Free Facebook Office Hours for Admissions Offices This Summer
June 4, 2013
The admissions season has quieted down a bit. You're done with travel season. You're done reading applications. May 1 has come and gone. Now you have a little time to come up for air, maybe squeeze in some vacation time, and get ready for it to start all over again this fall.
When we talk with admissions offices, the summer is an opportunity to regroup, assess the results of the past admissions season, and plan for the upcoming one. To help you with these efforts, we're offering Facebook Office Hours this summer. Book a half-hour session to talk with our president Mark Rothbaum about your Facebook strategy.
This is not a sales pitch. You come equipped with YOUR questions, YOUR challenges, or whatever you want to discuss that's related to Facebook and your outreach efforts for prospects and admits.
Mark will help you think through your Facebook strategy, grounding his answers in insights gleaned from Varsity Outreach's research into 700+ college and university Facebook Pages, from our annual survey of admissions professionals about their Facebook efforts, and from our experience powering dozens of Facebook Communities for admissions offices across the country.
It's an opportunity for you to pick Mark's brain (he's spent WAY too much time thinking about Facebook) and a chance for us to better understand the challenges that you grapple with every day.
We've blocked off two hours on most Monday afternoons and Friday mornings (we're on Eastern Time) throughout the summer. We hope you can find a slot that is convenient for you.
Labels: Admissions, Community, Facebook, Marketing, Strategy
4th Annual Facebook in Admissions Survey
May 21, 2013
For a 4th consecutive year, Varsity Outreach is conducting the Facebook in Admissions Survey, aimed at highlighting trends among admissions offices in their use of the social network Facebook. We will be releasing the results of our survey in a free White Paper to help admissions professionals better understand the most common practices. We will also be sharing results at the annual National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Conference in Toronto.
How Is the Data Used?
All data will be shown in the aggregate. Answers from individual schools will not be released and will remain confidential.
- Help us develop a big-picture look at trends in the use of Facebook in recruitment and yield efforts, which we'll share as part of a free White Paper
- Gain early access to a summary of our survey results--we'll give participants an early look at our findings before we release them publicly
- We'll be giving away two $50 AmEx gift cards (or a $50 donation to a charity of your choice) to two lucky survey participants
How Long Will It Take?
The survey should take ~5 minutes to complete.
Labels: data, Facebook, Marketing, Metrics, Social Media
4 Lessons from Twitter Office Hours with Federal Student Aid
April 15, 2013
I'm always interested in hearing about folks who are trying to push the envelope in how they utilize social media. While you could probably find thousands of articles about social media strategy with a simple Google search, let's be honest… social media is really just in its infancy. We're all still trying to figure out what levers we can pull to effectively reach and engage with our target audiences.
So when I heard about Federal Student Aid (FSA) holding monthly office hours on Twitter, I had to see it for myself first-hand. They were kind enough to let me be a fly on the wall for the February installment of their Twitter office hours.
To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I'm guessing that the federal government is not a first stop for many of you when it comes to social media inspiration. However, after talking with them a bit and experiencing the action live, I wanted to share some of what I saw that may be useful for many admissions offices navigating their way in the world of social media.
Lesson #1: Have a Clear Plan of Attack
This wasn't the first rodeo for the folks at FSA. This was the 13th installment of their office hours on Twitter, and they were a well-oiled machine. Each person had a clearly defined role. One person was in charge of monitoring incoming questions and putting them into a shared Google Docs spreadsheet that everyone had access to. Two people were busy formulating clear and succinct answers. Remember: 140 characters is not a lot for answering a question about filling out the FAFSA. One person was taking these answers, performing quality checks, and queuing up the responses. And a final person handled the posts to the @FAFSA Twitter account. Everyone was busy, but no one was frantic. Not only did each person know exactly what they were supposed to do, but they also knew what they did not need to worry about. There was clear accountability for each step of the process with very little overlap. This mirrors what we often see with our own partner schools. Things go much smoother when one or two people are in charge of specific tasks. When three people are all managing everything collectively, things seem to slip through the cracks ("I thought you were handling that").
