Study on social media and its use in college admissions

22 Jan

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently conducted a study on how social media is being used by college admissions offices.  The study examined the use of social media between 2007 and 2008 at four-year accredited institutions across the country.  Here are some interesting highlights from the study:

  •  41% of admission offices reported they were blogging, out of these 81% of schools said they felt their blogs were successful.  Of those that didn’t blog, 40% said they planned to create one in the near future.
  •  61% use social networking
  •  36% use message boards, 16% use podcasts, and 10% use wikis
  •  Admissions professionals reported that they were using videos for campus/dorm tours and faculty lectures
  •  49% use RSS feeds, with 48% allowing email subscriptions
  •  In 2007, 53% said they monitored the Internet for “posts, conversations, and news about their institution”; this number rose to 54% in 2008.

The study points out that “colleges and universities are using social media to recruit and research prospective students.”  Although institutions are eager to use social media, many are not using the technology it its full potential. 

 An article by Elizabeth Schiffman, Social Media’s Expanding Role in College Admission, quotes Daniel Grayson, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Tufts, saying, “I think one of the mistakes a lot of universities make is not having a very clear mission for what they’re trying to do with social media.”  I agree.  I think most colleges and universities understand the need to have a social presence, but are quick to “jump on the bandwagon” without a strategy in place.  They realize that their target populations are avid users of social media, so they decide that this is where they need to be – often times without putting a lot of thought into strategy. 

 I am not a social media expert, but I am taking a social media class in the hopes to learn more about how social technologies can be used for marketing and institutional operations. The book we are reading for our class, Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies (2008) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, says that it is crucial for organizations to identify their target market(s) and clearly define their goals and objectives BEFORE deciding on what social technologies to use (p.67).  This makes a lot of sense.  It is easy to create a profile page or set up an account on popular social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, but it makes even more sense to do it if there is an objective behind it. 

 If your institution is thinking about using, or has already started using social media, what are your goals and objectives?  Do you want to share information about your institution?  Do you want to build awareness?  Do you want to interact with students?  Do you want to provide customer service?  Who is your target market?  What social technologies does your target market use?  Who within your institution is going to be responsible for the social technologies you use – monitoring information, updating sites, responding to users, followers and/or fans?   These are all important questions that I think every college and university should think about before going social.

 I’m interested in hearing from admissions professionals at other institutions.  Did you develop a strategy before going social?  If you are using social technologies, what have you found to be successful for your institution?  What hasn’t worked? 

 Thanks for reading.



Li, C., & Bernoff, J.  (2008).  Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies.  Forrester Research.  67.  Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

 Mattson, Eric, and Barnes Gamin, Nora, Ph.D.  (2009).  Social Media and College Admissions:  The First Longitudinal Study.  The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.  Retrieved January 22, 2011 from

Schiffman, Elizabeth.  (2010).  Social Media’s Expanding Role in College Admissions.  The Cram.  Politics Daily.  Retrieved January 22, 2011 from


5 Responses to “Study on social media and its use in college admissions”

  1. Sarah Bedingfield January 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Hi Allison:

    This is a nice idea for a blog; I hope you get some responses from admissions folks. The study was interesting, I found it ironic that the interveiws were done over the telephone! In your research, have you come across any studies that talk about the effectiveness of these digital tools? I am curious to know which ones present as more effective marketing tools. Good luck.

    • allisonkmarcotte January 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

      Thanks, Sarah. So far, I have found research that explains how social media can be leveraged by an organization – as a way to interact and share information with audiences; as a tool for customer service; and as a way to monitor what people are saying about an organization. In this blog, I am hoping to explore this further, and find out what strategies and technologies might work best for institutions of higher education and how they can benefit. Stay tuned! 🙂

  2. Bruce January 24, 2011 at 7:56 am #


    Very interesting and useful info.

    I’ve never “blogged” before, and I am interested in learning more about this potential medium first hand! This will certainly have important implications for Great Bay!

  3. Matt Thornton February 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Hello Allison,

    You bring up such an important point about colleges diving in to social media without a strategic mission for it. Is the mission to use the media as a marketing tool, or to help promote college activities or events? Is it to help communicate important messages to the students, such as school closures, important dates or deadlines, perhaps college policies and procedures? Or is it trying to be something that’s all-inclusive?

    The problem with social media trying to be an all-inclusive source of information for the students is the redundancy in updating information. If the college website itself is a tool through which students should be able to find “everything”, then you would have to update the website, facebook, twitter, blackboard, etc. every time a change was made. This becomes extremely difficult to manage without a dedicated person responsible for the content on all of them, which becomes a financial burden to the college if no such person exists.

    Another problem that comes to mind is the potential of misinformation being broadcast as truth. The nature of social media is such that it is interactive, and students are just as able to post information to a college’s facebook page as the college is. This creates the potential for students broadcasting inaccurate information, via a college’s page, to the whole population reading it. Or, if intended as a marketing tool, disgruntled students may post less than flattering comments about the college, weakening the value of such a marketing tool. Negative feedback travels much faster than positive feedback, particularly in social media.

    I love the idea of podcasts. We have talked about putting our Admissions Information Sessions up on our website in video format so that students can learn about the application process right from their home on their own time without the need to come in for an appointment. Podcasts never occurred to me, but it is absolutely the logical next step. Then, these videos can be taken wherever you’d like on your iPod/iPhone/iPad/iWhatever. If our mission is accessibility, this makes perfect sense!

    Great blog. 🙂 I hope you get a lot of great feedback from people!

    Matt Thornton

    • allisonkmarcotte February 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

      Thanks so much, Matt. You are absolutely right – if social media sites, such as Facebook, are used as an “all-inclusive” source of information, this can become very difficult for colleges to manage. I think it also presents a challenge because there is no consistent “voice.” If everyone is posting messages about everything, I think it is hard for people to become truly engaged with the site; instead it can turn into an “information clearing house” for the college.

      On Facebook, I have seen many colleges that maintain several Facebook pages. For instance, advising has a page that they manage and keep updated with only information that pertains to advising; admissions has a page that contains enrollment and event information; student life has their own page and so on. To me, this makes a lot of sense! This way, each department can manage its own content, maintain a consistent voice and be able to respond accurately – it doesn’t have to be an all encompassing source of information for the entire college.

      Also, if colleges are going to be engaging with students via social technologies, I think it is important for them to have a “response” plan in place (i.e. who is going to be monitoring the questions that students post, who is going to respond or forward them on to the appropriate department, etc).

      Thanks for sharing – great discussion!

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