Building a Comprehensive Social Media Strategy for Student Recruitment

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1 STUDENT AFFAIRS FORUM Building a Comprehensive Social Media Strategy for Student Recruitment Custom Research Brief Research Associate Lisa Qing Research Manager Lisa Geraci October 2012

2 2 of 16

3 3 of 16 Table of Contents I. Research Methodology... 4 Project Challenge... 4 Project Sources... 4 Research Parameters... 5 II. Executive Overview... 6 Key Observations... 6 III. Promising Social Media Platforms... 7 Overview of Admissions Platforms... 7 Strategies for Popular Platforms... 7 IV. Enhancing the Campus Visit Before the Visit During the Visit After the Visit V. Cohesive Social Media Strategies Developing Custom Platforms Promoting Cohesion Across Platforms VI. Operations and Resources Staffing Needs Budget and Expenses VII. Assessment and Outcomes Social Media Analytics Tools Impact on Admissions... 16

4 I. Research Methodology Project Challenge Leadership at a member institution approached the Forum with the following questions: 4 of 16 What social media platforms do administrators use to enhance student recruitment? What innovative strategies allow administrators to engage prospective students and parents in the recruitment process? How do administrators incorporate social media before, during, and after campus visits? How do administrators maintain a cohesive strategy for social media across all platforms and components of the recruitment process? What additional forms of outreach complement the use of social media? How many employees and student workers oversee social media for recruitment? How much time do they invest in it, and with what frequency? How much funding do comprehensive social media strategies require? What additional technological tools do social media strategies incorporate? What is the impact of social media strategies on admissions metrics (e.g., application numbers, yield rates), and how do administrators measure these effects? Which social media platforms most affect application and matriculation rates? What qualitative feedback on social media strategies do administrators collect from prospective students? Project Sources s internal and online ( research libraries Inigral Insights, 2012 Social Admissions Report ( social-admissions-report) National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] ( The Chronicle of Higher Education ( Inside Higher Ed ( Institutional websites

5 5 of 16 Research Parameters The Forum interviewed college and university administrators who oversee innovative and comprehensive social media strategies for student recruitment. A Guide to the Institutions Profiled in this Brief Institution Location Sector Approximate Enrollment Total (Undergraduate) College A Northeast Private 6,800 (6,300) College B Midwest Private 3,000 (3,000) Carnegie Classification Master's Colleges and Universities (larger programs) Baccalaureate Colleges Arts & Sciences University C Mid- Atlantic Public 8,200 (6,100) Research Universities (high research activity) University D Midwest Private 5,400 (3,400) University E South Private 15,000 (6,700) Master's Colleges and Universities (larger programs) Research Universities (very high research activity)

6 II. Executive Overview Key Observations 6 of 16 Multimedia content, discussion questions, and giveaways engage prospective students on Facebook, the platform that target audiences visit most frequently. Posts that contain photos and videos generally attract more views and comments than text-only posts. To encourage interaction from page visitors, administrators replace announcements (e.g., This year's common application is now available online ) with discussion questions, (e.g., Have you started work on your application? ) Administrators may also enter respondents into college merchandise giveaways to incentivize participation in discussions. Admissions officers write blog entries, initiate Twitter conversations, and perform in YouTube videos to supplement formal admissions materials with personal interactions. Although applicants rely on admissions websites and newsletters for official announcements, they rely on social media for informal, candid interactions. Across platforms, contacts recommend that administrators emphasize one-on-one conversations (e.g., Twitter posts directed at individual users, responses to blog comments) and personal rather than promotional language. To enhance campus visits, administrators welcome visitors on Twitter, promote notable venues on FourSquare, and compile visitor responses across platforms through Storify. These strategies have the greatest impact during large-scale recruitment events (e.g., admitted students days, multicultural recruitment weekends). At University E's admitted student events, administrators also arrange for bloggers to meet with attendees, many of whom regard bloggers as campus celebrities. Custom platforms allow administrators to integrate social networking among prospective classmates into the application process. College A maintains a custom platform through which prospective students register for campus visits, track application requirements, and interact with admitted students in a closed online community. Administrators prefer custom platforms to third-party platforms (e.g., Facebook) because custom platforms allow for greater control over web design and display, applications and features, and analytics. Comprehensive recruitment strategies typically require one institution-wide social media coordinator and up to three participating admissions staff. Coordinators typically report to marketing/communications departments, but they liaise with admissions staff at least once per week. Typically, admissions officers responsible for social media visit popular platforms at least once per day. Most institutions also hire five to 20 student staff to create web content, including blog entries. Social media strategies generally require few dedicated resources other than staff time. Administrators assess the impact of social media strategies through entrance surveys and analytics tools (e.g., Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Sprout Social). Analytics tools track visitor interactions, visitor demographics, and the sources that lead visitors to pages (e.g., Google, admissions website). Administrators may supplement analytics with entrance surveys that address the sources that matriculating students consult for institutional information during the admissions process. Contacts have not yet isolated the impact of social media strategies on application numbers and yield rates.

