Universities are out to prove the ROI of social media

colleges and social media

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research continues to do an excellent job documenting the social media progress of organizations such as Fortune 500 companies, INC 500 companies and non-profits. In a new research release, the team shows that universities continue to lead the way in the use of social media and its measurement.

If you think about, using social media at the university level is the perfect test case for what all our organizations may be seeing just a few years from now:

  • Its primary audience uses the social web as its primary tool for communication.
  • It is an essential strategy for connecting with, and nurturing, its “customers.”
  • The relatively low-cost effectiveness of social media fits with programs under constant budget pressures.
And, as this study shows, it’s starting to show impressive results. Some highlights:
  • Reduced costs for traditional media are attributed to use of social media. Schools report 33% less spent on printing, 24% less spent on newspaper ads and 17% less spent on radio and TV ads.
  • One in 3 schools say social media is more efficient than traditional media in reaching their target audience (this number increases to 44% for top MBA programs).
  • 92% of undergraduate admissions officers agree that social media is worth the investment they make in it and 86% plan to increase their investment in social media in the next year.
  • The most useful tools for recruiting undergraduates include Facebook (94%), YouTube (81%), Twitter (69%) and Downloadable Mobil Apps (51%). Mobile apps are a favorite of top MBA programs with 82% citing them as an effective recruiting tool.
  • Monitoring the schools name and relevant online conversation has declined over the past few years. In 2009-2010, 73% reported monitoring their brand. In 2010-2011, that number dropped to 68% and now is reported to be 47%. This could have consequences for any school that becomes the target of negative online buzz and is unaware of that conversation.
  • Less than half of those surveyed have a written social media policy for their school. In the 2009-2010 academic year 32% had such a policy. That number increased to 44% in 2010-2011 and stands at 49% now. While this increase is encouraging, it is disconcerting to note that less than half have such a policy and that 19% of the undergraduate admissions officer report they did not know if any such policy existed at their school.
  • 29% of the schools surveyed report having NO social media plan in place for their Admission Office and an additional 15% report not knowing if there is a social media plan in place.
  • 78% report that these tools have changed the way they recruit.

How are you seeing social media being used at educational institutions?

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  • This was our topic on #collegecash twitter chat this past Thursday night. @Jociokun has the transcript/storify if you want to follow it. Topic: how to parents and prospective students get information. I linked this same study. But also this fact: Despite the persistent cry that ‘print is dead’ , print pubs are used by 96% of college admissions. CASE/LipmanHearne study.
    It was clear from the chat that everyone LOVES the big shiny brochure still. Having just gone through the process with my son, and being a media professional, we used all media in our process: social, mail, email, virtual tours, and yes a lot of printed pieces from the universities.

  • Host of #collegecash is @jodiokun Sorry for the typo in last comment.

  • There is lots of print being used still because of who makes those decisions at Universities. I know I was working with one and after all the recommendations with data backing it up different choices, they still divert a lot of their budget to print because the Dean connects with it.

    Not being able to put yourself in the “customers” shoes is what seems to be the crux for everyone – whether it is schools or companies.

  • We are definitely using all media as we go through college evaluations for our youngest. The brochures spark interest, and then we go to something like the US News and World Report reviews/rankings of the colleges. Of course, those reviews have links to the university sites where we can take virtual tours.

    We have not pursued Facebook Fan Pages, Google+ or official Twitter IDs.

    Regarding monitoring, we are doing a Pulse Analytics pilot with a university to track the social profiles of student athletes. I suppose that athletic departments could extend to some of the people they are recruiting at the high school level, but the primary purpose was to enforce compliance with NCAA rules. Of course that same monitoring could be used more generically for any aspect of the university (college professors, degree programs, etc.).

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  • mstonervt


    I’ve worked in communications/marketing for colleges and universities for my entire career. I did the first institution-wide web strategy projects in higher ed; my company just celebrated its first decade working with colleges & universities on web strategy and design.

    The research you commented on in this post is really valuable, but it’s hard to generalize about what colleges and universities are doing based on what happens in the admission office alone. The admission office may be able to comment on institution-wide issues, or they may be relatively unaware of what’s happening in the alumni office (a major focus of social media engagement activities) or in the development office (another revenue center through fundraising from alumni and friends).

