This update is part 3 in a series about Café New Paltz, an exclusive online community using Ning for our fall 2009 accepted students at the State University of New York at New Paltz. See: article 1 | article 2

We continue to be extremely pleased with the engagement and relationship building inside Café New Paltz.

Quick Bites (stats as of 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9):

  • 282 members (1,323 initially invited on Jan. 2)
  • 712 photos posted by members
  • 38 discussion forums
    • topics include finding roommates, academics, pets in residence halls, residence hall questions, and more
  • Videos: We’ve posted 7, they’ve posted 4
    • Ours: 2 episodes on residence life, dining hall, around town, 1 week update, visit campus contest, welcome to Café New Paltz — average ~100 views each
    • Theirs: One member posted a video of herself singing the national anthem at her high school’s basketball game, another posted a tour of his room at home (parts 1 & 2!), a guitar riff, and a “name that riff”game
  • Birthdays: We’ve toned down our initial exuberance of 4 separate videos plus all of the other publicity on the site about member’s birthdays. We now have a text box on the top of the page as soon as they login that calls out birthdays, we post on their walls, and feature that member for the day.

Google Analytics

  • 8,111 visits
  • 78,631 pageviews
  • 17.03% bounce rate
  • 10:27 avg. time on site
  • Top 4 features: home page, chat, member profiles, forums

Things we’ve learned:

  • Scripting, producing, editing & posting 1 video every week is not realistic for our current staffing resources. We’ve loosened that timeframe to be a week and a half to two weeks between them if needed. Interestingly, the video views aren’t as high as we’d expect them to be.
  • These accepted students are eager to form relationships, to figure out who they’ll room with — already. This is 5-6 months earlier than the traditional process.
  • We’re reading a large number of posts in the forums by people who have paid their deposit already and are committed to coming to New Paltz.
  • Lots of anxiety being allayed earlier in the process. They’re finding roommates, and other students with similar interests (music, academic interests, extra-curricular activities, etc.). They’re asking if they can have cars on campus, if people go home on weekends, how many classes they will have to take, will their AP credits transfer, can they paint their residence halls, etc.

Next steps

  • On February 21 we will be inviting our first round of general accepts – approximately 1,000 of them – to join the community. From that point on, invitations will be sent to the latest round of new general accepts every two weeks.
  • In early March we need to start giving more serious consideration to what comes next. What happens after May 1, other than seeing how many of these members actually pay their deposit. Should we shut down the Café? Does it turn into a first year student community? What do we do with the members that choose not to come to New Paltz? Given the great amount of activity and interaction, I don’t see how we can shut it down, but we have to have a number of internal conversations between divisions to carefully plan the next stages.

What do you think our next steps should be?


Andrew Meyers · February 12, 2009 at 8:21 am

You’ve hit on a lot of what we are starting to think about when it comes to Hope 2013. First, how do we keep driving traffic to the site without looking desperate? 🙂 How long do we keep the site open after students eventually enroll?, etc.

We’ve talked with our student development office about transferring “ownership” to our Orientation team once June or July hits. We’re thinking that it could be a relevant place to deliver information about housing, class registration, etc. which all happens in the summer.

Kevin Prentiss · February 12, 2009 at 8:29 am

How about asking the students?

You could ask them to put their ideas in something like and then do a vote.

It will be limited at first of course, but having the small group of who really cares and wants to provide feedback will be a handy resource as you move forward.

After that, I think the challenge is in helping them organize into smaller sub groups with out breaking the main group (if maintaining a class group on Ning matters.)

This would mean clubs/orgs, res. halls, majors, or first year experience classes.

In the patterns I’ve watched in the past, students creating their social network in transition start wide open. They’ll take everyone, even friend everyone, then they start to try to pick out the signal (who is similar, friendly, or useful) from the noise (e.g. we have nothing in common, we just happen to go to the same school in the same year).

If you can help facilitate that segmentation, you’ll do them a huge service and keep them engaged.

Otherwise, they’ll just do it in person when they get there, but you have a wonderful opportunity from your efforts thus far.

Eddie M · February 12, 2009 at 9:40 am

First of all. I am very excited to read about this project. My first inclination would be to evolve it (as you stated) into a first year community but then you would end up with multiple communities as time goes on. Is there anyway you could export the member list to another ning.

Perhaps you can make a current student ning. And after they have passed there first semester you prompt them into the next community? I know it sounds clunky but the alternate is having multiple nings for current students as time goes on (and you create one for the next incoming class), which would be harder to manage.

Either way. Great work. I look forward to more follow-up.

Devin Mason · February 12, 2009 at 9:41 am

I have been pitching a Ning community for two years at UVM. Its great to see someone taking the ball and running with it. Thank you so much for posting your findings!

