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Varsity Outreach, a marketing services company, specialized in developing Facebook communities in higher ed, recently released the 3rd edition of their “Facebook and Admissions” survey. It’s a very interesting report, summarizing the results of their recent survey of 160 post-secondary institutions, about common practice, outcomes and trends of Facebook use in higher education recruitment and student conversion “yield”.

It’s difficult to find any real data on the application of Facebook, or any other social media channels for that matter, to recruitment in colleges and universities, so when we came across this report we just had to forward it along. Check out the full report for all the details but here are a few of the findings that we found most interesting. (Comments on the bullet points below in italics are my observations, not the work of the authors of the report.)

1) Admissions offices are spending more time on Facebook with more than 40% of admissions offices spending 5 hours or more a week on Facebook, (that’s up from 30% last year).

2) There has been movement in terms of who is managing Facebook accounts, from lower level staff to higher level staff, as well as an increase in the number of dedicated social media community managers, up from 14% to 18%.

3) 85% of the survey respondents believe that Facebook can have a significant impact on students accepted to become enrolled students. (This belief would be very interesting to test further by setting up registration goals in analytics related to traffic pushed to specific landing or customized content pages and links, posted to Facebook to specifically engage these “admits”.)

4) Facebook and YouTube remain at the top of preferred social media tools but interestingly this year Twitter replaced blogs in the number 3 spot. (If you are one of these schools shifting emphasis from your blog to Twitter, be sure to recognize the implications that this has with respect to search engine optimization of your site. Your blog(s) are one of your best tools with which to add new content to your site, populating it with keyword rich content that will positively affect your rankings and bringing you more organic search traffic. Be warned, your future search engine rankings could be at risk if you substitute more tweets for fewer high quality blog posts! Twitter activity, although it does seem to have some net benefit to SEO, will definitely not give you the same lift as high quality original content in your blog.  If you don’t really have a choice in this because of resource constraints, consider increasing other on-page SEO and link building activities to try to balance the loss of any lost rank resulting from decreased blog activity.)

5) The biggest Facebook challenge remains engagement/getting students to post.The second most important challenge was found to be measuring the impact of their Facebook presence. (Our experience has been that a well thought out Social Media Strategy can help you significantly improve engagement with your audience. It can strategically focus and channel your attention on the content most likely to engage your students and assist you tactically to develop and present the right stories to convey it.) Source: Facebook in Admissions Report, Varsity Outreach

It is clear from this report that universities and colleges are maturing in their use and management of Facebook and that it continues to grow as a important element in the higher ed recruitment toolbox. But even recognizing how far we have come, it also confirms that the industry is still struggling to measure and quantify the direct impact of the Facebook presence we’ve created.

How do you measure and report the impact of your investment to date in Facebook? We would also love to hear from any schools who have taken the leap in the last year and hired a Social Media Manager, to understand what the criteria was that motivated them to staff up in social media, as opposed to making investments in other areas, like SEO for example.