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We’ve discussed the importance of mobile-friendly Web resources and a strategic social media plan, but what does all this mean for the tried and true viewbook of old?

As you all know, a viewbook is really your marketing department’s time to shine, presenting the school they way they want, in a concise and enticing manner. But as the Chronicle of Higher Education recently explored, some college administrators are wondering if it’s actually worth the time and cost to produce this annual catalog. The magazine actually quotes Richard A. Hesel, a principal with the education consulting firm Art & Science Group, who says that viewbooks are “vanity pieces”, which are no longer as effective as they once were when it comes to communicating facts and attracting students.

The reasons? High school students are not relying on brochures and what is essentially a coffee-table book for information about a school. They’re using the Web and social media. A recent survey on mobile use indicated that:

  • 50 percent of students said they would “like” a school’s Facebook page to see future posts from that school
  • 83 percent said they would view the Facebook page of a school they were considering

Furthermore, this year’s Horizon Report estimated that tablet computing and mobile apps are both expected to break into the education mainstream within the year. Given these findings, should schools keep producing viewbooks?

The answer is yes, sort of. The idea behind a viewbook is still valid, but like everything else, schools have to now rethink the way they do things, using the Web, social media and mobile resources to their advantage. Some schools have started replacing the traditional viewbook with smaller brochures, while others are emphasizing smaller, sleeker viewbooks that are a bit edgier. More forward-thinking universities, however, have already started producing viewbook apps for smartphones and tablets. Given that 94% of students own smartphones (and tablet use will continue to increase), this seems like a logical transition. However, other avenues, such as social media, can also be beneficial (a viewbook can actually be “deconstructed” – with video on YouTube, photos on Flickr, etc).

As an example, check out Saint Francis University’s online viewbook:

YouTube video

What do you think? Are viewbooks, in the traditional sense, still worth producing?