Lesson #2: Listen to Concerns, Don't Try to Squash Criticism
As you can imagine, when you're a federal agency answering a student's question about financial aid, you can't just throw out your best guess. You need to make sure you provide accurate information. Response time to office-hour questions typically took ~5-10 minutes to go through the entire process I just highlighted. In a medium where your feed may be updating with several Tweets every second, this seemed like an eternity to one participant who complained about the response time. The FSA team acknowledged the concern and let the student know they were working on an answer. We created a Storify so you can see how the FSA team handled this participant's complaint. By the end of the back-and-forth, they were exchanging virtual high-fives and kisses.
Lesson #3: Don't Be Afraid to Let Your Hair Down a Little
What surprised me the most (in a good way) was the willingness of the FSA team to be playful on Twitter. They posted a couple photos of themselves during the office hours (one with them blowing kisses) and even used emoticons here and there.
I thought they found the right balance on this front. You don't want to sound like a 15-year-old, but you also don't want to sound like a robot. A little playfulness lets your audience know there are real people behind your organization's social media accounts who care about helping their followers / fans. Personally, there's not much I hate more than dealing with an automated customer service line or with customer service reps following a script. The human element can go a long way toward earning trust.
Lesson #4: Give Your Fans / Followers a Reason to Get the Word Out
One of the really interesting aspects of the FSA's office hours on Twitter was that it seemed to mobilize a number of their followers and partner organizations to get the word out. It was a reason for them to promote the @FAFSA account along with the #AskFAFSA hashtag. They had something useful for them to share. They were not saying, "Hey, can you tell your own followers about the @FAFSA Twitter account again?" They were essentially saying "Hey, we're providing an outlet for your followers to get important financial aid questions answered. Let them know about this event."
Dozens of financial aid offices, high school counselors, and other student-focused organizations were re-tweeting the event announcement to their followers. The office hours on Twitter give these "friends of FSA" a regular opportunity to help promote FSA and its educational efforts. You could argue that this may be the most valuable aspect of these regular office hours.
Thanks again to the great team at FSA for letting me pull back the curtain on this unique initiative and get a glimpse into how it works.
Labels: Marketing, Social Media, Twitter
Tough Questions Raised by the Fallout from a Single Tweet
March 25, 2013
Many of you have probably already read about how a single tweet led to two people getting fired and plenty of backlash across the internet. In a nutshell, the author of the tweet called out two fellow conference-goers for a comment she overheard and felt was sexist. She didn't just share her outrage, though. She shared a photo of the men who made the comment. Ultimately, two people were fired, including the author of the tweet. If you want more background, take a look at this Forbes story on the incident.
This story caught my eye for two reasons.
First, this tweet had significant real-world costs. Two people lost their jobs and a company was targeted by a cyber-attack as a result of the tweet. I hope those involved were able to learn from the experience and move forward with their lives.
Second, it raises a lot of tough questions about how we approach social media. As a company that helps future students (mostly high-school kids) connect in a virtual environment, these are questions that we think about often.
Public vs. Private
It's amazing (and unsettling, at times) to think of the expanded reach every person has access to because of the internet and social media and the increased velocity with which information is spread. And it's all happened so fast that I think everyone is still learning how to navigate these new tools.
As part of this, there's clearly been a blurring of the line between public and private. In this particular case, the author of the tweet overheard a comment made by two people having a "private" conversation. I put "private" in quotes because it was happening at a tech conference where they were surrounded by dozens of people who were likely within earshot. Are we at the point with the spread of smart phones equipped with cameras and easy access to broadcasting tools like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook where conversations in public spaces should always be considered public?
Look, if you're a public figure, making comments on a radio show or on your Twitter account with 100,000 followers, I think you're fair game. But should you be fair game if you're talking to a friend in a cafe? What about a post in a private Class of 2017 Facebook Group? Anyone in that group can copy-and-paste a post and share it?
I know I approach my posts on my personal Facebook profile with the thought that they might be shared publicly at some point, even though I'm typically only sharing them with my friends. There has been more than one instance where I didn't post something as a result. But am I losing out on sharing memories or having virtual conversations with friends because of this caution? Probably.
