Rachel Reuben is a marketing communications professional in higher education.

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Category recruitment

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Creating an exclusive online community for fall 2009 accepted students

Dec19

A couple of weeks ago I argued reasons why it might be more effective to piggyback on existing strategies that exist at your institution rather than create a stand alone social media strategy. In this post I alluded to considering your Facebook Fan Page like a Cafe, which was inspired by Chris Brogan’s post entitled, “Cafe-Shaped Conversations.” After putting the two together, and brainstorming with some colleagues, we came up with “Cafe New Paltz,” an exclusive online community for fall 2009 accepted students. We’re using Ning and will launch this on January 2.

Cafe New Paltz

I teamed up with a colleague in our Office of Undergraduate Admission (Shana), who I’ve worked closely with on our Facebook Fan Page over the last year, among other eRecruiting-related initiatives, as well as my graduate assistant. My Senior Web Producer has an uncanny way of seeing inside my head and making my visions become a design reality (see graphic on right).

The idea Shana and I pitched her boss builds on their strategy to increase the academic quality of our incoming fall 2009 student body. There are more specific goals within that overall theme that I’m not going to disclose here, but this is a trend we’ve been working on for many years.

We’re going to start by inviting the ~1,400 early action accepted students into this community when we send them an e-mail through Ning’s invitation feature on January 2. Around March 1 we plan to invite the general accepted students pool to join in.

My graduate assistant and Shana’s intern will be serving as the community’s “baristas.” They have been working together to develop ideas for the content they’re going to produce inside this community. They will have weekly videos called “Flavor of the Week,” and every video will end with an actionable request to engage the accepted students to produce content of their own within the community. Shana is even sewing them custom aprons to wear. :)

This is an exciting new adventure for us, although I know there are many universities have created communities for accepted students for the last few years. I plan on this being the first post in a series of posts about “Cafe New Paltz” that will document this project and the milestones along the way. I’m hoping it will be a resource for those who have not started something like this, and can be a place where we exchange ideas to build stronger communities for our students. Given the tight budget climate, this is the type of initiative that can score big for little financial investment.

This project is extremely timely given the recent Facebook scandal for the class of 2013 groups. I know these accepted students will still use Facebook, but I’m glad we’re giving them a safe, gated community to interact with each other without any squatters trying to take advantage of them.

Tell us about your community! Or, are you trying to start one for the first time?

33 Comments

Do we really need a social media strategy?

Dec2

If you’re having a hard time convincing your administration that social media is worth the investment, try coming at it from a different angle — and I’m not suggesting writing the “social media strategy” we’ve all been hearing about lately. My theory? Piggy back on existing strategies at your university.

Stamats Integrated Marketing conference earlier this month I was all jazzed up to write a social media strategy. Fritz McDonald and C.J. Cunniff from the Interactive Media division of Stamats gave a fantastic presentation to close the conference on developing an effective Web 2.0 plan. They outlined twelve steps in developing this strategy.

But here’s where my thinking is now different — the steps they offered, the foundation they provided, would work for just about any form of media – not just social. I have sat at my computer staring at the screen, poised to write my college’s social media strategy with these twelve steps in mind. I haven’t been able to get into it. And the other morning, it struck me why. Do we really need one?

My campus has lots of strategies. Our president has eight solid vision points to guide us internally. We’re very fortunate right now – our undergraduate admissions office has more applicants than they know what to do with. However, they have some key strategies they are employing this year to continue to increase quality of the academics of our incoming student body. They are targeting select populations to increase diversity. They are concerned about the upcoming decline in high school graduates, significant increase of Hispanic graduates, and fewer white non-Hispanic graduates in the United States

More than likely, there are already strategies that exist on your campus. Find out what they are. Learn all you can about them. Then, pitch that person/department/division an idea using social media that will further their strategy and assist in achieving their goal. If you know more about their issues, they’ll be less reluctant to think you’re coming at them with yet another Web-based hair-brained scheme (even if they do think the term “Web 2.0” is still cool).

Social media isn’t the solution to the upcoming decreasing number of college applications. It’s not the solution for attracting the higher quality students. What it can be, is a strong spoke in your marketing wheel, but don’t try to convince your administration that it is a replacement for the things in your marketing mix you’re hearing prospective students are no longer interested in (viewbooks, CDs, etc.).

Most universities aren’t going to give up printing viewbooks in mass, going to large college fairs, and certainly wouldn’t dream of closing down their admissions Web site that reaches millions. The masses need information, and you can’t have individual conversations with every single prospect. Or maybe you can. Maybe you at least make it seem like you are. That’s where social media comes in. It’s not going to replace any of the traditional spokes in your marketing wheel. It’s not going to be “the one thing” that makes the difference in your recruiting efforts this season, but it can certainly make an impact, make your university seem more personal, and provide that higher level of customer service that could potentially knock the socks off a prospect.

Spending time focusing on the personal interactions you can have with your target audience will benefit your larger scale efforts. Pretend your Facebook Page is a small Cafe. Introduce yourself. Make friends. Engage your fans. But don’t give up on the larger-scale, more traditional tools in your marketing mix. These individual conversations are important – especially if you’re conversing with someone who is a member of an underrepresented group you’re targeted, or has very strong academics. The outreach to these individuals will cultivate relationships, and this is where viral marketing begins. These prospects will likely tell their friends about their early experience with your university (especially if it’s personal and meaningful), and word will spread. But in the end – you’re still recruiting to the masses, and you’re still trying to achieve overarching strategies. Don’t forget the bigger picture, but to get there, you have to cultivate the snowflakes before the avalanche begins.

What do you think? Let’s discuss.

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