The Social Side of College Admissions

A Facebook Page... Not Just Another Admissions Website

June 29, 2009

Unlike the ethereal voice from Field of Dreams repeating "If you build it, they will come" to Ray Kinsella, your strategy for Facebook should not just stop when you create a Fan Page. That is just the first step in an iterative, evolving presence to establish a thriving community around your school.

Don't Just Recreate Your Admissions Website

If all you do with your Facebook Page is re-post content that is on your admissions website, you're missing a major opportunity. If all a student wants to learn about your college or university is the application deadline date or your admissions requirements, they'll go directly to your admissions website or they'll do a Google search and find it. I doubt their first thought is to turn to your Facebook Page. Don't waste a lot of space on your Facebook Page providing information that is easily accessible on your admissions website. Post a link to your admissions website so students who want to find this information can easily do so.

Don't Forget the Social in Social Networking

A Facebook Page should provide them a chance to make connections around your school, keep up with the latest happenings on campus, participate in conversations, and get their questions answered. These are all social activities.

Keep Them Coming Back for More

Just getting a Facebook user to become a fan of your Facebook Page should not be the end goal. You want them checking back periodically, building a relationship with your college or university, and, ultimately contributing to the community. Getting a user to become a fan should just be the first step in this process.

Take Advantage of the Hooks that Facebook Offers

Facebook gives you several mechanisms to re-engage fans of your Facebook Page. Understanding these mechanisms can help you make the most of your Facebook efforts.

Access to the Facebook Stream
When users become fans of your Facebook Page, your status updates (what you post in the box at the top of the page that says "What's on your mind?") show up in their Facebook Stream. The Facebook Stream is front and center on every user's homepage. It's the first thing they see when they log in. That's prime real estate to get your message out to your fans.

Notifications When People Reply to Comments
Make sure you allow fans to post on your Page's wall. If not, you are shutting off an avenue for them to interact with your school and you are losing an opportunity to get them to revisit the Page. When a fan posts a comment on your wall, they will receive notifications when others respond to that comment. It's like they're being given a little nudge to come back to your Facebook Page, and maybe even share another comment or respond to someone else's post.

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The Power of the Unexpected

June 18, 2009

I was at a meeting the other day for folks working to improve access to college for New York City students. It was our annual wrap-up meeting before summer break and, as is tradition, we brought in a speaker to talk to us and provide a little motivation for the work we do.

He was fabulous. He captivated the audience, made us laugh, brought tears to some people's eyes, and left us all feeling good about the work we were doing. Just what we all needed.

How'd he do it? First, he didn't just try to hammer home the importance of college for low-income students or fire stats at us about the value of education. He told his story. He shared his own personal experience growing up in the projects, making his way to college, and eventually becoming a principal at a NYC middle school. But that's not all.

He did the unexpected. He grabbed our attention by sharing a wild story about how, as a third grader, he zipped up a little too quickly after going to the bathroom and ran out of the restroom to his teacher for help. If we weren't listening before, this story definitely got us all tuned in. Then, he told us another story about being in the Peace Corps and taking out his contacts in the home of a woman in a remote African village. She mistook the scene for him actually taking out his eye and ran around her hut screaming in terror. That's not all. He assumed she was running because she had just seen a lion approaching the hut and proceeded to run after her, figuring she knew the best way to escape. We were all conjuring in our minds how the whole scene would look.

At this point, we were all hooked. We wanted to hear what crazy tidbit he had to share next. We all knew it would be something wacky and, most likely, hilarious.

Share Your School's Wacky Quirks

Is your school sharing the same stories as every other school? Are you touting the strong academics and wonderful campus that every other school claims to have? Think about what makes your school unique, maybe even a little quirky, and share it. Pique a prospective student's curiosity with a story about a crazy tradition your school has. Grab their attention with a unique, unexpected opportunity your school offers. Maybe you have a course entirely devoted to The Beatles or to Star Trek. These are the attributes that are likely to stick out in a prospect's memory and make them curious to learn more about your school.

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Demise of Facebook a Little Premature?

June 11, 2009

Everywhere I look, I seem to see reports of the demise of Facebook among teenagers. The standard logic goes something like this:

  • Parents have now found Facebook
    The fastest growing demographic is women over 55.
  • Teens don't want to be where parents are
    Inevitably, their parents are going to friend them, throwing open the doors to all the conversations between teens and their friends and all the pictures their children are tagged in.
  • Therefore, teens are going to go elsewhere to connect socially.
    Upset at the invasion of their social space, teens look for another social network where they can connect without the prying eyes of parents.

Hold on a minute before you write off Facebook

1. Facebook is still growing among teens

Don't let the oft-quoted fact that women over 55 are the fastest growing demographic overshadow the fact that teens are still signing up for Facebook.

On February 1, 2009, 5.45 million U.S. teens used Facebook. By March 25, this figure had reached 6.05 million. In a little under two months this year, Facebook added more than a half million teenage users (aged 13-17) in the U.S. That's 11% growth in under two months, folks. Not too shabby.

