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How much does social media really matter when recruiting prospective undergraduates? An open question, perhaps, but colleges and universities intuitively know social media recruiting strategies are increasing in importance every year.
By Eduventures Research Staff
On October 21-23, Eduventures hosted higher education leaders from across the country for a three-day discussion on improving the student lifecycle. Our line-up of expert keynotes represented a diverse mix of perspectives shaped by data, research, and unique experiences serving both the traditional and adult student markets—all infused with a healthy dose of the latest technologies.
For marketing and communications specialists focused on recruiting students to colleges and universities, social media has always been a conundrum. The meteoric rise in its use over the last decade has created an increasingly complex climate. According to the Pew Research Center for Internet, Science, and Technology, 12% of 18-29 year olds used social media networks in 2005, compared to 90% in 2015. That’s a sea change.
By now, institutions are beyond the initial shock of figuring out how to work with social media, but the exploding landscape of social networking opportunities complicates their approach. In 2011, Practical Ecommerce listed 74 major social media platforms. The list’s 2015 update includes 91 platforms. Certainly, some of these are more appropriate for higher education recruiting than others. Still, institutions must strike the difficult balance between being in tried-and-true places and finding new social media opportunities.
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).
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: