Café New Paltz - 5 days in

cafenp 300x141 Café New Paltz   5 days inThis update is part 2 in a series about Café New Paltz, an exclusive online community using Ning for our fallaccepted students at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Wow. That about sums up the reaction my colleagues and I have had since launching Café New Paltz on Friday, January 2.

Quick Bites (stats as of 8:30 a.m. Jan. 7):

  • invited 1,323 early action accepted students
  • 169 members
  • 143 photos posted by members
  • 6 discussion forums started by members — including one with 33 replies

We posted two videos when we launched. I’m actually surprised at the low number of video plays, in relation to the number of members and their other activity. Everyone we have chatted with in the Café has been raving about them.

  • Welcome to Café New Paltz (2:06) - 66 views
  • Visit New Paltz (contest - 1:14) - 65 views

Jingle + Birthdays
My graduate assistant and his brother produced a catchy jingle for Café New Paltz that we use in the beginning and end of every video.

We noticed we have two birthdays in the community today. We’ve posted 4 happy birthday videos for them — one from the Office of Undergraduate Admission staff, one from two current students working in the Welcome Center, and one from each of our baristas. We also posted birthday wishes on their walls and pushed an activity update to the “latest activity feed” to wish them happy birthday.

cafenp depth of visit 300x210 Café New Paltz   5 days in
Google Analytics Snippets (Jan. 2-6)

  • 1,539 visits
  • 18,758 pageviews
  • 20.40% bounce rate
  • 13:54 average time on site
  • top 3 features: home page, members page, chat page, and one person’s profile page (he’s popular!)


  • paying Ning $24.95/month to remove the ads
  • paying Ning $4.95/month to point to custom domain
  • paid $10.19 for domain name for one year

Over the weekend our baristas spent countless hours (on their own time, without being asked!) inside the Café striking up conversations and making new friends. They let the community decide what the next videos are they will produce (we’re calling them “Flavors of the Week”), and the order they will be posted.

Some snippets I saved from one of many weekend chat sessions:

  • “I must be going. i’m definitely gonna log on again though, this is an amazing resource.”
  • “Yeah this is a pretty great thing set up here”
  • “Yeah, I’ve never run across a school with something this helpful and people this nice before! It’s great!”

They were also correcting each other’s grammar and spelling during one chat session. icon smile Café New Paltz   5 days in

A parent called my colleague in the admissions office to sign her daughter up for an event that is advertised in the Café. She said her daughter was very impressed with the Café and wishes other schools did something like this. The mom was very impressed with how much we were doing for our accepted students, and also commented on how cute and entertaining her daughter thought the two guys doing the videos were (our “baristas”). 

Next Up?
This Friday we’re going to send a re-invitation to the balance of original invitees that haven’t responded. The four videos our baristas are working on include residence life, dining services, clubs/sports/intramurals, and around town.

Plug for upcoming Webinar
Want to hear more about how to recruit on a budget? Sign-up for my Webinar in the Saving Big series, which will be held February 4.

Am I missing something I should be tracking? What are you interested in learning? What does the activity in your communities look like?

19 Responses to “Café New Paltz - 5 days in”

  1. Says:

    Very cool! Those stats are great … especially the average time on site. Shows that students are treating this as a real community. Oh, and I just love the birthday thing!

  2. Says:

    great and interesting stuff - you all must be pretty excited…
    i def just sent this along to our people in admission. two of three responded and are intrigued to say the least.

    /fingers crossed

  3. Says:

    Excellent example of execution with great follow up analysis! Food for thought over here as we undertake something similar. Congrats and keep us posted on the outcomes!

  4. Says:

    LOVE the fact that your building relationships and the real life snippets your sharing. As we talked about this weekend I want to hear more about your goals going in and expectations so far. I know that it’s “exceeded your wildest expectation”, but that is because you really didn’t set any expectation. You sent out 1,300 invites and are closing in on 15%. What was you goal of this group in the first week, month? Do you have any other plans for marketing the group besides that Ning email?

    Seriously awesome stuff, I’m just playing a little of devil’s advocate. ;)

  5. Says:

    Okay, I lied. I have one other question about this besides what happens in 2010. You mention the costs associated with it. Is there any concern about this turning into a money black hole? I’m thinking like what if you make a site like this every year? What if you have people still using thesite 15 years from now (unlikely, I know, but just pondering)? Just how much money are you guys prepared to invest in this, long term?

  6. Says:

    Foundermakes a good point, but my question to him is, ‘where do you start?’ When I ask people what our online community registration goals are, responses are generally ‘as many as we can’ or ‘everyone’. My replies are normally ‘yeah, no kidding’ and ‘that’s not going to happen’; therefore, what’s a good number to start with if you have zero expectations and nothing to compare to, especially when you don’t have access to purse strings?

  7. Says:

    In terms of what else to track, don’t forget to monitor the discussion in the FB group you administer. The Wall postings there that I read this morning are not going to help the matriculation cause! That group, for comparison with your numbers here, has 102 members, 82 discussion posts by 74 people(non-uniques), and 43 Wall posts. Will be interesting to see final numbers for FB and your Cafe when the decision season wraps up. Good luck, you obviously put a lot of work into your Ning effort.

  8. Says:

    Love the theme. It goes beyond social networking by connecting with something tangible and related in the off-line world.

    With that in mind, why not plan a coffee social for these students on move-in day. Something like that so incoming students can “live” the experience when they arrive on-campus.

    My other thought is regarding your costs. While the actual dollars spent is very reasonable, what about the time spent? Can you translate the staff/student time into an overall cost? Just curious.

