Facebook and Enrollment – What do future students want?

Recently All Facebook has been all about higher education.

In my previous post “Admission Counselors on Facebook?” I attempted to clear up some miscontrued Kaplan survey results that All Facebook reported on.

Today’s headline?

Students Get To Tour College Campuses On Facebook

My first reaction = It’s cool… it’s really cool…but who will actually do it?

My opinion on Facebook and Enrollment:

When Suzie HighSchool gets home from softball practice she might log into Facebook.  But, I’ll put $10 on the fact that she is not going there to conduct her college search.  She is going to Facebook to connect with her peers and future classmates.  Suzie hits up your website or sites like Zinch (which are geared towards the college search process) to start her college search.

I believe that future students search for your institution on Facebook typically after they have applied to your school or have been admitted.  They want to join groups related to the college, their class year, and/or clubs and programs your institution offers that are of interest to them.   In short, they go to Facebook to connect and engage with other humans.

I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are on this story and on using Facebook in the enrollment marketing strategy.  Do you agree or disagree with me?  Let’s get this conversation started…

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About Mallory Wood

Mallory Wood is a Vermont-based higher ed marketing professional with a passion for social media, web video, and event production. View all posts by Mallory Wood

10 responses to “Facebook and Enrollment – What do future students want?

  • sethodell

    Really good point Mallory. Students look for a tour when they first show interest in your institution, not after they’ve been converted. I’d bet – like you – that the students that “Like” your institution have already been converted from interested to applicants. Putting the virtual tour on Facebook means you’re preaching to the choir, not actually engaging folks that are showing only initial interest in your school.

    Another point to make, those Facebook virtual tours are not ideal at all. When you go to them you are faced with a decision, do you want 360 degree photos – videos – or a walking tour?

    This approach completely fragments your audience. They’re forced to make an arbitrary decision before they even get the content. They don’t care about photos vs. videos as much as they simply want to experience your school.

    To be fair, it’s not the school’s faults specifically. There currently isn’t a perfect solution that is head and shoulders above the rest. That being said, I personally think using YouTube to create a customizable virtual campus tour with annotations is definitely the best way to go so far. It’s fun, interactive, accessible AND can be embedded where your prospective student’s eyeballs actually are.

    • Mallory Wood

      Great point – it would be nice if this particular virtual tour didn’t split the photos from the video and walking tour. I think an approach that combined all three would create a better user experience.

      I’m all about interactive content… but it needs to be in a place where the user is actually going to want to interact with it!

  • Mike Petroff

    Here’s a thought – what’s the percentage of time of high school prospective students spend on a desktop browser vs. a mobile browser while on Facebook? I kind of feel like the use of Facebook is moving toward key tasks: short status posts, link and photo sharing, and commenting – all things that work extremely well on a mobile device. Content-rich browsing experiences (except for gaming, like Farmville) don’t really make sense for me within Facebook.

  • robinteractive

    @Mallory I tend to agree that students aren’t going to engage heavily with an institution until they work their way further down the funnel. When Facebook Pages first came out I created a page for our admissions office as a placeholder, but still have never found a compelling reason to launch it. I do, however, create, promote, and actively nurture a “class of” group for admitted students every year, and for a number of years I’ve used Facebook as the tool of choice.

    That said, I do include links to our general college Facebook Page in e-mails to students at all stages of the funnel. Some prospective students and parents opt to like the page and, without much effort on the part of admissions (the page is fed by the college PR office, I scan it daily to answer any questions related to enrollment that might get asked) those who do like the page may have some additional exposure to the college. It is an appropriate amount of effort for the likely return. A standalone admissions page just doesn’t merit the effort for us. My plate is full enough that I don’t need to create make-work projects!

    @Mike, I’ve wondered the same thing as you re: mobile and Facebook, particularly in reference to apps developed on the Facebook platform. In the Facebook programs I have running on iOS and Android test machines, the “non-Facebook” Facebook-platform apps don’t show.

