Early decision deadlines are here or fast approaching at colleges and universities around the country. Admissions offices are bustling; and for high school seniors and prospective students, we're looking at a Thanksgiving holiday stuffed with family pressure, college essays, daydreams and angst.
I remember those months leading up to my college commitment. Coaches and admissions officers calling me at home, on my family’s landline. Campus visits. The first few anxiety-filled weeks of orientation. When I was a college freshman, Facebook was just that: a printed brochure filled with my class-mates names, faces, dorm numbers and contact info. Fast-forward four years. By the time I graduated, Facebook was a social network for university students across the country. Blackberry and Motorola Razr phones were the hot tickets on the mobile market. Twitter was still several months out from public launch.*
Needless to say: the landscape has changed even more since then.
And yet, much remains the same. On campus, core communication tools include email, Blackboard and web-based portals. Prospective students are concerned about the academic experience and the value of their education -- but things like the weather, football program, bar scene and beauty of the school’s eligible co-eds factor in too.
Admissions is still about connecting, engaging and closing – on both sides of the table.
Social media is an ideal platform for this process and it should be part of every admissions officer’s toolkit. The goal of the rest of this article is to: 1) outline focal points within the admissions process, 2) identify how these points intersect with a social strategy and 3) link to a few concrete examples.
When it comes to undergraduate admissions, there are several factors at play for both public and private institutions:
- Increased Volume: Outside consultants estimate a 40% increase in the applicant pool over the past 5 years. Admissions officers are looking at increasingly robust and diverse set of prospects, most notably with regards to age and geography.
- More Pressure to Perform: The increasingly popular and powerful, “What’s the ROI of Higher Education?” argument has put more pressure on colleges and universities to secure top talent.
- Tough Economics: With flat or declining budgets, college and universities are being forced to take a good, hard look at things like administrative travel, marketing expenditures and evaluation techniques.
Fortunately, social media offers a solution to all of these pain points.
Social media facilitates one-to-many and one-to-one communication. These platforms are flexible – blogs, landing pages, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are all public domain. However, they can also be used to identify high-value candidates and facilitate small group or even individual exchanges.
If you want to cut-down on redundant and wasteful communication within the admissions office, consider this: incoming students for Fall 2013 were born around 1995. They literally grew up with the internet and the “world wide web”. **
What’s your budget for brochures, mailers, television commercials and glossies? Sure, there is still some utility there - but is your digital budget relatively proportioned? Is your administrative team equipped to work in your student’s digital world?
Here are some simple strategies that are increasing in popularity:
- Tweetups for prospective students. Organize these around current students, admissions officers, specialty programs, organizations, even College Presidents or Deans!
- Livestream, Q&A, archived on YouTube.
- Blogs and online hubs, written by students for prospective students. Johns Hopkins University is worth singling out. The administration placed an enormous amount of faith in its student body with Hopkins Interactive. The online hub offers a direct and relatively unfiltered look into student life.
- But it’s also worth noting: even something as simple as a friendly, speedy reply to a question on Facebook can be a difference-maker.
And the beauty of this all?! Aside from an initial investment in strategy, training and coordination, these social media efforts cost a fraction of what communicating at an equivalent rate, volume and precision would require by telephone, print, in-person visits and email.
There is one final factor in the admissions process that I wanted to touch on – one area where schools can’t afford to miss with admissions: personalization.
More than a quarter of surveyed school admissions officer report using social media to monitor applicants. On the one hand, the invasion of “personal space” seems a touch creepy. But it’s also smart when understood within context and applied lightly.
Aside from the ability to screen candidates, social media – when done well – offers an unprecedented opportunity for admissions officers to connect with qualified individuals on a personal level; it's also extremely easy for admissions officers to connect prospective students with other students, faculty and administrators that can help seal the deal.
You can segment and target prospective students by geography, interests, even musical taste. Invite your prospects with an interest in rock-and-roll to a private livestream concert and Q&A with that world-famous rockstar alum. Connect your prospects with a passion for non-profit and volunteer work to the President of your social action organization on campus. The opportunities are endless.
All things being equal, students want to be wowed. Go above and beyond. Prove your value. Verge Pipe Media’s resident Millennial and our Fall Editor, Lane Scott Jones, will have more on the student perception topic this Wednesday.
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*If anyone needs clarification on my timeline: I attended Williams College from 2002-2006.
**Netscape Navigator launched in 1994, along with the first conference devoted entirely to the subject of the “commercial potential of the World Wide Web”.
Author: Meredith Singer is Head of Ops & Co-Creative at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.