Now, imagine you're an 18-year-old senior and everyone is sharing every detail of their life on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. What are you likely to be sharing? Are you equipped to appreciate the implications of sharing information and content about yourself? We only need to look at the recent events in Steubenville, Ohio, to realize many are not.
In-Person Conversations vs. Virtual Conversations
While I've had some really interesting and valuable back-and-forth conversations on social media tools like Twitter or Facebook, let's be honest... it's not the same as having an in-person conversation with a friend.
One of the first things to go in a virtual conversation is nuance. Trying to pare an idea down to a 140-character tweet necessitates the removal of words that often soften a stance. I can't use "sometimes" or "in this particular instance" because those are precious characters I'm giving up. In this case, the tweet didn't include the full comment, just references to "big dongles" and jokes about "forking repo's in a sexual way." No real sense for what made this offensive vs. juvenile humor.
On top of that, you often lose the context and history behind a comment. When I'm talking to my friend, we have shared experiences. We know some of each other's background and have an understanding of where the other person is coming from. I also have visual cues to help me glean a better understanding of these comments. If someone retweets something I said in a back-and-forth exchange, there's no context and history there, no visual cues. Was the comment meant sarcastically or in earnest? Was it referencing a previous conversation? Was it some sort of inside joke?
How do we balance our desire to share our ideas and have virtual conversations with the risk that anything we share can be taken out of context, removed from the conversation and evaluated in isolation (think, retweet)? How do we educate high school students who text hundreds of times a day with friends that a comment on YouTube or Facebook may carry additional risks?
Law of Unintended Consequences
One of the saddest parts of this story is that it seemed to snowball into a much bigger deal than I'm guessing anyone involved could ever have imagined. When you release something into social media, it often takes on a life of its own, for better or for worse.
While I believe she shouldn't have shared a photo of the "offenders"—sharing the comment itself probably would have been enough and funneled any resulting outrage toward the comment and not this person whom she did not seem to know—I doubt her goal was to get anyone fired from their jobs. I doubt she ever could have imagined such a strong backlash against herself, let alone the company she works for.
The whole incident almost leaves my head spinning a bit. Should I never share my thoughts and opinions for fear of some unimaginable consequence? Is this just the new reality for participating in the world of social media? Should we all consider ourselves having been Mirandized when it comes to social media "Anything you say, can and will be used against you in the court of social media and in ways you can't even anticipate"?
Again, bringing it back to the typical target audience for most of our partner schools... how do you teach an 18-year-old high school student to appreciate these risks and to answer these difficult questions for themselves?
Labels: Social Media, Teens, Twitter
How Much Is Too Much? A Closer Look at Post Frequency
January 23, 2013
This is the final post in our 4-part series A Look Back at 2012.
One of the biggest challenges that many colleges and universities face is determining how frequently they should post. In our research, we've continually encountered an interesting phenomenon… an inverse relationship between how frequently a Facebook Page posts and the average engagement score of that Facebook Page's posts. In general, the more an institution posts, the less engagement they garner per post. You can see this illustrated in the graph below. We basically grouped pages into tranches of 50, based on how many posts the page made in 2012. For example, the first tranche of pages (i.e. the 50 pages that posted the most frequently out of the 628 pages analyzed) averaged 1,125 posts for 2012 and had an average engagement score of 1.8 for their posts. The second tranche averaged 674 posts with an engagement score of 2.3, and so on.
|Post Frequency Ranking
||Avg. Number of Posts
||Avg. Number of Fans
Finding the Right Balance
There's obviously a trade-off that a college or university needs to consider. Each institution is leveraging Facebook to build and maintain relationships with their various audiences (prospects, admits, current students, alumni, sports fans, parents, staff, and more). If you're only posting once a month, how much are you strengthening that relationship, even if those posts are generating more likes, comments, and shares? On the other end of the spectrum, if you're posting 3 times a day, are you over-saturating your fans and risking them tuning out your message altogether? When we talk with colleges and universities, we encourage them to think of themselves in terms of being a friend of your Facebook fan. If someone is a good friend of mine, I'm probably willing to tolerate more posts from her in my Newsfeed. I'm probably more interested in the details of her life and more apt to like and comment on her posts, thereby increasing the likelihood that future posts appear in my Newsfeed. If you're someone who happened to have gone to elementary school with me, my tolerance level is going to be much lower. A college's Facebook Page probably falls somewhere in between.
