Do prospective students use Facebook in their college search?
Last month, some students from Ohio University (who we’d been working with on a few social media related projects) gathered a group of high-schoolers for a focus group to learn more about the role social media played in their college search.
The students asked a dozen high school juniors and seniors from Ohio the following questions:
- Do you use social networking sites? Which ones?
- Have you begun your college search yet?
- Do you follow colleges on Facebook?
- Did you follow any of the colleges you applied to on Facebook?
- What’s your biggest fear of attending college?
Not surprisingly, each of the students used Facebook and two or three said they used Twitter. They had all begun their college search; the seniors had already applied to their select schools and juniors were still trying to figure out which schools they were going to apply to.
Interestingly, when asked if any of them followed colleges on Facebook only a few said they had, but did so solely because of collegiate sport affinity. When the seniors were asked if they followed any schools they applied to not one of them had done so.”Why would I?”, a few of the students responded. Although some mentioned they had been invited to check out the school on Facebook, none did.
Understanding User Behavior and Needs
Shortly after getting this focus group feedback, I was discussing the importance of user needs with one of my mentors – according to him, “every successful product, project or company starts with a great understanding of your user needs”. This is actually the first step we go through in our design process and it should be the first step of any marketing initiative.
The inspiration behind this post actually came from a blog post (from someone outside higher ed) which stated: “Facebook marketing is a great way for higher education institutions to increase applications in a social and engaging manner.” Assumptions like these drive me up the wall because that’s not how most students want to interact.
What the Research Says
Research from the 2011 Noel-Levitz E-Expectations shows that 27% of prospective students have checked out a school on Facebook. Some of the students we talked to were afraid admissions offices might find them on Facebook – they didn’t want to interact with colleges they’d applied to at all on Facebook, and they certainly didn’t want to like the school’s page.
Once a student applies and is accepted into a school, however, it’s a different story. When students feel an emotional bond to a school, they want to do everything they can to learn more about what their future could hold at college. We’re working with some partners on developing a more comprehensive social media and student behavior survey, so stay tuned for more research.
What we can tell so far is that maximizing your social communities at the point of acceptance is highly recommended to improve yield, but probably not particularly effective at generating more applications.
What have you seen at your university? Are you seeing increased application conversions from social media sites or are you focusing your efforts on maximizing yield at the point of acceptance?