NACAC’s “Top recruitment strategies” in 2017 “State of College Admission”… online advertising not included

How Up-to-Date is Student Recruitment Activity in the College Admissions Process?

NACAC recently released the 2017 report on the State of College Admission, the results of surveying colleges and universities in the United States. You can download a copy of the report here for details of survey methodology and response rates. The report has four chapters and today I’m most interested in Chapter 2, “Recruitment and Yield Strategies.”

People responding to the survey were given 15 choices to rate in importance for recruiting first-time freshmen headed for college. The survey report does not say how the 15 choices were determined. A rating of “Considerable importance” was given at the levels noted here:

Website… 87.6%
Email… 79.7%
Hosted Campus Visit… 76.2%
High School Counselor… 57.3%
High School Visit (in the US)… 54.9%
Direct Mail… 50.5%
College Fairs… 41.7%
Social Media… 40.0%
Community Based Organizations… 20.2%
Test-Optional Policy… 15.3%
Alumni… 12.1%
Articulation Agreements with Community Colleges… 10.4%
Community College Outreach/Partnerships… 8.5%
High School Visit (Outside the US)… 6.0%
Conditional/Provisional Admission Program… 3.9%

Websites deserve their high 87.7% rating (although one wonders who the 12.3% are who don’t agree). And it is good to see from the 79.7% rating that few people answering the survey believe that “Email is dead” no matter how many times death has been proclaimed.

Texting… an important new element

Two activities were conspicuous by their absence: Texting and Advertising Online.

Texting acceptance has increased greatly in past year or two as both an initial qualifying activity (students who give permission to text at the start of the recruitment cycle are more likely to enroll and should be rated high on the “demonstrated interest” criterion that is of “considerable” or “moderate” important to 39.2 percent of admissions offices when making an admissions decision) and, together with email, as part of ongoing contacts throughout the recruitment cycle. Next year’s survey should include it.

Advertising online… nothing wrong with it.

Also missing was advertising online, a tactic often used in professional and graduate school recruitment. Some schools, of course, are doing this. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education written by a “special investigative reporter” announced on Twitter that some colleges were doing the same thing on Facebook that “Russian operatives” did during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Schools as different as University of Virginia and Berklee College of Music were highlighted in the story. OMG! (Liz Gross has a fine article dissecting the Chronicle report: “Let’s Not Shame Higher Ed For Using Facebook Ads.“)

But there is nothing wrong with advertising online, using data in inquiry and applicant pools. Colleges and universities should pay special attention to using Facebook’s (1) custom advertising and (2) lookalike advertising offerings to (1) increase yield from people already in the inquiry pool and (2) add new leads. Each of these is included in my “Digital Marketing Strategy” tutorial for the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education as important steps in an up-to-date recruitment plan.

Custom advertising… especially for academic programs.

If you are new to custom advertising, start with the Facebook introduction. Planning a campaign is not rocket science. Anyone with a basic understand of direct marketing principles should do well at it. In a nutshell, you’ll be creating a file to send to Facebook with at least email contact information. Facebook estimates that it can find 40 to 60% of the people in your file based on email. It will also suggest 14 other identifiers you might add to increase the match rate.

Use custom ads for both inquiries and applicants to reinforce email and text contacts as part of a multi-channel effort. Pay special attention to tracking people who visit individual academic program websites. From my discussions with many admissions people, it is be easier to send messages using custom advertising that it often is to send email and text messages that focus on academic programs. Facebook makes it relatively easy to conduct more than one campaign at the same time.

Facebook will ask you why you are advertising: Brand Awareness or Consideration or Conversion. In this case, the goal is increased conversion.

Lookalike advertising… to saturate a primary and (genuine) secondary recruitment area.

Direct marketers know that the best way to gain new leads that will create more enrolled students is to contact new people who look like those already in your inquiry and applicant pool. And thus, the aptly named “lookalike” Facebook option.

Planning a campaign is very similar to planning a “custom” effort with the important exception is that your target audience is people who are not already in your database.

In this case, the goal in a primary recruitment area is most likely “Consideration.” In a secondary area where reputation is not strong, it might be “Brand Awareness.”

The Virtue of Big Data… fewer ads that offend.

Many people of every age despise many types of online advertising. Using your current data to focus ads on the known interests of people you already are engaged with will diminish the opposition be sending messages that match the recipient’s interest. Sending a message on architecture or nursing, for instance, to people in a secondary recruitment area who might now know the name of your university is more likely to be opened than a generic ad touting your school’s regional US news rating.

NACAC State of Admission… Updated Recruitment and Yield Strategies in 2018?

How widespread is online advertising (and texting) as part of an up-to-date student recruitment plan? Let’s hope that NACAC adds these (and others) to the next version of the State of Admission survey.

That’s All for Now

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