Tag: academics

Café New Paltz – One month update

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?

Do we really need a social media strategy?

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.