2. Facebook has very strong privacy settings

Of all the major social networks, Facebook probably has the best privacy settings. You can limit access to your profile on a user-by-user basis if you want to get to that level of detail. If I don't want my mom to see my photos, I can change my privacy settings so that she cannot view any photos I upload or am tagged in. Maybe there's just one album that I'm worried about her seeing. No worries... I can just turn off her access to that potentially incriminating album. She'll probably never realize that she doesn't have access to it.

That level of granularity gives users a lot of control over their Facebook presence. Sure, it may take a little work, but not nearly as much work as switching to a new social network.

3. The network effect is strong

The power of social networks is their ability to help you make new social connections and strengthen existing social connections. The more of my friends and acquaintances that are on a social network, the more likely I'm going to want to join and participate in that network. Moreover, as I invest in the network (uploading photos, adding friends, taking quizzes, joining groups, becoming a fan of pages, and more), the greater the cost of switching to a new network.

Think of it like a party. Being the 1st person to the party is usually not as fun as being the 20th person to the party. This desire to be where the action is happening is likely even stronger among teens. If half my friends are on Facebook and only a handful are on MySpace, it is likely much more valuable and enjoyable to participate in Facebook.

The Google of Social Networking

I often think of Facebook as the Google of social networking. It wasn't first, or even second for that matter. But it seems to have done a good enough job to rise above the rest and establish itself as the standard. Like Google, Facebook has focused less on monetizing up front and more on creating the right user experience.

Still Unsure... Facebook vs. MySpace

It's not as though Facebook has plateaued recently. According to Nielsen, total minutes spent on Facebook increased by 700% from Apil 2008 to April 2009. Users spent more than 13 billion, yes billion, minutes on Facebook in April 2009. Over that same period, total minutes spent on MySpace actually shrunk by 31%.

If these are the numbers of a site on the demise, they're not too bad.

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Facebook Pages... The Top 10

June 8, 2009

We're putting together a directory of college and university Facebook Pages. As a sneak peak, we've included the top 10 U.S. schools by fan count.

Drum roll, please...

10. The University of Oklahoma - 15,469 fans
9. University of California, Berkeley - 16,830 fans
8. West Virginia University - 18,490 fans
7. University of Florida - 20,087 fans
6. Indiana University - 33,490 fans
5. Stanford University - 36,719 fans
4. Texas A&M University - 36,907 fans
3. The Ohio State University - 37,611 fans
2. The University of Kansas - 43,898 fans
1. University of Michigan - 44,713 fans

The major athletic conferences are well-represented. All of these schools are in the Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, or SEC.

Please note: These figures are as of noon ET on June 8, 2009

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A Marketing Lesson for Colleges from Jury Duty

June 1, 2009

Now I won't claim that jury duty holds a treasure trove of lessons about marketing to and recruiting prospective students, but I was definitely surprised by one aspect of the process: the Your Turn video, offering a brief outline of the roles and responsibilities of a jury.

As I sat in a giant windowless room at the Brooklyn court house, I looked around and saw the majority of people engaged by this video. Rather than blandly laying out what a jury is and how it fits into the judicial process, the video presented potential jurors with a brief narrative of the history of judicial systems, featuring appearances by Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes and Diane Sawyer. It wasn't just facts. The video was crafting a story.

We were educated about trial by ordeal, used in the Middle Ages, where a person's innocence was determined based on their buoyancy – the accused was bound and tossed into water... you float and you're guilty, you sink and you're innocent. They weaved in scenes from Perry Mason and portrayed the courtroom as a drama with a cast of characters including the judge, attorneys, clerk, stenographer, and more. As a juror, you were a central actor in this drama.

Sure, this wasn't an episode of Lost or American Idol, but most of the potential jurors had put down their newspapers and books or taken their eyes off their laptops. They even threw in some interviews from regular Joe's about their jury experience. And pitched jury duty as a "chance to serve", painting it as an opportunity rather than an obligation.

The video utilized several effective marketing tactics.

The video told a story

We were not bombarded with facts or simply told why jury duty was important. We were given a brief history of judicial systems, spanning from Aristotle to the Middle Ages to revolutionary America to today.

The video showed a human side

Testimonials from normal citizens provided a more personal feel. And it wasn't all roses. The video incorporated people complaining about having to serve on a jury duty ("I've got lots of work on my desk" or "I'm going to have to sit in a room all day"). We were offered some sympathy. But we were also presented with jurors commenting how much they learned about the judicial process. Some even claimed to have enjoyed it.

Don't forget that your prospective students are shopping for an experience. And numbers and facts are not the only ways to convey the quality of the experience your college is offering. Share your school's personality with a narrative. Give your prospects an opportunity to envision themselves on your campus. Highlight interesting stories that will stick in their memory. And make sure you are applying these lessons across all the media that you use, including social networking.

I know I won't soon forget the re-enactment of the trial by ordeal portrayed in the video. It was amusing, unexpected, and interesting. And if they can do that with jury duty, think of what you can do with all the great material you have to work with... distinguished faculty, historic buildings, quality academic programs, and a diverse and dynamic student body. Find the stories and share them with your audience.

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