The job of a college admissions office is to enroll students at the institution. That is their sole reason for being. It is why the college invests money in them. It’s why the admissions staff has jobs.
There are plenty of web experts out there who seem to ignore this very basic fact. They say that the web is purely about relationship building. And, of course, you can’t measure relationships.
I call bullshit.
It doesn’t matter how many friends your school has on its Facebook page, or how many followers it has on its Twitter account. It doesn’t matter how engaged those prospects are over those mediums. If those friends and followers do not convert applicants (and ultimately enrolled students), then the return on investment of investing in those mediums is zero.
I take that back - it’s actually less than zero. You’ve dedicated resources to tools that did not yield results. Those resources could have been used elsewhere.
It’s ALWAYS been about relationship building.
It still is. But social media isn’t the only medium to use. It’s just the newest. The sexiest.
Do you think print publications were the end all, be all of the recruitment process before the advent of the Internet? No. Guess what the primary decision-maker for prospects has always been: Visitation. Good, old fashioned, in-person relationship building. Throw in a dash of alumni referrals and a pinch of affordability and that’s all she wrote.
A prospect is statistically much more likely to apply, and ultimately enroll, at an institution if they visit campus. Yes, there are prospects that enroll that never visit…but they are much more likely to transfer away from the institution than those who have visited. Getting them in the door is only half the battle - you have to keep them there through graduation.
So, minimally, one should be able to show a correlation between social media and getting a student on campus to visit, right? If the relationship you’ve built with them is that strong? I’ve yet to see data that tells me that story.
But your Facebook page has thousands of fans, so it must be effective.
Saying that you can’t measure relationships is a cop-out of epic proportion. You measure their effectiveness in the form of conversions. If those relationships don’t result in students attending the institution, then they probably weren’t in much of a “relationship” with the institution to begin with.
Tracking sources and referrals is nothing new to admissions offices, and the web is nothing more than a tool. It’s not any more or less special than any of the traditional recruitment tactics.
The web is not special. It’s not a unique snowflake. It’s a tool.
Tracking will never be 100%, for any medium. But saying you can’t measure at all is wrong. Read Groundswell, and you’ll find plenty of examples of corporations measuring the use of social media in terms of achieving business goals.
Some would say that colleges wouldn’t have built websites 10 years ago if they used measuring ROI as a standard. That just shows a lack of imagination. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that even 10 years ago, a website still had more exposure than the very expensive print publications a college produced. It also produced a return in other ways. Here’s just one example: Websites allow prospects to apply online. Even a very basic online application can provide a mechanism for loading applicant data directly into a database, without having to be transcribed by an admin. That saves resources, which saves money. Even then, a website could be justified purely in terms of ROI.
Now, none of this is to say that you CAN’T use social media to achieve enrollment goals. Of course you can. In fact, an extremely effective use of social media is to steward students who have decided to attend a school, but haven’t arrived as a new student yet. Re-enforce their decision by keeping them engaged between high school graduation and college enrollment.
The point is that you need to be results oriented. Put mechanisms in place to measure your results. This is not new, and the web is not exempt from this very basic business rule. Don’t become so enamored with the tools that you abdicate your responsibility as a marketer.
By the way, none of this is specific to admissions - that’s just the exampled used here. Communicating for the sake of communicating to any audience, without having strategic goals, is a waste of resource. And if you think a college shouldn’t have to operate by the same rules that dictate business, think of it this way - if a college doesn’t bring the dollars in the door, then your salary will disappear. Still want to waste those resources?
I thought not.