7 III. Promising Social Media Platforms Overview of Admissions Platforms Prospective Students Primarily Visit Facebook, Blogs, and Twitter 7 of 16 Although college and university administrators maintain institution-wide accounts on numerous social media platforms, admissions staff at each institution emphasize two to four platforms for student recruitment. They most frequently prioritize Facebook, staff and student blogs, and Twitter because they attract large audiences relative to other platforms. Social Media Platforms that Enhance Student Recruitment Platform Typical Frequency of Staff Updates College A College B University C University D University E Facebook 3-7 times per week This chart only includes accounts specific to admissions and/or targeted at prospective students. It does not include general institutionwide accounts. Blogs Twitter YouTube 1-5 times per week 5-15 times per week 1-5 times per month Google Plus 8 times per year Custom Platform* Monitored daily *See page 11 for details. Strategies for Popular Platforms Facebook: Engage Users with Multimedia, Discussion Questions, and Contests Facebook serves as the primary social media platform for most admissions departments because it experiences the greatest popularity among 16 to 17-year-olds,many of whom visit the site multiple times each day. Admissions staff maintain two kinds of Facebook pages: Admissions department pages: Four contact institutions maintain Facebook pages that target prospective students, parents, and high school counselors. Although admissions pages receive s substantial number of visits, some contacts advise that prospective students prefer to follow institution-wide accounts because they contain broader ranges of content and administrators update them more frequently.

8 8 of 16 Incoming class pages and groups: Three contact institutions maintain official class of pages and/or groups to promote staff-monitored discussion among admitted students. Over 1,000 users have liked the most recent incoming class page at University D, and contacts estimate that prospective students visit class pages more often than the institution s other social media accounts. Strategies to Engage Prospective Students on Facebook Emphasize Photo and Short Video Content Promote Discussion with Open-Ended Questions Host Giveaways to Incentivize Participation Multimedia posts typically attract more views than text-based posts. Facebook users may prefer brief clips to videos that require sustained attention; contacts estimate that few users dedicate more than 20 seconds to any post on their news feeds. Administrators post discussion questions to encourage visitor interactions. Admissions staff at University C engage prospective students with questions related to stages of the admissions cycle, such as Who has started working on their college application? and What are you looking forward to the most as incoming freshmen? At University D, prospective students who answer select discussion questions qualify for University t-shirt and merchandise giveaways. Frequent giveaways encourage visitor comments at minimal cost to admissions departments. During Admissions, Applicants Prefer Facebook to Other Platforms In August 2012, a poll of 7,000 high school and college students conducted by the college admissions website Zinch and the educational social media company Inigral revealed that more than half of all respondents used Facebook to research institutions during the admissions process. Social Media Platforms Students Use to Research Institutions Source: Inigral Insights

