Recruiting Students: Five Tips for Making the Most of Facebook

April 14, 2011. In our January - February 2011 edition of Higher Ed Impact: Monthly Diagnostic, which identified opportunities for using social media to move the needle on key objectives in student recruitment, student engagement, and fundraising, we highlighted the ethnographic research of danah boyd (sic), a social media researcher with Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Among other findings, boyd noted that young adults use Facebook not to build or expand their personal or professional network (as, for example, adults in their 20s and 30s use LinkedIn), but to connect with their pre-existing network of friends and social contacts. This has implications for how institutions leverage Facebook for recruiting.

A lot of institutions have invested in posting large amounts of content to Facebook pages that are designed to interest prospective students in the campus community, invite them to subscribe, and build networks of prospects and applicants. More efficient and effective uses of Facebook, however, use smaller amounts of very targeted content to get prospects conversing with their current network about the institution, sharing information, or completing specific tasks.

To learn more about how institutions can make the most out of Facebook for recruiting students, we turned to Brad Ward, CEO of BlueFuego Inc., and a key thought leader on the uses of social media in higher ed marketing. Ward offers five tips.

Tip 1: Offer Great Content, but Make it About the Audience

Studies of young adults' use of social networks -- both danah boyd's research and others' -- have drawn attention to the ways that young adults use Facebook and other sites to exhibit themselves. Ward cites the example of one client who posted photos to their Facebook page from their largest recruitment event of the year. The content offered, in other words, consisted of photos of the prospective students interacting with the institution. The results:

  • 45 percent of students who attended the event converted to fans of the institution on Facebook
  • 1,100 students were tagged in at least one photo from the event
  • The Facebook page saw 62,000 photo views that week
  • Early action applications went up by 42 percent that year

Tip 2: Offer Less Content

On a social network, Ward suggests, less actually is more: "talk less, listen more." Too many Facebook updates can lead students to tune you out. It's important to consider that your updates are competing for space with updates from family and friends. Accordingly, it's important to be very targeted in which content you make available.

Based on BlueFuego's recent 25-month study of nearly 400,000 Facebook updates across more than 1,200 university Facebook pages, Ward advises, "10-15 updates per month is the most effective amount of content."

Also, mix your content up. We suggest a 50:25:25 ratio. Fifty percent of your content is informational, 25 percent is conversational about your brand, and 25 percent is conversational on your platform, but not about your brand. One client recently cut back from an average of 50 updates per month to 14, and engagement on their page tripled in just two months.

Brad Ward, BlueFuego Inc.

Tip 3: Focus on Facilitating Specific Tasks

As many prospective students are already spending hours of their time logged into Facebook, you want to look for opportunities to invite them to complete specific tasks while logged in. Ward draws attention to iFrames, which allow you to embed forms on your Facebook page. He notes, "You can do something as simple as an inquiry form on your page, or as complex as embedding your online application or taking deposits directly into your Facebook page."

In deciding what to embed through an iFrame, Ward advises addressing two critical questions:

  • What value will this add for my audience?
  • How can I make it easier for them to complete the actions I want them to take?

Tip 4: Use Facebook Tools to Leverage the Power of Social Proofing

Ward uses this example to illustrate how Facebook can help you leverage social proofing (in which prospects are influenced by others' behaviors). When you include a Facebook "Like" box or button on your .edu Web page, and a visitor hits the page while logged into Facebook, the box will sift through their social graph to locate friends who are already fans of your page. The box loads their friends' images directly into your page. "So," Ward remarks, "if you visit an admissions page and you haven't liked that university on Facebook, but now you see three of your friends have done so and their photo is now on your screen, you'll be much more likely to take action."

Tip 5: Lead Generation Through Facebook Ads

Finally, Ward notes that Facebook Ads are an especially underutilized utility. Facebook Ads draw students directly to your fan page and are inexpensive to launch, allowing your institution to target specific messages to students at various stages of the cycle. Ward remarks, "We recently saw 198 scheduled campus tours in November for a client using Facebook Ads, at a cost of only $3.15 per visitor. Also, the amount of data available via the Facebook Ads manager is staggering -- take advantage of it to learn more about your audience!"