As institutional marketers are aware, a compelling so-cial media presence is a necessary part of recruitment. Social media sites are certainly a part of students’ daily lives, but in what ways are they using these tools to engage with colleges of interest? According to the “2011 College Decision Impact Survey” from Maguire Associates and Fastweb.com, more than half of 21,000-plus high school seniors surveyed said they’ve explored “fit” with colleges through a web service, searched for scholarships via social media, watched a school-created YouTube video, or read posts on a social media site about a school or a student blog on a college website. Data was collected in January from Fastweb members.
Tara Scholder, senior vice president of Maguire Associates, says the research validates social media as part of an integrated strategy. With 22 percent of respondents saying a college’s online presence made them more interested in applying, Linda Maguire, vice chair of the firm, stresses there’s no real downside. “When you get an advantage—22 percent of the market—that’s where [officials] should be looking.”
Maguire shares what she sees as dangers to social media involvement. Students may get desensitized as this kind of outreach becomes expected; it will no longer “wow” them. Another danger is colleges using the wrong approach. “Students can sniff out a person who really doesn’t understand the medium in an instant,” she says. Rather than planting content from another medium on social media sites, it’s better to more subtly identify communities and determine how to connect, she explains.
The least popular action in the list of 15 items is “post negative feedback about a school on its Facebook wall,” with 2.8 percent of respondents saying they had. “I thought that would have been higher,” Maguire says. “Maybe professionals are worrying about it too much.” She hopes administrators are thinking about building social media into a coordinated strategy. “One of the beauties of social media is that it’s so viral, but one of the problems is that it’s so viral,” she notes. “If different pockets are using social media in all different ways across an institution, there’s the potential for confusing the market.”
The full survey, which also covered the Class of 2015’s concerns about the economy, how they’re using net price calculators, and how they’re choosing where to attend, can be found online at www.maguireassoc.com. –Melissa Ezarik