    Often, though, these “non-Facebook” Facebook apps will work within mobile Web browsers, and within in-app Web browsers when clicking a link in the Facebook iOS app, for instance. So there is a workaround, but it isn’t yet seamless or obvious. That said, I haven’t done rigorous and extensive testing with this quite simply because I haven’t had the need to dig that deep.

    For me Facebook apps on mobile was one of the weaknesses with Inigral in the past. I haven’t checked recently to see if they have found a way to overcome this weakness in a polished, straightforward fashion. If they haven’t, I’m sure it is on their radar.

    • Mallory Wood

      I also have never found a use for an admission-specific Facebook Page or Group. The audience changes too frequently and the needs or goals that the Page would be addressing can be (and I think, should be) rolled into the the class-specific groups. The groups live on as the prospective students turn into enrolled and retained students, and then they become alumni – so the group will continue to be useful to the institution after the enrollment cycle!

  • Brian Fanning

    Have to agree with all the comments here. I’m not sure that Facebook Campus Tour will necessarily generate strong yield from those browsing for info on schools.

    IMO, Facebook’s best value in HE is in the grassroots type of engagement that affects the the life cycle of prospect -> applicant -> enrolled & retained -> engaged alum. We had a standalone Admissions FB page, but that’s been replaced with a Facebook app specifically designed for those who have already shown interest to engage with the University.

  • Mark Rothbaum

    I completely agree with the blog post. When I was running CollegeToolkit.com, we were the first company to build our college search into Facebook (in 2007). We didn’t just incorporate a sliver of the site into Facebook. We basically had all our search capabilities incorporated in the Facebook Application, along with nearly a hundred college-related quizzes and functionality to send shout-outs / trash talks about colleges to your friends. Even though we drove thousands of users to the Application from our main site, it never took off. We quickly realized that students weren’t using Facebook this early in the process. We haven’t really seen a college search take off since.

    That being said, I’ve since moved on to Varsity Outreach and can tell you that there is definitely potential for building communities for applicants and admitted students. Once a student has narrowed down their list of schools and is going through the application process, that’s the exact point in time when they want to start figuring out if they can see themselves at a school. These sorts of decisions aren’t based on numbers, they’re based on softer, qualitative criteria. This is where relationships can have a major impact.

    Since numbers speak louder than words, here are some stats from one of our partner school communities, which launched at the end of this past summer (August 2010):

    Total Users: Nearly 2,000 (~60% prospective / 40% admitted)

    Average Logins:
    Note: We only count 1 login / day
    Prospects – More than 4 logins / user
    Admits – Nearly 11 logins / user
    1 in 6 admits has logged in 20+ times
    Most of the admits were not invited into the community until mid-January 2011

    Total User Actions: More than 67,000
    User actions include posts on walls and discussion boards, searches and profile views in our “Yearbook”, and friend requests. That averages out to ~35 user actions per user.

    • Mallory Wood

      Mark, Thank you for sharing those numbers. I’m really not surprised at all to see that admitted students are almost 3x more likely to log into your Facebook app than a student who just considered a prospect (for non-admission folks this means they haven’t yet applied or are waiting on their decision.) This lends strong support to my argument, that interaction with high school students will increase once they have applied or been admitted.

      Do you have numbers that you are willing to share regarding how many prospects organically found the facebook app for the school and logged in versus being invited by the admission office once admitted?

      • Mark Rothbaum

        Unfortunately, we don’t have those numbers. However, I think most community members find out about the community via the school.

        The schools that we’ve talked to that have had the most success on Facebook (whether they’re using an Application, a Group, or a Page) are typically driving users to their presence (via dedicated e-mails, postcards in admissions packets, links from their website, maybe even Facbeook Ads).

        As you pointed out, Facebook probably isn’t going to help you uncover a treasure trove of new prospects. It’s going to help you connect better with interested students (in marketing parlance, more about converting existing leads and ferreting out high-priority leads than generating new leads). It might also help uncover stealth applicants, who may not sign up to receive a brochure or viewbook, but are interested in meeting others considering your school.

        Just my $0.02 (if it’s worth that much).

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