Obviously, the content of the posts is going to play a big role in what I'm willing to tolerate as well. Even if you're my best friend, I probably don't want to see the details of every meal you eat (unless we're both foodies) or a play-by-play of the sports game you're watching (unless I'm a rabid fan of the team as well). If my elementary school classmate happens to be a world-class travel photographer and shares amazing photos from her trips to exotic locales, I'd probably be a lot more interested in seeing posts from her, even though we may not have talked in the last 15 years.
2012 vs. 2011
When we look at the average posts per page for 2011 and 2012, we see that it has increased in every size category, with the biggest jump (percentagewise) among pages with fewer than 5000 fans.
Average Posts by Page – 2012 vs. 2011
|XX Large (75,000+ Facebook fans)||527||494||7%|
|X Large (20,000-74,999 Facebook fans)||459||431||7%|
|Large (10,000-19,999 Facebook fans)||388||384||1%|
|Medium (5,000-9,999 Facebook fans)||352||321||10%|
|Small (<5,000 Facebook fans)||282||246||14%|
Post Frequency of Most Engaging College and University Facebook Pages
Now, when we look at the top 10 most engaging pages in each size category, it's pretty clear that the most engaging pages are posting less frequently than the average institutional page.
Average Posts by Page (2012) – All in Size Category vs. Top 10
|XX Large (75,000+ Facebook fans)||527||287|
|X Large (20,000-74,999 Facebook fans)||459||286|
|Large (10,000-19,999 Facebook fans)||388||239|
|Medium (5,000-9,999 Facebook fans)||352||192|
|Small (<5,000 Facebook fans)||282||105|
In fact, of the 50 Facebook Pages that made the top 10 list in each size category, only three posted more frequently than the average for that category. These rare schools were Soka University of America (Medium), Smith College (Large), and Florida State University (XL).
Ultimately, the question boils down to how frequently can a college or university Facebook Page post compelling enough content that will generate strong engagement. We don't have a hard-and-fast answer for you, but we'd highly recommend you taking a look at the college and university Facebook Pages that made our top 10 lists and compare them to your own. You might even consider focusing on the three schools mentioned above. They seem to be uniquely able to keep the engagement high while posting more frequently than pages of comparable size.
Labels: data, Facebook, Metrics, Pages, Social Media
The 500 Most Engaging Facebook Posts of 2012
January 21, 2013
This is the third post in our 4-part series A Look Back at 2012.
We wanted to focus one of the posts in this series on the best of the best, those posts that generated the highest level of engagement among fans. We took a closer look at the 500 most engaging posts from the entire pool of 236,060 posts for which we calculated an Engagement Score.
Top 500 Posts by Media Type – Photos a Clear #1
Of the 500 most engaging posts, the large majority (74 percent) contained photos. We've emphasized in our blog a number of times the power of photos to foster engagement. They tend to stand out in the minimalist design of Facebook's Newsfeed, and we believe they are given greater weighting in Facebook's EdgeRank formula, which determines what you see in your Newsfeed.
Top 500 Posts by Media Type
Top 500 Posts by Content Type – Photos, Sports Scores, and Announcements, Oh My!
As we've done in the past, we tried to categorize each post into a Content Category. We saw a lot more sharing of photos this year – a beautiful picture of campus or a fun / whimsical picture of a mascot or fan. We saw a significant decline in the use of contests to generate engagement. This is probably a good sign since many of these were probably in violation of Facebook's policy for promotions and sweepstakes.
Top 500 Posts by Content Type
Photo—A post where the photo itself is the primary purpose of the post (e.g., photo of campus, an event, or alumni), not a supporting piece of content for the text
Announcements / News / Shout-Outs—Announcing upcoming events, achievements by faculty or alumni, important dates, or general news about the university
Score / Result / Pre-Game—Relating to a school's athletic teams, whether it was a score, an upcoming game, or a big win over a rival
Stat / Fact / Ranking—Highlighting a school's inclusion in a ranking list (e.g., US News) or sharing a fun fact / infographic about the school
Contest—Offering a prize if fans like or post a comment
Question—Posing an open-ended question or a prompt ("Tell us your favorite...")
