Twitter and adult student recruitment… not yet prime time

Twitter: A Tool to Recruit Adult Students?

One of several priority items this week is finishing a social media marketing presentation for Carol Aslanian’s upcoming June 2-4 conference on adult student recruitment. (If you might still register, use “Bob100” in the discount box on the registration page and save $100.)

How important is Twitter to the marketing communications mix in this sector?

Results are mixed, based on a limited sample of 3 not-for-profit schools and 4 from the for-profit sector. (We searched the “following” list at DIOSA and the “Universities” section of the Twitter Fan Wiki for obvious titles that indicated attention to adults or continuing education or distance learning. Few were found. We did find Twitter sites for not-for-profit schools whose overall orientation is strongly toward adults students and may include these later.)

The measure of “importance” for recruiting is based primarily on three points:

    • The number of followers. If followers are low, few are hearing the tree fall in the forest. 
    • The branding strength of the “bio” used.
    • Frequency of updates. Neglect in updating indicates that staff resources aren’t focused on Twitter. Infrequent updates don’t give followers much reason to pay attention after they sign on.

Sites that have been around for a long time, like the one at Penn State, might be updating more frequently now than the data indicates. Didn’t have time to check for that.

We did not try to estimate one important element: how many followers are actually potential or current students? From quick scans, certainly not everyone. 

The Not-for-Profit Sector: UMass, Penn State, Harvard

University of Massachusetts Continuing and Professional Education

    • 413 following, 235 followers, 12 updates
    • Started: March 26, 2009
    • Bio: Continuing & Professional Educ Programs, Summer/Winter Sessions at UMass Amherst. Maintained by Sue Cassidy, Outreach Mktg (scassidy).

Notes: Not very active, with just 12 updates over 56 days. Always a nice touch to include the name of the person who does the updates. The “following” number is high in comparison to the number of “followers.”  

Penn State University World Campus

By far the earliest site on Twitter for this group, updates have been relatively infrequent and followers are low for the 505 days operating. The bio is simple and to the point about what’s offered by the World Campus.

Harvard University Extension School

    • 20 following, 472 followers, 18 updates
    • Started: January 9
    • Bio: Harvard’s primary resource for continuing education. Offering over 600 evening and online courses and part-time degree programs to the public.

Notes: Harvard doesn’t follow nearly as many people as Penn State or UMass but still has far more followers. Might that just be the power of the brand? Bio adds a nice point by listing the number of courses offered and a subtle touch that they are open “to the public.” As with the others, few upates over the 131 days the site has been operating. 

For-profit Sector: Phoenix, Capella, Kaplan, Walden  

University of Phoenix

Notes: Phoenix came quite late to Twitter. For some inexplicable reason, the marketing imperative here doesn’t include any “bio” information at all. Nobody’s perfect. Followers are developing nicely over the last 9 days. Updates are extremely frequent. Will they keep up that pace of nearly 5 per day?

Capella University

    • 0 following, 911 followers, 38 updates,
    • Started: February 2
    • Bio: “Capella University is an accredited, fully online university that has built its reputation by providing quality education for working adults.”

Notes: Capella sets the pace for followers, as well as for those it follows. I think this is the first time that I’ve found a Twitter site that isn’t following anyone. The bio makes key points about accreditation, online programs, and the orientation to adults. Updates are not frequent at about 1 every 3 days.

Kaplan University

    • 21 following, 39 followers, 1 update
    • Started: 27 April
    • Bio: Building futures online and at eight Kaplan University campuses across the nation. Career-focused education tweets from Kaplan Higher Education home office.

Notes: Did Kaplan note the update activity at Phoenix and decide to take the opposite tack? A single update over 24 days is about as low as it can get. Someone at the “home office” did have time to add a bio, but things must have been really busy since then. 

Walden University  

    • 63 following, 166 followers, 141 updates
    • Started: March 6 
    • Bio: An accredited online university founded in 1970 and dedicated to enabling the success of working professionals around the world. 

Notes: Walden makes a solid effort that hasn’t yet paid off with many followers. Over 75 days since starting, the 2 updates each day is the best pace other than Phoenix. The bio lets us know Walden has been around for 29 years, or far longer than the other for-profit institutions and pre-dating “online” universities by a wide margin.

Overall Conclusion: Twitter Not a Priority 

For marketers at most of these schools, Twitter is not a priority. Phoenix will be an interesting “follow” over the next few months to track how rapidly followers build and interact with the university. Phoenix includes a link to Twitter and 4 other social media sites on the website but hasn’t yet updated the graphic to include the Twitter symbol. 

That’s all for now.



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