MBA Tour, whose clients include top schools in the U.S., as well as Saïd Business School, National University of Singapore, University of Hong Kong and Insead, with campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore. "This is going to become the way companies are going to want to market products and services" to young people.
Many M.B.A. students have grown up with social Web sites, where they are comfortable posting personal details including their birthdays, jobs and educational background, as well as information about friends and families. Young people see these sites as a place for free flow of information, so business schools and other organizations that try to tap into social networking are taking a light touch.
For instance, the MBA Tour site uses a passive marketing strategy, letting students ask and answer questions of their own accord. Neither the MBA Tour’s staff members nor staff from its member universities get involved in discussions. Instead, an MBA Tour "moderator" invites current and former M.B.A students who have joined the network to act as "mentors," or discussion leaders. These mentors, who aren’t paid, field questions in any way they like.
"The mentors are someone who can act as an ‘expert’ on applying to business schools, or they could act as a spokesman for a particular career path, or a particular school," says Mr. Von Loesecke. "These are people who are sharing their own personal experiences."
James Frick, senior associate director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper school, says one big plus of the MBA Networking site is that it gives aspiring M.B.A students access to a pool of opinions. "There’s a feeling there’s not the influence of the party line" on it, he adds.
"We naturally want to have control over the message out there about our organizations, and embracing social networking and blogs means letting go of that control," says Caroline Diarte-Edwards, Insead’s director of admissions, marketing and external relations. "It means accepting people will say things that are not on message, or are critical. But the overall value still outweighs the potential disadvantage."
Insead, which has an online platform that allows admitted candidates to network with alumni, is looking at how best to make itself visible on a few key social-networking sites. Its students already run a number of business-school-related blogs.
Still, that doesn’t mean business schools aren’t doing what they can to draw visitors to their own sites.
NUS Business School is sending some of its managers for training in Internet marketing. Staff also attend professional-development courses, with names such as "The Recruiting Revolution: The Millennials and the Internet."
"To be seen as one of the leading business schools in Asia, if not the world, we have to be seen to be keeping up with the trends — and we need to get fresh ideas from incoming candidates and our younger staff," says Chua Nan Sze, head of marketing and admissions at NUS Business School.
For now, most of the MBA Networking members are from North America, but the site is attracting attention in Europe and Asia. Recently, Hans Tan, a 25-year-old Filipino who is studying at the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School, in Rochester, New York, fielded a question on the site from a woman in Switzerland who wanted an insider’s take on the quality of professors at the school.
Mr. Tan, who previously was a marketing manager in Manila for a mobile-phone business, discovered the MBA Networking site after a friend on Facebook joined it. In checking it out, he saw questions he felt he could answer and began posting responses. He since has become one of the site’s mentors.
Mr. Tan fields about eight questions a week from the site. "It’s nice to be able to help people out. I wish I had something like this when I was researching business schools."