March 4th 2010 was a significant day in the history of Twitter, the social media site that Internet users either love or hate. It was the day that the world saw the 10 billionth tweet - an update by one of its users - four years since its launch in 2006. TopMBA.com's Aled Owens explores the trend and its relevance to your business school research.

The past 12 months have seen business schools embrace the world of social media in an effort to better communicate with current students, applicants, prospects and alumni. The trend has continued to see the creation of Facebook groups, student and admissions blogs, LinkedIn profiles and videos filmed for YouTube channels. However one of the fastest growing activities of business schools on the web has been through their use of Twitter.

Twitter can initially be a hard concept to grasp. In describing itself, it says 'Whether it's breaking news, a local traffic jam, a deal at your favourite shop or a funny pick-me-up from a friend, Twitter keeps you informed with what matters most to you today and helps you discover what might matter to you most tomorrow.' It combines updates from friends and colleagues with news from international media outlets, multinational organisations, and, for the prospective MBA, the world's top business schools.

The publication of short updates on application information, current students, school events, high-profile alumni and fast-approaching application deadlines, is in theory something very useful, particularly to the business school applicant. However the number of followers that even top schools currently have compared to the number of Twitter users suggests that prospective students have taken their time to catch on. That however, seems to be changing, and an increasing number of business schools are expecting to see the benefits of using Twitter as a way of reaching out and delivering their latest MBA program news.

If you are unfamiliar, Twitter is the social media site that allows users to post short updates known as Tweets for those people who follow them to read. Each user assigns themselves a username, identified by an @ in front of it. I am @MBA_dude and I publish updates on business school news and trends that I see as I travel around the world with QS MBA events. The idea is to post updates, opinions and links - about yourself, other people, celebrities, news etc - within your 140 character limit. You may have heard of Twitter through the high-profile celebrities and sports stars who update us through the site. Who wouldn't want to know where @VenusesWilliams practiced this morning, what @tomhanks thought of the Oscars or if @WilliamShatner is in fact going where no man has boldly gone before this evening for dinner.

At TopMBA.com we have also been trying to build on this through adding social media links for applicants to follow on our business school profiles. Some schools however have been Tweeting successfully for a while. Niki da Silva, a.k.a @nikihealeyivey, Director of Admissions at the Richard Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario, was one of the first people I started following when I joined the site.

At Ivey, we use two Twitter accounts: one @Ivey_MBA, is an Ivey Admissions Twitter feed that provides updates on relevant recruiting events, admissions updates, and general tips/advice on how to be successful with b-school admissions.  The second account, @iveymbastudents, is a student feed with postings demonstrating a typical 'day in the life' for Ivey MBA students.

Schools including Ivey use their Twitter accounts to draw attention to important information for prospective students, and 'Tweeting' news that would otherwise appear on their website. They are also keen to ensure that students can receive their news on the go.

Niki adds: Both of these feeds are posted on the Ivey website, and pushed directly to our newly launched smartphone apps for iPhone and Blackberry users.  Twitter provides our team with a platform to keep prospective applicants informed about the latest news, tips, and tricks in the b-school admissions world.

Unlike some other social media sites, and despite appearances, Twitter is extremely basic and simple to use.  It takes a couple of minutes to join and even if you are not posting updates yourself (a recent Twitter survey suggests that only 21% of users are in fact real 'Tweeters' - that is they are following 10 people, have 10 people following them and have posted at least 10 tweets) it is still a prime way of gaining up-to-date information on admissions events and deadlines as well as school news and updates on significant alumni.

Schools themselves are using a variety of ways to disseminate information on the site:

  • There is the 'official' school or program account - letting you know everything that you want and need to know about the program in one place.
  • Current MBA students are 'Tweeting', giving live meaning to a 'day-in-the-life of a current MBA'. Follow them through the trials and tribulations of classes, coursework, internships, parties and that all-important job-hunt.
  • Deans, directors and admissions staff are also 'Tweeting', offering a unique insight and perspective into school culture and a behind the scenes understanding of the scope of a school's domestic and international outreach.

As a 2010 business school applicant, this is certainly a domain to be aware of and one that you can try out very easily through following the schools that you are interested in, even if you do not plan to Tweet yourself.  And who knows, when it comes down to it you may not be able to resist the urge of telling everyone about that latest Dan Brown book that you are reading, or how good the shrimp was at lunch...

10 to follow

If you are looking to get started, here are 10 that I follow who update regularly:

@rsmmba - a really good insight into the Rotterdam School of Management, it details opportunities to meet admissions staff and international alumni of RSM

@RonDesi - Director of the UB/Towson MBA and also a commentator on social media and its use in graduate education

@ivey_mba@iveymbastudents, @nikihealyivey & @jdennistonivey - follow all 4: the 2 Ivey MBA accounts that Niki talks about as well as Niki herself, along with Jenni another member of the Ivey admissions team 

- a highly entertaining feed that gives great info about the Babcock School MBA program & latest alumni news

@Buffalo_MBA - a good MBA news tweet aggregator, updated many times each day with MBA-related news from around the world

@KogodBiz - American University, Kogod School of Business in Washington DC. They give regular updates on events and on-campus speakers, as well as integrating their feed with other social media that they are involved with including foursquare.

@JHUCareyNews - news and updates on the start of the brand new full time MBA at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School

@PaulSBodine - Paul is an MBA Admissions Consultant based in San Diego, and daily posts facts and insights of interest to business school applicants.

@foxschool - official account of the Fox School at Temple University, including information on the tri-continent IMBA

And of course, @TopMBA - managed in house and contributed to by our experts including Ross Geraghty, editor of TopMBA.com and the TopMBA Career Guide.