    This is one of the challenges of working in (or with!) colleges and universities: they are institutions where power is diffuse and entrepreneurs in administrative or academic departments often have the autonomy — if not always the knowledge, experience, or good sense — to do what they want to do, institutional “policy” or best practices be damned.

    So the story is more complicated than The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research data indicate.

    For example, Noel-Levitz, an enrollment and admissions consulting firm, does a yearly study of prospective students to see what they say about various channels (in 2012, 2000 students, 51% high school seniors). This year, 72% said they used “brochures/mail” to research colleges. When asked the best ways to learn about academic programs (the most important content to them), 71% said brochures were best; 38% cited social media as the best source. Only 10% said that social media was the best source of info for financial aid and 35% for information about the campus location and community. So while they do use Facebook (and other social channels), these aren’t the only, or even the primary, sources of information.

    Indeed, this confirms my observation that adults continuously over-estimate the appetite of teens for whatever it is adults we think they should be interested in. We’ve seen from our own experience that teens love printed pieces — they just aren’t impressed with the kind of glossy viewbooks that most admission offices send out. We worked with William & Mary on a pack of cards that was used in place of a traditional view book — and was extremely well-liked by teens who received it.

    Over the last three years, my company, mStoner, has partnered with CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education–the professional association for people who do college and university marketing, PR, fundraising, and alumni relations, a collection of disciplines called “advancement”) on a survey of how institutions use social media in these activities. This year we had more than 1200 respondents.

    One finding: 74% said that communications/PR was responsible for creating, monitoring compliance, and enforcing institution-wide social media policies. In other words, these folks generally have a broader view of social media on their campuses, and since they’re concerned with the institution’s reputation overall, they’re probably the ones responsible for monitoring the institution’s reputation. [That could be one reason why the data cited in the UMASS-Dartmouth study showed a decline in monitoring online reputation: the admission office is not doing it, not that it’s more complicated and someone else is responsible.]


    P.S. We’re releasing a white paper about our 2012 research on social media in advancement next week. Happy to send you a copy if you want one.

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  • guyb99

    The fact I’ve got a job! I’m the Social Media supervisor at Kennesaw State University in GA (@kennesawstate) and on FB and G+. So far I’m the only specific Social Media manager in the University system of Georgia but I think it’s going to become a more common position going ahead.

    I oversee all our primary platforms on FB, TW, G+, LI and are dabbling in YouTube, Pinterest and Foursquare.

    We use Facebook and Twitter as a primary communications vehicle and also as a showcase for the best of content from our departments, students and athletics profiles – a KSU reading digest if you will.

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  • Appears we’re on the same page Mark… today’s blog on “Process skills with social media” shares how educational institutions are using social media http://tinyurl.com/cgcgaxf

    Take a look at how this works “…to prove the ROI of social media”

  • Universities here are beginning to catch onto social media as they are recognizing the simple fact that students now rather hear what fellow students are saying about the campus rather than the brochure. Having that said, a number of universities I’m working with are giving their all in creating a platform for existing students to talk about them in order to win new ones.

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  • Acook


  • I am the Interactive Marketing Specialist for Chapman University (also the first full-time social media-oriented position). Our social networks serve as a customer service platform. In addition to posting institutional news and updates, we focus on listening, responding, and acknowledging our “customers.” As mentioned in an earlier comment, social media allows the customer to build the brand – the same can be said for students. The more you recognize their voice online, the more they are willing to participate positively. Prospective application definitely notice what others are saying.

    Chapman is branded on Facebook, Twitter (@ChapmanU), G+, Pinterest, Instagram, Foursquare, YouTube, and iTunesU. All these platforms are treated differently, but with the same institutional message. It’s been fun to be creative on new emerging platforms!

  • Absolutely would love to see it.

  • Great. I don’t live too far away in Knoxville. Hope you will come to visit us at Social Slam April 5.

  • Sounds like a very interesting job! Thanks for commenting.

  • Thank you! We are also one of very few institutions with a social media policy. For any interested in seeing our current adoption: http://www.chapman.edu/campus-services/marketing-communication/web-interactive-marketing/guidelines-policy.aspx

  • michaelklein

    I’ve always wondered if schools are missing the big picture when it comes to marketing. Social media is an important part of the mix, but I think universities would be better suited for comprehensive inbound marketing strategy and techniques.

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