As for next steps, I definitely agree that you should let the students be your guide as to what they want on the network.

One of the reasons we never got a network off the ground, is the sheer amount of work it takes to keep it current, which sounds like a challenge you’re having. Why not turn some of that work over to the current students?

One of the things we accomplished at UVM is integrating with a number of on campus student clubs like the Student Government Association and the Ski & Snowboard Club on campus. Engage with your on campus clubs and ask them if they have any recruiting video or other media that they’d like to post. Our experience is that if you give them the forum to promote their interests and the opportunity to gain members, you can focus more on new strategy and less on media production.

Cort Johnson · February 12, 2009 at 10:00 am

Why not continue to keep the cafe running and transition the group to use it during the first semester of their Freshman year. Students are already currently using it to address questions and concerns about what to expect while studying at New Paltz. Now as current students ask them to address the questions and concerns they had as prospective students after now being a first semester student.

Now you have a good amount of marketing material taken from the same students at two different points of their application process. This could be a really cool way for the next Freshman class to see how your current Freshman transitioned from the mindset of prospective student, with a wide range of questions, to current students, now with the experience based answers to those questions.

Todd · February 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

Rachel, thanks so much for providing this info!

As for videos… are there any student orgs/groups/classes that could do them? Internship? Class credit??? We’ve had an intern/student employee for Admissions since August ’08, and he’s been extremely productive on the video side of things, partly because we sought out someone with his skill set.

Rachel Reuben · February 12, 2009 at 11:50 am

Great ideas coming in here! Thank you all for your thoughts. Just some general follow-up, before responding to individuals— I’m very interested in watching the long tail approach to this community. I think what we’re doing is going a long way, and will directly impact a variety of departments around campus. We’re allayed fears early on related to residence life, financial aid, dining services, and more. These students are likely telling their parents about the Cafe (we’re hearing from parents directly that they are, and are very excited and thankful), and they’re all talking to their friends and family about our campus. This generates future buzz and interest as well.

If we continue this for first year students, I have a lot of questions. What do we call it? Is it still Cafe New Paltz? Do we start a brand new Ning community, which would mean losing all this activity, wall posts, forums, photos, etc.? I can’t see doing that, but what if we want to do this again next year for the ’10 accepted students? What do we call it then? Who knows where social media will be next January, so I hate to commit to something this early that far into the future.

@Kevin – I’m digging your ideas. Asking them is a very good approach. I also like the segmentation approach. I don’t quite see opening this up to the entire student body right away, but could see keeping this active for first year students.

@Eddie – I need to consult with my Ning resources and figure out what can be exported and potentially imported to a new community. It may only be members… not all the great amount of activity associated with it that I just can’t see shutting down.

@Devin – We have two current students (our “baristas”) working with us on this now, and definitely need to consider adding more. We’ve tossed around the idea of having student ambassadors join later in the cycle this semester, as well as Orientation Leaders this summer if it continues at that point.

@Cort – Definitely what I’m leaning towards recommending.

@Todd – I tried that last spring and it failed miserably. Joined up with a professor in our radio/tv production program (who is fantastic) and she recommended about a dozen students from her seminar to work with me for a semester, and they could use what they do as one of their class assignments. Plan was to produce 10 super short (1-2 min) videos in one semester to go along with our virtual tour. I have one video from them, and I can’t use it because it doesn’t stand alone or make sense without the other 10.

Our two “baristas” are helping us and have learned iMovie & GarageBand, as well as my admissions colleague (@Shana729). (I’m the only one not editing…. just not my ball of wax.) One of the baristas is interning with Shana, and the other is my grad assistant. Shana’s intern is 100% dedicated to this project, but only about 10 hours a week. My grad assistant is helping me with a ton of other projects, so I can only give him up a smidge every week towards this project. Definitely need more help, and see us reaching out to find more student help in the coming month, but I’m a tad gunshy after last spring’s experience.

Jake · February 12, 2009 at 11:59 am

Time and again we run into the issue of people slipping between the communication cracks when they transition from one status to another (i.e., from accepted to first-year matriculated, senior to alum, etc.). Not sure of the Ning tech implications, but to my mind it’s essential to make the transition as seamless as possible. Having ameliorated initial fears about new people and new places, it would be a bit cruel to yank that network out from under people as they move on to the next stage.

As for next year’s students, surely there is some value in having the current crop — who are having such a positive experience — pass on the good will to the next bunch.

Todd · February 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm

What do we call Cafe New Paltz for first year students?

The Bar

Build a Brand Community « · April 9, 2009 at 10:46 pm

[…] the closest example I know of may be @rachelreuben’s cafe new paltz ning network but then again I believe that is more about connecting new […]

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