Colleges have been early adopters of social media. They've built Facebook pages and launched Twitter feeds much sooner than lots of their business-minded peers. Using blogs as an example:
- In 2007, 32% of colleges blogged vs. 8% of the Fortune 500 or even 19% of the much savvier Inc 500
- In 2008, they remained well ahead of that curve: 41% of colleges blogged vs.13% of the Fortune 500 and 39% of the Inc 500
But most still face the same challenge: they have a lot of content, but not a lot of engagement.
A number of colleges can count their Facebook fans in the tens of thousands. But the one with The Single Highest level of engagement only has about 300 fan posts. How do colleges translate this interest and affiliation to action? The answer seems to be a more targeted strategy. Not just testing these hot new tactics, but understanding the needs of their audience, setting clear objectives and then picking the tactic that makes the most sense to deliver results.
Four colleges have cracked the code:
- SUNY. Their New Paltz campus wanted to increase the academic quality of the incoming class. Through their current outreach efforts, they were able to get on these high-quality student's short lists (and accept them); the challenge was convincing them that SUNY was the right final choice. They decided to find a way to make these students feel more connected to SUNY. The tactic was a private community called Cafe New Paltz.
Students were invited to join through a tiered invitation system: First build relationships with the students we want most; then open it up to the entire class. Two people were dedicated to act as hosts and update content. That was essential to the strategy: consistently delivering valuable content. It gave students a compelling reason to spend time on the site (the average visit was a whopping 14 minutes) and delivered the desired results by increasing the percent of their “highest selectivity” group that made deposits from 30% to 37%. Read more at .eduGuru.
- Wittenberg University. The project is called Witt Nation. It's a summer roadtrip that started with a defined goal: Build stronger
relationships and reach out to like minds. 13 talk leaders traveled 8,000 miles to host
events in 27 cities. On the road, they met more than 1,000 passionate fans - creating something that looks very much like the core of the Wittenberg brand: a unique place for unique people.
Importantly, Wittenberg integrated the “on the road” experience with an online community - building out a storytelling space to connect with potential students and engage alums. The stories collected each summer will live on beyond the road trip. (I can't help it, I still think Plaid's is cooler!)
- Mayo Medical School.Here's one that was actually inspired by all that testing of various social media tactics. Mayo admits a small, diverse freshman class. They come from around the country and around the world to embark on the toughest education challenge of their lives. Naturally, they're nervous and tend to know no one on Day 1 of the fall semester. So, orientation has always been an important focus for the school - get people acclimated to start them off right.
By testing different tactics, they found that Facebook groups were more effective than their traditional orientation efforts. So, they tried refocusing all of their orientation efforts there. They earned 100% participation by pairing the with right (exclusive) content with the right experience. And, it worked. Not only did they notice better teamwork and integration in incoming classes, they were also able to refocus staff time and cost savings on curriculum.
Barbara Porter, Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Affairs said “We used to worry about learning their names because we didn’t want them to feel isolated. Well, now they know everybody by the time they get here.” Hear her talk more about the program on YouTube.
- University of Minnesota.The school's Carlson MBA program was struggling to meet its admission goals. The marketing team knew what they needed was to
make direct connections with more
potential students. Unfortunately, this kind of student - professional, adult, heads of household - is a little trickier to reach than your average incoming freshman. Even when events and programs were offered, many of their most-desired students didn't attend - they were too busy or couldn't make it at that particular time.
Carlson used social media to overcome the barriers of communicating with non-traditional students. They created an account on Twitter to answer questions and engage potential students in real time (while, creating a searchable archive). The strategy worked. They increased the number of applications for the incoming class. See the feed.