Admissions Marketing – What’s Here vs. What’s Next

For the past few weeks, I’ve been summarizing the 2011 Noel-Levitz marketing and student recruitment research that is extremely important to the higher ed market. After reviewing their reports last weeks our CEO, Michael Staton, pointed out something:

Focusing on what is true today is not going to help schools position themselves to take advantage of what will be true in the coming years.

Sure mobile, SMS, and social are relatively new to the marketing mix – unlike established channels like email, the most effective techniques haven’t been established and adoption rates are still rising. However, the schools that innovate with these technologies and platforms can give themselves a competitive advantage in the years to come. Last week Peter Leyden from Next Agenda gave a talk at the Inigral office titled “The Next Tech Paradigm Shifts”.

One great thing about having an office in San Francisco is the ability to learn from some of the smartest folks in tech. Peter was one of the original editors of Wired magazine, the Director of the New Politics Institute and helped advise the Obama campaign on digital tactics which led to a “cinderella story” of sorts, bringing social networking to the center of the political world.

One of my favorite graphs from his presentation was the historical adoption rates of communication technologies. Historical technology trends are extremely interesting to watch. Peter often uses history to help advise companies on where trends head in the future. Notice how much the rate of change has accelerated over the past 100 years:

Communication adoption rates are increasing.

Communication Technology Adoption - Peter Leyden

Taking a closer look at social networking adoption trends, you can see in the graph below the length of time Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ took to reach 10 million users. Although I’d like to thank Techcrunch for the above below, it’s important to point out the problems with comparing Google+ adoption with FB and Twitter. (Google being well established company with plenty of auxiliary services vs. the built form scratch networks of FB and Twitter)

Google+ growth vs. Facebook and Twitter

What does this have to do with higher ed?

In the Noel-Levitz E-expectation summary I wrote last week it was pretty clear the current success rates of social and mobile marketing tactics were perceived as low for admissions professionals. However, just because success didn’t happen this year, doesn’t mean these mediums won’t be extremely important in years to come. Peter predicted Internet would change politics in 1996, but it wasn’t until the Obama campaign in 2004 when it finally “hit”. As John McCain learned the hard way, it’s better to be early to the party than late. According to Peter:

“The future is messy, but you can see where the trends are going and position yourself and your organization accordingly. The next 5 years will be dominated by innovations in mobile, social, and video.”

You can already see the big players in the tech space fight it out with Facebook, Apple, and Google claiming their respective territories in mobile, social, and video. I believe the future of social networking is creating highly relevant communities around interests, affiliations, and locations. You see this with new Google+ circles and geo-location features across platforms.

Keep in mind, it’s not enough to just sign up for a new hot social network or get your school to develop a mobile application. These innovations must be clearly aligned with student needs and institutional strategy. One of the biggest problems I see with schools trying to “go social” is the tendency to treat social networks as items to check off a list. Just because you are signed up for every social platform under the sun doesn’t mean you’re using social media to meet the needs of your audience.

Evaluate and experiment with new approaches, but don’t get lost in the swirl of shiny objects.

The question I wanted to ask Peter during his talk was, with all of this technological innovation, are we really solving any of the world’s biggest problems?

I’d like you to think along the same lines when it comes to your new marketing approaches. What problems are you solving? Are you truly creating a great digital experience, or are you just playing follow the leader?

We’d love love to hear your thoughts on marketing innovation. This week the Inigral team will be at Noel-Levitz in Denver, Stamats SIM in Chicago, and eduTWEETUP in Boston to learn how institutions are staying ahead of the curve and in order to position themselves for the next wave of technology adoption.

  • Matthew

    Snail mail and, to a large extent, even email have become irrelevant as marketing tools (when directed at traditional students) today.  How much do you imagine the average public institution spends printing and mailing materials that will never be read by the students they are courting?

    • Brandon Croke

      Great question Matthew. I’d love to see the numbers behing printing and direct mail, because I am also skeptical about the success of these mediums. One high-school junior I recently talked to spoke with disdain about the foot-high stack of direct mail pieces she’d received from colleges. Has anyone else seen specific numbers Matthew is referring to?

  • Pingback: Highlights: Social Media Adoption in Higher Ed. | Inigral Insights


    Article nicely written. But I don’t agree comparing Google + with Facebook and Twitter. Facebook and Twitter were launched during the time when only a few million people know about internet and how to use it. Social Networking was not so famous during that time. But when Google+ was launched almost every internet user had a gmail account and a simple click on Google+ link created an account. I have an Google+ account for almost a year but i rarely use it. But I am using Facebook every day. And Institutes stopped using Snail mail and started using email to correspond further inquiries with a student. It’s very rare an institute using snail mail to correspond with a student.

    • Brandon Croke

      David. Perhaps you should read my article again, I state …it’s important to point out the problems with comparing Google+ adoption with FB and Twitter. (Google being well established company with plenty of auxiliary services vs. the built form scratch networks of FB and Twitter)

      Also, institutions are still using lot’s of print mail for prospective students. 

      • David Scott

         Thanks for correcting me croke

  • Matthew Licausi

    Institutions definitely ARE mailing massive quantities of printed collateral – some of it is exceptionally expensive.  However, the metrics do continue to support the channel.  A mailing of 100,000 can yield 10,000 inquiries, when done correctly.    That being said, we’re beginning to see smarter mailing, as part of an overall strategy – instead of the cornerstone of the strategy.  For example, triggered/personalized mailing has a solid foothold in higher ed now… which is fantastic… and as institutions consider to adopt more and more emerging tech, I’m sure we’ll see a more judicious use of the more expensive channels like this.