The Social Side of College Admissions

Herding and Community Building

May 18, 2009

While reading the book Predictably Irrational, I came across the concept of herding, where "we assume that something is good (or bad) on the basis of other people's previous behavior, and our actions follow suit." The author Dan Ariely uses the example of restaurants. If we walk by a restaurant with a line, we assume it's good. If the line is really long, we assume it's great. You have never eaten the food at the restaurant, but you already have a positive association with it.

Start with Your Most Passionate Fans

The book got me thinking about incorporating this concept of herding when establishing online communities for prospective and admitted students. Why not encourage the most passionate, most interested students to join first and let them set a positive tone for the community? Your admissions office could target students who have:

  • Visited campus already
  • Applied early
  • Made a strong impression at college fairs
  • Have parents / siblings that are alumni

Build a Line in Front of Your School

These students are likely to post positive comments on your walls, to share their excitement on your discussion boards, to actively engage in the community with specific questions and answers regarding your school's unique programs and opportunities. You may even consider letting them know that they are the first to be invited into the community, imbuing them with a sort of insider status. These students are the "first people in line for your restaurant."

Let These Users Create a Positive Herding Effect

Now, you start inviting the 2nd and 3rd wave of prospective and admitted students into the community. A prospect or admit that may have been lukewarm is now likely to see other students singing the praises of your school (see our previous post where we discuss authenticity). Perhaps their first thought will be "Wow, people really seem to love this school. Maybe I have been missing something and should take a closer look?" These students are now walking by a restaurant with a long line that a whole bunch of other people seem to really like.

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