The Social Side of College Admissions

Segmenting Your Audience on Facebook

April 20, 2009

Facebook has just surpassed 200 million users. It's hard to ignore an opportunity like this for your college or university to reach such a large audience... all in one place, especially when more and more people are using Facebook to communicate socially in lieu of e-mail.

So let's assume you get over the initial hurdle and decide that it's worth it for your school to be on Facebook. The next questions are who is your target audience, what types of information do they want about your school, and what type of relationship are you looking to foster.

For colleges, there seem to be a few major buckets that people will fall into, and each of these groups is likely to want very different information about your school. And you are very likely hoping to achieve different results for each of these groups. The lists below are by no means comprehensive and I'm sure you could add several bullets to each section, but they start to scratch at the surface of this challenge.

Alumni

They've already got your diploma on their wall. Their time at your school has likely left them with an emotional tie to their alma mater.

What types of information are they likely to want?

  • Alumni news - Information to help them stay connected with each other and with the accomplishments of fellow graduates
  • College news - Information on exciting happenings at your college, important achievements, prominent hires
  • Sports scores and updates

What are the college's goals?

  • Fundraising - money for your next building project
  • Brand building - alumni are often some of the most powerful advocates of your college's brand

Current Students

They're laying down good money for a degree from your esteemed institution.

What types of information are they likely to want?

  • Campus Events - Speakers coming to campus, upcoming performances and concerts, and career fairs
  • Important Deadlines and Announcements - Due dates for student housing and financial aid forms, holiday schedule
  • Sports scores and updates

What are the college's goals?

  • Information Dissemination - Keeping current students up-to-date on what's happening on and around your campus
  • Support - Creating a presence where they can reach out with questions and concerns
  • Relationship Bulding - eventually they'll be alumni, and fundraising will become more important

Prospective and Admitted Students

They are in the midst of one of the biggest decisions of their life, where to go to college. Dozens of colleges and universities are sending them marketing materials.

What types of information are they likely to want?

  • Program / Major Information
  • Important Deadlines and Forms - Admissions and financial aid application deadlines and forms
  • Recruitment Events - College fairs you'll be at and visit days
  • More than Just the Stats - Virtual tours, student blogs, the information that college guidebooks don't have about the real feel of the campus and the students who attend your school

What are the college's goals?

  • Increasing applications
  • Improving yield

Does One Size Fit All?

Can a single Facebook Page (Public Profile) or Facebook Group address the needs of all of these segments effectively? Getting someone to become a Fan of your school's Facebook Page or join your school's Facebook Group should not be the end goal. I'm guessing any large, public university could have a thousand Fans within a month with a little bit of work, but then what? Engaging your Fans in a meaningful way is the real challenge and that is what will ultimately help you get real results from your Facebook presence.

To really engage each of these groups, you need to give them a reason to keep coming back, to stay tuned in to what is happening with your college or university. To do this, do you need a separate Facebook page for the alumni office, the admissions office, and the student services office? Maybe.

There may be other options to consider as well. At Varsity Outreach, we've built a Facebook Application specifically designed for admission offices to reach out to prospective and admitted students. Inigral has built a Facebook Application primarily for current students. iModules has built a Facebook plug-in for its alumni community product.

Social networks like Facebook may be a relatively new phenomenon, but the numbers are hard to ignore. Figuring out ways to build connections with alumni, current students, prospective and admitted students, faculty, sports fans, and more is likely to provide real value for your college or university.

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