Let me confess right from the start that I’m a fan of LearnHub. The company combines an understanding of how young adults use social networks, strong programming and user-design, and marketing savvy. It’s all the more impressive when you learn that the founders, Malgosia Green and John Philip Green, are impossibly young. I recently visited Learnhub’s office to talk with Malgosia Green, CEO and Co-Founder of LearnHub.
KH: From a business perspective, what’s the essential idea behind LearnHub?
MG: LearnHub is a Social Learning Network. We have combined traditional elements of online learning with social networking constructs to form something altogether new. LearnHub is comprised of subject matter communities, ranging from topics such as test prep (SAT), GMAT) and career skills, all the way to recreational topics like photography and jazz appreciation.
Anyone can contribute content. This blurs the line between teacher and student, which is exactly what we see in the world outside academic institutions. A student in one subject often contributes as a teacher in another, creating a participatory learning environment that is more engaging than traditional one-directional elearning.
KH: Other than the fact that social networking sites attract many young adults, what’s the value of social marketing channels to colleges and universities?
MG: Back in 2000, a revolutionary book called the Cluetrain Manifesto put forth the thesis that markets are conversations. The advent of the internet meant that companies that traditionally broadcast their message to their customers were now finding their customers had a powerful voice to talk back. Social marketing is a response to this phenomenon.
Colleges and Universities can use a site like LearnHub to really engage with their current and potential students in new way. We provide schools with a complete toolset to reach out to potential students and engage in meaningful discourse. This helps build a school’s brand, build loyalty, and eventually turns into more enrollments. Part of this toolset is the ability to filter interested applicants based on admission criteria, so that administrative staff do not have to do this manually. This leverages proprietary technology we’ve built to save time, and deliver qualified candidates to schools.
KH: How have colleges and universities responded to social marketing opportunities? Is there resistance to this type of marketing channel?
MG: There is a lot of confusion in the education marketplace on how to use social marketing. The great thing about LearnHub is that unlike generic social networking sites like Facebook or Orkut, LearnHub is all about learning, which creates the ideal marketing channel. Recruiting students on sites like Facebook poses many challenges. First, student’s profiles are built for friends, and often have inappropriate content. Second, students go onto Facebook to interact with friends, not schools. LearnHub solves both these problems, by enabling students to create profiles around their educational talents and aspirations, and providing schools with their own specialized profiles to market themselves to students.
KH: LearnHub includes both user-generated content and your content. What’s the rationale behind this approach?
MG: User-generated content can be fantastic, but it can also be of poor quality. We take a hybrid approach and blend the best of user-generated content with professionally created content. This ensures we get the best of both worlds. User-generated content drives user engagement and enriches the community. Professional content ensures there is sufficient high quality content created in topic areas we are actively promoting such as test prep.
In addition, we’ve adopted the Mullet Strategy on LearnHub: business in the front, party in the back. Our team of community managers controls the homepage. If you dig deeper, you will discover a wide assortment of communities created by our users (the party in the back).
KH: Which markets are you focusing on initially?
MG: Our first target market is India and this is for a number of reasons. First, Indian students typically place a lot of importance on their education, for cultural reasons. They are very enthusiastic to find new and better ways to get ahead academically and professionally. Second, we have found that the colleges and universities are very interested in recruiting students from India through social networking, as it cuts down on the costs associated with traveling to India to recruit. Lastly, we have a strategic investment with India’s largest education company, Educomp, providing us with a great distribution channel.