    This is great. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Says:

    @FounderI thought more about our discussion from the weekend. I still don’t see how there would have been any value in me picking an arbitrary number and say “my goal is to have 50 students accept our invite & create a profile by Sunday.” So, if I hit that goal, I lucked out because 50 felt intrigued enough to read their e-mail and connect to us, and I can then pat myself on the back? I don’t see the value in that. In terms of future plans - we’re sending out the re-invite to those who haven’t responded this Friday. And then we’re invited all general accepts in another month or so. We’re talking about it in the Official Class ofFacebook Group, so there is some cross promo going on. Ambassadors will be mentioning it to students who come on tours starting later this month and we know are accepted. (We already know about a couple who have been active in the Cafe and are planning to come at the end of the month.)

    @Fienen Good questions. We’ve been grappling with these questions since the day we came up with this concept. Our decision right now is to wait until April to make the next step. There are many options being discussed, and will make for some meaty follow-up posts in this series, so stay tuned. :)

    @Andy Ahh, I see you’ve been following my tweets over the last hour. We’re definitely watching that group closely. In fact, we found out there was a second class ofgroup created by one of the active members in the Cafe, and I messaged her to see if she’d be interested in merging and becoming an admin of the ‘official’ group I created, and she was so excited. We did that yesterday. Without us even discussing it, she’s been talking up the Cafe in the FB group.

    @Doug My colleague and I have been talking about coming up with some cool ways to integrate the Cafe into campus visits, our spend-a-day program and accepted student open house this spring. We were definitely talking about coming up with some kind of name like a ‘tweet-up’ for the Cafe members. Stay tuned. :) In terms of translating time… that’s always the hardest. I saw a fantastic presentation by fellow .eduGuru’er Head of Marketing at Stamats in November where she showed us how to do that, but I haven’t delved back into my notes from that seminar. May have to hit her up for some help in that area. I know this weekend alone our baristas spent more than a dozen hours easily in there - but totally on their own free will, and aren’t being compensated (unfortunately!) for those additional hours.

  10. Says:

    Wow nice stuff. We’re currently using Ning for our alums but still have the Ning logos and ads. I know there is code to have the ads removed but you all have gotten rid of the Ning logos. How did you guys do that?

  11. Says:

    @Stephen - For a good base I would look at your email marketing campaigns. If your open rates are around 25% then I would say that is a fairly safe goal to shoot for.

    @Director of Web Communication- it comes down to ROI. How much time have you spent developing this site? What is a student applying to your school worth? What about scheduling a visit? You need to set the same for a student joining a social media site. Budget cruches are a HUGE concern right? So how much time and money is put into this project so far? Once you know that and have come up with an actual value of what a member is worth then you can actually begin looking at value dollars. Remember time is money and although the ning group is fairly inexpensive to setup and run with it has obviously cost you some time that could have been spent doing other things.

    Basically you need your monetary justification that this is worth doing and if each member of cafe is worth $100 and you have 165 members well that’s $16,500 worth of value to the school. So how do you assign this sort of value? Well go back to thinking about how much a student coming to your school is worth… if your school costs $20,000/yr and your a four year institution and have a discount average of $5,000 for financial aid with a 80% of students completing school in four years than every lead is potentially worth ($20,000-$15,000)*4*.8 or $48,000. Honestly this could be a whole series of posts talking about this.

  12. Says:

    I’m totally new to this blog, so apologies if you’ve covered this elsewhere: why did you create a Ning group in addition to (or, less likely, instead of) a Facebook group?

  13. Says:

    @cliff It’s a “premium service.” When you login as a network creator, go under “manage,” and then “premium services” and you can select the option there to have the ads removed. As part of that option you could also run your own ads if you so choose, which we’re considering down the road, but for now just removing the standard Google ads from our space.

    @FounderWant a job?

    @Darren Welcome! (And please subscribe!) We have an official Facebook Fan Page for the college, but it serves numerous audiences. We have an ‘official’ class ofgroup on Facebook, but it’s limited with its control (as unfortunately I had to deal with head on today). Using Ning allows us to create a private community and only invite the students we want. In our case, we decided to start this off exclusively for the batch of early action accepted students — the cream of the crop. In another month or so we’ll expand it to the rest of the accepted students pool. We run an export from our student records system to create a CSV file of e-mail addresses and import it into Ning, and use Ning to send the unique/custom invites. Does that help?

  14. Says:

    @Director of Web CommunicationThanks for that. I asked because I happen to be giving a couple of social media marketing talks to educational groups over the next month.

    I generally discourage people from making their own micro-social networks, because they have to drag their users from wherever they’re currently hanging out. In this case, though, I can see that, given what you’re after, the advantages of privacy and additional control might offset the adoption barriers.

  15. Says:

    As a former employee at your college, I have to wonder who on campus is aware of this very hip way to connect to accepted students? Have you had any feedback from any higher ups? I hope they know what a treasure they have in you and your dedication and forward thinking mind. You rock! You have come a long way from when we met when you were an undergrad. I am incredibly proud of you and New Paltz!

  16. Says:

    @Director of Web Communication- Fantastic article. Any other examples of other schools taking advantage of Ning?

  17. Says:

    @Darren I also had been against creating our own micro-social networks. Vehemently. But, I changed my mind. :)

    @Jean Not yet, but hopefully soon. Have a couple of tentative presentations scheduled to share the info I presented in this article (& more). Thank you!

    @Brad I’ve heard of lots, but can’t put my hands on a specific college name at the moment. Are you on Twitter? Ping me there & I can reach out to my followers & find some for you. (@rachelreuben)

  18. Says:

    I’d really be interested to see your stats a month in. We launched a similar community at about the same time, and I’m working on organizing our data as well. Thanks!

  19. Says:

    Ning is cool but I rather like to use wikispaces or Google Apps. With Google Sites you can also track revisions and for educational use it’s imho better.