Last week I had the opportunity to conduct a design interview with Daniel Grayson from Tufts university. Tufts has received national coverage in the past for their innovative use of social media in their admissions process. USA Today named Tufts as one of 20 colleges making best use of social media and in 2010 the New York Times covered how their innovative approach of accepting YouTube videos as part of the admissions process.
After speaking with Daniel it’s clear that these successes didn’t happen overnight, and it’s truly a reflection of the culture they have been able to amplify that is unique to Tufts. How can you make your admissions process more social? Below are 5 tips from Tufts Admissions Team.
1. Listen first, then experiment
Before popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter took off, there was a higher ed discussion site called College Confidential. Here, students, parents, and administrators would post questions and answers about the admissions process for various universities. Years ago Daniel began monitoring the forum to answer questions and correct misinformation that can sometimes arise on social discussion sites.
After receiving positive feedback from students and parents by providing transparent and helpful advice, Tufts saw Facebook as the next step in the social admissions process. By monitoring key online areas, they learned how to be a trusted resource online and make a more confident leap into the powerhouse social media sites used today.
2. Showcase real people from the university admissions
Because these sites are “social” in nature, it’s important for universities to show the real faces that work in admissions. Young people today are tired of being advertised to, and although your logo is an important representation of your school brand, what’s more important are the students and administrators who make up the school community.
If you look at Tufts’ Admissions Twitter profile, you can see he represents himself as “Dan from admissions.” He also uses a personal Facebook account (created specifically for his admissions job) to engage with students as a real person. Smiling faces of real people will always beat out stock photography or faceless logos.
3 . Use current students as ambassadors
Not only do Tufts’ admissions folks add a personal touch, but they also encourage their current students to join their online communities and answer questions from prospective students. Daniel notes that the personal touch he was able to offer during the admissions process creates a culture where current students feel compelled to help out as well.
Without even creating an official social media team, they’ve been able to utilize current students to answer questions and generally be a resource for admitted and incoming students. Although it might frighten some schools to let current students have a voice in the admissions process, to this day he has never once cringed at a comment left by current students.
4. Create excitement and community for the incoming classes
Social proof is a powerful force, and one schools can utilize in the admissions process. According to Grayson their Facebook Page strategy isn’t about content and messaging, but rather about creating a place for students to interact and engage. Excited students can help improve yield of undecided students and help prospective students “see themselves there”.
5. Engage students with diverse backgrounds (both on and offline)
When Tufts university held a special orientation session for first generation students, Daniel caught wind of a Facebook Group created for the students who attended. Daniel reached out to the student casually asking if he minded if he joined, just to be a resource and answer any questions the students might have. After seeing how Tufts had handled their other online communities he was welcomed and was able to answer questions, fears, and concerns from this segment of students.
Conclusion? Culture = Community
By providing an authentic view into your school community you can socially connect and engage students in powerful ways before they step foot on campus. Is your admissions office making plans to welcome the class of 2016? How are you measuring/managing your community building efforts?