9 9 of 16 Blogs: Personalize the Admissions Process with Informal Insights At four contact institutions, admissions staff and/or current students maintain blogs that target prospective students. Admissions staff blogs: Throughout the admissions cycle, up to three admissions deans and officers post entries that guide students through the applications process, from standardized tests to decision letters. Blogs allow staff members to supplement the rules and procedures of official admissions materials with informal, personal insights. Current student blogs: Current students blog about various aspects of campus life, including academics, extracurricular activities, special events and performances, and weekend activities. Administrators encourage bloggers to describe campus life in candid rather than promotional terms. Promote Original Blog Content Across Social Media Platforms At College B, 18 student bloggers and three admissions officers each produce biweekly blog entries for prospective students. Unlike most forms of social media, blogs generate substantial original content, including multimedia components such as photography, illustration, videos, and sound recordings. To promote this content, administrators announce new blog entries on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. As a result, the blogs receive nearly 1,000 visitors per day. Twitter: Initiate One-on-One Conversations with Applicants Admissions officers at two contact institutions start several conversations each week with prospective students on Twitter. Twitter conversations allow officers to establish relationships with prospective students. One admissions officer at University D uses the TweetDeck application to search Twitter for new posts about the University. Each day, he replies to posts from prospective students to wish them luck throughout the admissions process. Applicants frequently share or respond to his posts to reiterate their interest in the University. YouTube: Produce Multimedia Content for Use with Other Platforms Because social media users prefer multimedia content to text-based content, administrators often host videos on YouTube for use with other platforms. University D s YouTube account includes video tours of campus facilities, including dorms for first-year students. To enhance Facebook giveaways, admissions officers also announce winners through YouTube videos cross-posted to Facebook pages. Google Plus: Host Video Chats for Prospective Students During the admissions cycle, teams of three to four current students at University E use Google Plus s video chat functionality to host a series of eight hangouts for applicants. Applicants submit discussion questions in the text boxes below their chat windows, and current students address 20 to 25 questions during each live chat. Chat archives appear on the University s YouTube account for continued viewing.

10 10 of 16 IV. Enhancing the Campus Visit Social media facilitates engagement with prospective students before, during, and after campus visits. Administrators especially use social media to promote and enhance on-campus admissions events that attract numerous visitors (e.g., admitted students days, multicultural recruitment weekends). Strategies to Enhance Campus Visits with Social Media Before the Visit Create Facebook events to publicize recruitment occasions. Admissions staff at University D create Facebook events for occasions that attract numerous visitors, including admitted students days and statewide higher education events. Events appear on the news feeds of prospective students who like the department s Facebook page. When students RSVP, they publicize events on their friends feeds. During the Visit Identify and welcome visitors on Twitter. The TweetDeck dashboard of University E s dean of admissions shows all recent Twitter posts that contain the University s name and the keyword admissions. These keywords, along with hash tags that contain the names of popular recruitment events, identify posts from campus visitors. The dean replies to these posts personally to extend his welcome. Promote notable campus venues on FourSquare. To prepare for University E s most recent admitted students event, administrators posted a FourSquare list of 20 locations on campus that all prospective students should visit. Staff members provided instructions for FourSquare at event registration tables. Arrange for popular bloggers to meet visiting students. During visits, prospective students enjoy interactions with bloggers, whom they may view as campus celebrities. Several tour guides at University C maintain blogs, and bloggers at University E attend all events for admitted students. After the Visit Follow up on events with Storify timelines. Storify aggregates posts from various social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, into multimedia timelines. Staff at University E create Storify timelines for each admitted students event. They timelines to event participants a few days after they leave campus to reinforce the experience. Share Storify timelines to promote future events. Administrators at University C plan to share Storify timelines of this year s admissions events with next year s applicants to encourage attendance at next year s events.

