Think about your web presence and not just your web site. Your web presence is anywhere, anytime.
This is the concept that Nick DeNardis and I opened with in our Penn State Web Conference presentation called “Give Your Content Legs and Run With It.” This idea is also stated in the very first sentence of the 2011 Noel Levitz E-Expectations Report. “The rise of social networking and the growing use of mobile Web access have fundamentally expanded how students access information and interact online.”
Your audience interacts with content. Are you spending your time wisely to create the content they need and want? How can you know what that type of content is?
The 2011 E-Expectations Report can help guide you.
This report surveyed 1045 students and 517 parents from across the USA to find out what their online expectations are during the college search. If you work in Admissions or do recruitment-focused marketing, this report is a must read.
While I strongly encourage you to read the report for yourself (and perhaps even print it out and go through with a highlighter!) I have pulled out what I believe are three key findings and my reactions to them.
55% of students watch videos on college web sites
This number is up 13% from last year’s survey. Also, 27% of students report that they visit other video sites (like YouTube) to look at schools on their list, up 17% from last year.
What type of videos are they seeking? Nearly half of respondents report that student life-related videos are most interesting. These are videos that highlight on-campus activities and events and simply give prospects a sense of what it is like to be a member of your college community. These videos are typically short, fun, easy to watch, and feature current students.
Here are some examples of great student life videos:
Lunch Break – Boston College
Penguin Plunge – Saint Michael’s College
Gym, Tan, Laundry – Stonehill College
First-Year Trips – Dartmouth
The Final – 2011 – West Virginia University (an awesome recap of the Class of 2011’s thoughts on life and leaving WVU)
47% of students and 57% of parents say a bad experience on your site will have a negative effect on their perception of the school
In fact, E-Expectations reports that 1 in 5 students will actually drop a school from consideration. This alarming statistic makes me want to immediately do user testing on my institution’s website to make sure that information is easily found and the content is useful and interesting.
The report did not ask students what they considered to be a “negative experience” but we know that for many prospective families the website is their first “visit” to your college. How much time is spent training student ambassadors and admission staff with the goal of portraying an exciting and positive (yet accurate!) account of the school? That time will be wasted if students are writing off your institution before they even show up.
The report also found that both students and parents are first clicking on academic programs or admission information. If you are trying to decide where to spend your dollars and/or time beefing up your site, doesn’t it make sense to start there?
Here are some resources to help you evaluate the design, structure, and content on your school’s website and to help you keep up with web trends:
Rebranding in Higher Ed– Higher Ed Live
While 80% of students surveyed have a Facebook account, only 27% have viewed a college Facebook page and nearly 2/3 of that population say the experience had no influence on their decision.
Well this was a bit disheartening, I will admit. You’ll be hard pressed to find a college that is not putting time and effort into developing a Facebook presence.
My approach to Facebook? To the best of your ability try and emulate online the vibrant campus community that occurs in real life. Facilitate interaction between current students, alumni, staff and faculty, and even prospective students under one roof. I’ve never felt that having a Facebook Page just for the admission office was a good idea. The audience changes too quickly to ever build a strong following and I’d much rather send prospective students to a main institutional Page so they can see broader information and have the opportunity to interact with the community
Many schools find that accepted and enrolled students are more likely to join a “Class of” Page or Group. These students are interested in connecting with each other at that point. A recent post on .eduGuru examined community-building on both Pages and Groups that you may find helpful.
SUNY Plattsburgh makes excellent use of tabs on their Facebook Page to bring all of their audiences together under one roof.
Tim Nekritz at SUNY Oswego expressed his belief on having just one Page to rule your various audiences back in January.
Know YOUR audience
When it comes to re-evaluating your web presence, this report will give you a jump start. However, you may find yourself scratching your head at some of the findings. Your audience of prospective students may behave differently than those surveyed, which is why it is important to collect and pay attention to your own metrics.
For example, E-Expectations found that only 1 in 4 students review blogs. I know (because we ask them) that 2 in 3 enrolled students use SMCBlogs as a tool to help them learn more about Saint Michael’s College, but our audience and the type of student we attract is very different than other institutions – especially big state schools!
What results of this report did you find particularly interesting? Please share your thoughts below.