By Mark Rooney, Senior Analyst
Higher education leaders have heard a great deal about the importance of social media for recruiting undergraduate students. Some experts say that today’s college applicants are increasingly tech and social media savvy, demanding that colleges devote significant resources to their social media presence. Others say it is largely a waste of admissions staff time, depleting resources from far more useful and persuasive communication tactics. The truth, of course, is somewhere in between.
The critics are partly right. Data from the 2014 Eduventures Prospective Student Survey, which was completed by over 10,000 prospective students, suggests that a college’s social media is less effective for recruiting students than most other forms of outreach. On average, students rated college websites, comparison tools, Google searches, and traditional media, such as viewbooks and course catalogs, much higher than social media (see Figure 1). This data supports the notion that enrollment managers should be careful about siphoning off excessive staff resources on tools that aren’t as useful to students.
Nonetheless, colleges neglect social media at their own risk. Over a quarter of prospective students find certain social media sites “highly useful” for learning about colleges. In an age when every yielded student is harder to earn, this cohort deserves the attention of admissions officers. Perhaps more convincingly, a large group of this year’s admitted students nationwide said that their chosen college’s social media efforts had an impact on their decision (see Figure 2).
The Bottom Line
Social media is clearly influential. The question is, how influential? For some students, it will only be a small, single component among a great many factors that influence them to attend one college over another. Yet, when two out of every five students are saying that social media impacted their enrollment decisions, it is clearly something to take seriously. Eduventures recommends you take the following steps to ensure you are striking the right balance:
- Social media should be a modest priority. While you shouldn’t ignore social media as a recruitment tool, you also shouldn’t divert resources from other effective tools in order to increase the use of social media. If you can afford to invest more in social media, you should do so. However, assuming time, budget, and real-world constraints are factors, enrollment-hungry colleges cannot afford to neglect far more impactful search tools, such as mailings, direct contact with admissions officers, and their websites. You need to be prudent in allocating resources to social media.
- Invest in the college website. While social media may not be as impactful as some more traditional tools, colleges should not assume that their website falls into the same category. Many leaders think of the website and social media as components of the same overall strategy, but their impact and ROI are as different as night and day. While leaders should be cautious in the amount they invest in social media, they should view the website as a top priority and invest accordingly. This includes ensuring that the website is optimized for mobile devices, which are increasingly used by students to navigate these sites.