11 V. Cohesive Social Media Strategies Developing Custom Platforms Custom Platforms Integrate Social Media into the Application Process Five years ago, administrators at College A launched a custom platform that integrates the admissions process with social networking among prospective classmates. This platform consists of two interlocking parts, accessible from one dashboard: 11 of 16 MyCollege*: Prior to application, prospective students create accounts on MyCollege to browse an original guide to the college admissions process, read online issues of a student magazine, take virtual campus tours, register for campus visits, and track application requirements. College Peers*: Upon acceptance to the College, admitted students gain access to College Peers, a closed online community of potential classmates. Students can create profiles that reflect their academic and personal interests and join groups with others who share these interests (e.g., dog lovers, guitar players). They can also post questions on topics that relate to matriculation (e.g., financial aid, residence life, orientation) for current students, admissions officers, and marketing/communications staff to address. (*Custom platforms names have been modified to protect the confidentiality of contact institutions.) Custom Platforms Provide Greater Control over Display and Analytics Administrators at College A prefer custom platforms to third-party platforms for the following reasons: Greater control over display: Third-party platforms such as Facebook provide limited options for administrators to customize the display of university pages. Administrators may also lack control over the addition or removal of features (e.g., comment options, privacy options). Greater capacity for analytics: When students create accounts on MyCollege, they submit detailed demographic information including hometowns, high schools, and standardized test scores. Administrators incorporate information gathered from profiles into institutional research on admissions and recruitment. Customized service based on student profiles: MyCollege uses information from student profiles to provide applicants with services tailored to their needs. For example, if an applicant registers as a prospective music performance student, then audition steps will appear in his or her application checklist. Similarly, various fields on campus visit registration forms auto-complete based on student profiles. Promoting Cohesion Across Platforms Unify Presence Across Platforms with Aggregators and Central Accounts Administrators value social media strategies that maintain two kinds of cohesion: Cohesion across admissions platforms: Prospective students should receive consistent information from admissions accounts on various platforms. Additionally, from any given platform, students should have easy access to all other platforms. Cohesion across institutional accounts: Admissions accounts on various platforms should complement institution-wide accounts and accounts that belong to other departments (e.g., alumni relations, student affairs).

12 12 of 16 Strategies to Maintain Cohesive Social Media Presence Link All Platforms Back to Admissions Website Aggregate All Platforms into One Stream Share Central Accounts on Smaller Platforms To ensure that prospective students receive consistent information, administrators link admissions accounts on all platforms back to admissions websites, which remain the most comprehensive and accurate sources of information on the applications process. Comprehensive linking between platforms also provides page visitors with easy access to their choice of platforms. All pages on University C s website link to an aggregated social stream that displays the six most recent updates on University accounts across all platforms. The streaming page also includes a directory of University-affiliated accounts, grouped into official department pages and unofficial student group pages. Some contacts consider the creation of numerous departmentspecific accounts on less popular platforms (e.g., Pinterest, Instagram, FourSquare) an ineffective use of staff time. Administrators may instead address prospective students from central, institution-wide accounts. At University D, marketing staff maintain one central Pinterest account that targets prospective students, current students, and alumni; contacts advise that if multiple departments created separate accounts, each account would attract too small of an audience to be effective. Integrate Social Media into Content and Signatures Admissions officers and interviewers employ the following strategies to create cohesion between social media and outreach: Include links to all social media platforms in admissions officers signatures Provide digests of noteworthy blog posts in e-newsletters to prospective students Enhance newsletters with social media, including videos. Admissions officers at University D recently filmed brief introductions, which they ed out to all applicants within their regions.

13 13 of 16 VI. Operations and Resources Staffing Needs Comprehensive Strategies Require a Coordinator and up to Three Participants Effective social media strategies for student recruitment require collaboration between staff members from admissions and marketing/communications. Staff Responsibilities for Social Media Strategies Role Coordinator Participating Staff Number Typical Titles Department Responsibilities Required Time Commitment Social Media Manager, Social Media Coordinator Marketing/Communications, Creative Services Primary administrator of institution-wide platforms Oversees institution s long-term social media strategies Facilitates cohesion across departmental strategies Communicates with admissions staff at least once per week May lead weekly meetings for social media users from various offices (e.g., admissions, alumni relations) Dean of Admissions, Admissions Officer Admissions Interacts directly with students through social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter posts, blog entries) Checks popular platforms at least once per day Monitors platforms throughout day during peak admissions seasons (i.e., near application deadlines) Joint Appointments Bridge Admissions and Communications Expertise The social media manager at University E maintains a joint appointment with the offices of admissions and communications. Her position combines expertise on longterm, institution-wide social media strategies with an emphasis on student recruitment needs. The admissions budget funds 40% of her salary, and she dedicates 35-40% of her time to social media for admissions. No other admissions staff dedicate more than one hour per week to social media. Custom Platforms Require More Staff for Development and Maintenance Staff needs for College A s custom platform vary by season. In preparation for MyCollege s annual launch each fall, up to 12 staff members from admissions, marketing/communications, and information technology collaborate on the platform s design and development. During off seasons, at least six staff from admissions and marketing/communications participate in platform maintenance and usage.

