This post was originally posted on Fresno Pacific's blog. You can read it and more posts related to higher education by others there too.
Universities in the U.S. start recruiting students at a very young age. I don't think it's a secret but it sometimes surprises people that undergraduate admissions offices start collecting information on prospective students as young as 14 or 15.
Traditionally recruiters buy lists, make phone calls, build relationships with local schools and developed mass media campaigns to make sure qualified students know about their school. Awareness is an important part of any marketing strategy and universities are no different.
** **Schools still use many of the traditional methods mentioned above but something is changing, the schools are becoming increasingly more aware of the rates of "stealth students", a student that wasn't in the marketing funnel. Like a puff of smoke they appear at the application stage having made no contact with an admissions counselor. We're still researching to see if the number of stealth applicants is on the rise but we do know that approximately 20% of our students enroll in this manner.
So, for us it's more important than ever that we ensure we look at all our outposts online and make sure we continue to produce remarkable content that encourages people to share, to spread the word and make prospective students aware of Fresno Pacific University. People are increasingly spending more and more time on social networks and social networks have quickly become a key research channel for finding information about everything, including schools. Brian Solis' post "Social Media Accounts for 18% of Information Search Market" provides a great overview of the shifts taking place in search behavior.
To ensure that our content is optimized for the social networks here's some techniques we're putting in place as we redesign our core web properties:
Make it shareable - add a "Share" link to every page and include the major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Tools like sharethis.com can be used integrated quickly.
**Use keywords that people are searching for - **These are not always what you think they might be. We've solved many a "what should we call this?" question by firing up Google AdWords and researching what people search for rather than what we want to call something. This isn't just for page titles and traditional Search Engine Optimization, it counts for blog posts, photos and Facebook status updates too.
Tag your content - tagging content with keywords relevant to the object and how people find you is critical. This can be time consuming but if you post 100 photos on Flickr and don't tag them with your brand name, location or keywords relevant to the shot how are people going to find out how fantastic your campus is? We need to get better at this. The fantastic thing is that many of the social networks allow others to tag your content too.
Links - yes they may be old school but they are the currency of the web. Links help people find your stuff. It's not just for Search Engine Optimization either. Use links on Facebook to drive people back to your blog posts and your news stories. When people share your Facebook posts the links travel with them helping spread your social presence.
How do we proceed?
These techniques are just the tip of the iceberg but as people use social media more and more to find information and make decisions we continue to try and optimize our content to make sure it's findable.We're not where we want to be yet but we're getting better and we're measuring it so we can start to see what's working.
The most important thing is that we need to produce enough content to ensure we remain relevant. Ideally this content should be remarkable content, it should move someone enough to share it, spread the word and maybe become our next stealth student.