The Social Side of College Admissions

Comparing Options on Facebook for Admissions Offices

February 24, 2010

For lots of admissions offices, the decision has been made to use Facebook in recruitment and yield efforts. The opportunity to reach such a large number of prospects in one place has become hard to ignore. However, many are not fully aware of the various options they have for promoting their school on Facebook and what the pros and cons of each option are.

We've pulled together a brief look at the various options for creating a presence on Facebook for your school and admissions office. We hope this helps you get started and make a more informed decision.

The 4 main options on Facebook are (in order of customizability):

  1. Personal Profile
  2. Group
  3. Fan Page
  4. Application

Personal Profile

A personal profile is meant to represent an individual on Facebook. Anyone can set up a personal profile. All you need is an e-mail address.

Pros

  • It's free
  • Easy to set up
  • Status updates show up in the News Feed on a user's homepage

Cons

  • Meant for individuals not institutions
  • No access to user data in easily digestible format
  • "Friend"ing is the main form of connecting with prospects and admits

How Profiles Are Used by Colleges

Admissions officers will often set up a separate profile for professional use. Many will use this profile to friend students they meet on recruitment trips, at college fairs, and elsewhere. Some universities have set up personal profiles for mascots or with the name of the university.

Challenges and Risks to Consider for Facebook Personal Profiles

First off, there is a limit of 5,000 friends for an individual profile. Second, Facebook profiles are meant for (real) individuals only. We have heard about several instances where a personal profile that represented a mascot or the school itself was shut down by Facebook because they were not individuals. Finally, some students may find a friend request from an admissions officer a little awkward. Adding someone as a friend typically gives them access to view your full profile, including status updates, uploaded pictures, and more. Students might worry that a picture from last Friday night's party will come back to haunt them. Many schools have stated that Facebook is fair game for use in the admissions process (even if they do not actively check Facebook profiles)

Group

Individuals can join groups on Facebook to interact with each other around some common interest, shared experience, common cause, or other attribute.

Pros

  • It's free
  • Easy to set up
  • Group admins can message group members (as long as the group has fewer than 5,000 members)
  • Admin can control access to group (Open / Closed / Secret)
  • Users can upload videos and photos and admins create Facebook events

Cons

  • Limited customization
  • No access to 3rd party applications (e.g., accessing Twitter feed, linking YouTube video channel)
  • No audience segmentation (messages go to all members, and all group members see the same information within the group)
  • Size limitations (lost functionality when membership reaches 5,000)
  • No access to user data (can only see a non-exportable list of group members)

How Groups Are Used by Colleges

The most common use for groups by admissions offices has been for "Class of 20XX" groups. In many cases, prospective and admitted students will set these groups up on their own. Some schools will create more specific groups for international students, for minority students, or for specific programs (e.g., study abroad) where prospects may face unique challenges, have unique needs, or have more specific questions.

Challenges and Risks to Consider for Facebook Groups

FacebookGate (2009 version and 2010 version), which involved companies setting up "Class of 20XX" groups, has garnered a lot of press and is something to be aware of. If you are not the admin of the group, you will not be able to moderate wall posts for objectionable or incorrect statements, and you will not have the ability to message all members, one of the biggest benefits of groups. This is definitely something to keep in mind if you are letting prospects and admits take the lead in Facebook. Additionally, while you can limit access to a group, it can be time-consuming to approve new members one-by-one.

Fan Page

Facebook Fan Pages could best be described as profiles for institutions. Individuals become "Fans" of your institution.

Pros

  • It's free
  • No size limitations
  • Access to 3rd party applications (e.g., incorporating YouTube channel, twitter or RSS feeds, static FBML)
  • Basic Traffic / Usage Data via Facebook Insights
  • Status updates show up in the News Feed on a user's homepage

Cons

  • Limited customization of design
  • Limited audience segmentation (all fans see the same information, limited targeting for status updates based on geography, gender, or age ranges)
  • Limited access to user data (can only see a non-exportable list of fans and limited demographic breakdowns)

How Pages Are Used by Colleges

By now, most colleges and universities have a Facebook Fan Page for their institution. Many have set up Pages for the admissions office, for specific departments, or for the athletics program as well. They can be an effective tool for broadcasting information and creating a way for Facebook users to connect with your school.

Challenges and Risks to Consider for Facebook Fan Pages

Most Fan pages are geared toward current students and alumni, and the information posted on these pages primarily reflects the interests of these audiences. While it can be interesting for prospective and admitted students to see this discussion, their needs are often not met by a university-wide presence. Think of most university websites, prospective and admitted students often have sections dedicated to them. Trying to address too many audiences with a single university presence can be a major challenge.

Application

Applications are akin to building a dynamic website within the Facebook environment. Applications have a variety of ways that they plug into the Facebook environment (e.g., Applications can access user data, enable user-to-user interactions, invite users to Facebook events).

Pros

  • Access to user data (subject to Facebook's privacy controls and Facebook's terms of service)
  • Traffic / Usage Data (can incorporate Google Analytics or almost any other method available to a regular website)
  • Customization of design (e.g., CSS stylesheets can be used, school branding and color scheme can be incorporated)
  • Audience segmentation (can adapt Application based on data from Facebook profile or other data collected by the Application)
    For example, our Application adapts depending on whether someone is a prospective or admitted student and what term they plan on enrolling.
  • Can create unique functionality (incorporate forms, offer searches, export user data for use in CRM / SIS systems)
  • Can do almost anything you can do with a website

Cons

  • Cost and effort to build and maintain
    -OR-
    Cost to license
  • No direct access to News Feed – Wall posts and notifications must be triggered by user actions (e.g., give a friend a virtual gift, share a video with a friend)

How Applications Are Used by Colleges

Several colleges have begun utilizing applications to create communities in Facebook for various audiences. We have helped nearly two dozen schools create communities for prospective and admitted students. Other companies have worked with schools to create communities where current students can connect with each other and the university's faculty and staff. These communities provide additional functionality to users and typically allow for improved metrics and data gathering.

Challenges and Risks to Consider for Facebook Applications

While applications usually provide superior functionality and features, they usually come with a price tag (either a development fee or an annual licensing fee or man-hours from your IT/web team). The continued utility of the application will depend on future upgrades of the application. The Facebook Platform is a constantly evolving environment. Working with a company or having an in-house team that stays on top of these changes and continues to innovate around them is a must.

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