14 14 of 16 Custom Platform Staffing Needs at College A Department Commitment Roles Responsibilities Marketing/ Communications Year-round Director of Recruitment Marketing Recruitment Marketing Web Content Producer During peak seasons, monitors platforms for up to 3 hours/day During off seasons, reads daily digests of platform activity Seasonal Designers and Developers Provides web design for platforms Admissions Year-round Director of Admissions Admissions Officers Answers questions posted on College Peers Participates in College Peers discussions Seasonal Programmers Links information from student profiles to admissions databases Information Technology Seasonal Programmers Develops new platform applications Five to 20 Student Staff Typically Produce Blog Entries and Other Content Most contact institutions hire student writers and photographers to provide content for blogs and custom platforms. Student workers report to either marketing/communications or admissions. Current students may also monitor or participate in social networks (e.g., Facebook, College Peers) on an unpaid basis. Social Media Responsibilities of Student Staff Institution Number of Student Staff Hours Per Student Responsibilities College A College B hours per week Up to 8 hours every two weeks Produce content for custom platform, including integrated online magazine Produce content for blogs University D 5 Unknown Produce content for blogs University E hours per month Produce content for blogs

15 15 of 16 Engage Student Interns in New Social Media Initiatives Because current students resemble prospective students in demographics, student workers can provide valuable insight on the habits and interests of target audiences. In Fall 2012, admissions staff at University C plan to hire one to three marketing and communications interns for up to 10 hours per week. These interns will dedicate 20-30% of their time to social media, and they will introduce Instagram and Tumblr, two platforms new to admissions staff, to the department s portfolio. Budget and Expenses Admissions Departments Lack Dedicated Social Media Budgets, But Expenses Generally Remain Small The primary cost associated with social media strategies is staff time, including student wages. Basic social media strategies require no technological tools beyond a computer and internet service, though comprehensive strategies may require additional media devices, analytics tools, and in some cases dedicated servers. Admissions departments generally do not maintain budgets dedicated to social media, and administrators from admissions and marketing/communications fund expenses on a case-by-case basis as they arise. Expenses Associated with Social Media Servers for custom platforms and/or blogs Cameras, video cameras, tripods Analytics tools

16 VII. Assessment and Outcomes Social Media Analytics Tools Invest in Analytics to Determine Visitor Preferences for Content Contacts use various analytics tools to assess the reach of each platform and the types of content that engage the most visitors. Analytics Tools for Popular Platforms 16 of 16 Through Google Analytics, administrators at College B found that prospective students prefer blog entries about admissions before decisions letters arrive in March, but that they prefer entries about campus life and academics throughout the year. Platform Facebook Twitter Blogs Multiple Platforms Analytics Tool Facebook Insights tracks the number of views, likes, and comments that posts receive, and it provides aggregated demographic data (e.g., age, location) on those who engage with posts. Buffer tracks the number of views and shares that Twitter posts receive, and its delay function allows users to schedule posts for optimal times of day. Bit.ly measures the number of clicks and shares that links within Twitter posts receive. Google Analytics tracks page visits, visitor demographics, and the sources that bring visitors to pages (e.g., admissions website, e- newsletter, Google). Sprout Social, which requires a small monthly subscription fee, estimates the reach of content across various platforms through metrics such as Facebook comments and Twitter followers. Impact on Admissions Administer Entrance Surveys to Assess the Impact of Social Media Outreach At College B and University C, contacts evaluate admissions outreach through entrance surveys for matriculating students. (University C also surveys admitted students who choose not to matriculate.) Sample entrance survey questions: How did incoming students initially hear about the institution? Where did students learn about the institution during the applications process? What components of admissions communication strategies did students appreciate most? What improvements can administrators make to their communication strategies throughout the admissions process? Contacts have not yet analyzed entrance surveys to determine the impact of social media on admissions metrics (e.g., application numbers, yield rates). Contacts advise that the number of factors that shape students decisions to apply and enroll complicate assessments of the impact of social media on admissions. In the absence of data, contacts cite anecdotal evidence of the benefits of social media on student recruitment. Across contact institutions, prospective students occasionally mention in applications essays that blog entries have influenced their decisions to apply to the institution. Additionally, admitted students often write on Facebook pages that online communities have influenced their decisions to matriculate.

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