How Colleges Can Engage Prospective Students Socially
As the spring 2013 semester concludes, college admissions officers must shift their focus to a new group of prospective students. Admissions departments need to recognize that this group is constantly connected to the Internet and their social media accounts. Therefore, the antiquated recruitment practices of many institutions must shift to include multi-channel, digitally inclusive tactics. In order to reach these potential applicants, they need to actively engage them through these platforms. According to a survey conducted by Zinch, about two-thirds of high school students use social media to research colleges, and more than one-third of those students use social media to help decide where to enroll. It’s a channel that provides colleges with an effective way to keep their audience of current students informed while targeting prospective teens who are embarking on one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
Make School Assets Easy to Find
With each passing year, the number of prospective applicants increases, making the collegiate landscape increasingly competitive. A way for colleges to break through the competition is to connect and have a presence via social media and on college board platforms. One notable college review website is CollegeProwler.com. It is a student community with comprehensive college profiles that allows prospective students to research colleges of interest. Some features include a filtered college search, scholarship finder, and a wide-ranging ranking system for colleges, which highlights categories ranging from healthiest dining options to the best recreational activities. Colleges have the freedom to monitor these review sites, read the feedback and take action to improve their rankings.
Master Social Media
A study published in The Journal of College Admission that explored the top 100 colleges and universities found that schools use an average of 3.7 social networks. While creating a Facebook page and uploading campus pictures is a good first step to establish an online social presence, colleges need to bolster their engagement tactics to actually make an impact on the student and push the rate of students who commit. Admissions shouldn’t stop there either. Twitter is the fastest growing social media site globally, with a 42% increase in active users since 2012. It’s the go-to platform for colleges to push out useful information in real time and share quick facts about the school’s unique offerings. Marist College, for example, implemented “Marist Monday,” which encourages students to tweet pictures on and around campus. It’s a great way to give students exposure to what college-life is like and get a sense of the community.
However, social media alone will not suffice. A holistic approach that leverages more traditional platforms for colleges to gain a competitive advantage, like print and direct mail, is essential. If colleges identify the channels where prospective students would be most receptive to advertising, they can form a targeted message that aligns with their overall communication strategy. State University of New York at Plattsburgh uses ads on Pandora radio (very popular among this demographic) to tell its story. In fall 2012, this strategy, along with SEM and display ads, helped foster approximately 27 million online impressions.
Go Beyond the Screen
While socially engaging with prospective students is an important marketing tactic for colleges, converting this into visits and in-person meetings is the critical step to ensure success. Students can only see so many pictures and read so many reviews behind a computer screen. The Common Application that many students fill out also gives the ability to apply to multiple schools that they may know little about. Once that application is submitted, it’s up to Admissions to continue a dialogue and foster an environment for communication between the school and the student. Encouraging them to visit the campus, interact with current students, and meet with the admissions staff through multiple channels will help colleges increase the amount of prospective students and should not be disregarded.
As social media usage continues to become more prominent, closely observe the way in which colleges and universities strategically pursue communication. Whether it is through online review websites, the latest social media platform, or a new approach to a traditional channel, colleges can take advantage of a number of resources to help them promote their school and recruit a qualified student body.