Video—Sharing a video
Weather / Closure—Alerting students to important weather updates or to the school's status as open or closed due to inclement weather
Miscellaneous—Catch-all for posts that did not neatly fit into one of the other categories
Some Top Posts Worth Sharing
We pulled out a few examples that we thought were worth sharing. Hopefully, these will help you as you try to boost the engagement on your institution's own Facebook Page.
Tap into Your Institution's History and Bring Back a Photo from the Archive
Smith College dug into its photo archive to find this black-and-white photo from 1931. They even had a little fun with the caption.
Smith College post
Court a Little Controversy or Debate
This post is a little riskier, soliciting the reaction of fans on the results of the US Presidential election. If you page through the comments, you'll see some heated posts. This strategy is not for the faint of heart.
University of Denver post
Highlight a Sports Achievements and Make it Worth Sharing by Adding a Picture
Unfortunately, we can't all have a Heisman Trophy winner to post about. What we really like about this post by Texas A&M, though, is that they created a quality graphic to go with it. Look how many shares this post had! I bet if they'd just written a status update with the same text, it would not have generated as many shares.
Texas A&M post
Make a National Story Relevant
Morehouse College didn't just post "Go Out and Vote!" They made a national news story relevant to their audience by sharing a post of students in line at the polls.
Morehouse College post
St. Lawrence University marked the anniversary of 9/11 in a more meaningful way for its audience by sharing the names of alumni lost in the tragedy along with a photo of their annual commemorative tradition.
St. Lawrence University post
Showcase a Beautiful Picture of Campus
We're seeing more and more of this on college and university Facebook Pages. So many institutions have beautiful buildings on campus that make great backdrops for photos, especially if the lighting and weather are right. These two photos from Colorado College and Miami of Ohio are both postcard-worthy. No surprise that both generated lots of shares.
Colorado College post
Miami University post
Solicit Their Opinions
A tried and true way to get your fans to comment... just ask them to share their opinions. Northern Arizona asks for feedback on a graphic for their mascot Louie the Lumberjack, while Saint Vincent College encourages fans to share their favorite professor.
Northern Arizona University post
Saint Vincent College post
Labels: data, Facebook, Metrics, Social Media
A Review of When and What Colleges Posted on Facebook in 2012
January 17, 2013
This is the second post in our 4-part series A Look Back at 2012.
In our first post in this series, we shared a list of the most engaging college and university Facebook Pages. In this post, we wanted to dig a little deeper into the data and share further insights we were able to glean from our analysis of more than 230,000 posts.
Best Day of the Week to Post
This has been a consistent finding every time we've run analyses on college and university Facebook Pages. The best days to post seem to be Saturdays and Sundays. Not surprisingly, these are also the days on which college and university Facebook Pages post less frequently (Who wants to worry about posting on their days off?). We believe this is probably a mix of a couple factors:
- More time and opportunities for fans to check Facebook, many workplaces and schools block Facebook
- Weekends are often when major college sporting events occur, especially big-time college football
An Increase in Engagement in the 2nd Half of 2012
We noticed a steady increase in the engagement per post over the second half of 2012. This was mostly due to an increase in the rate of likes and shares per 1,000 fans. This is a trend we'll be keeping an eye on. We don't have a strong rationale for why this growth has occurred, but a few possible explanations (these are just educated guesses): an increase in mobile usage of Facebook, the mandatory shift to Timeline for pages, which occurred in March 2012, or maybe Facebook tweaked its Newsfeed algorithm increasing the exposure of pages.
|Month||Engagement Score (# of Posts)|
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words... Or At Least More Likes and Shares
Photos still hold the top spot for most engaging type of media on Facebook. Photos are liked more and shared more than any other media type. However, status updates generate more comments per 1,000 fans than any other media type (30 percent more than photos and 190 percent more than videos).
|Media Type||Engagement Score |
(# of Posts)
|Likes / 1000 Fans||Comments / 1000 Fans||Shares/ 1000 Fans|
|Music / Audio||0.73|
Labels: data, Facebook, Metrics, Social Media