Work Smarter, Not Harder

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Analytics, Email, Facebook, Free, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Web | Posted on 06-24-2008

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With all of the tools readily available at your fingertips, how could you afford to not use them?

Yesterday I had a meeting with BUMegan about some communication for incoming freshman. Previously, the ‘welcome week newsletter’ has been a word document around 5 pages long. Gross. So we started brainstorming about what to do this year. Email? eNewsletter? Welcome Week Blog? Post the info to the Facebook Class of 2012 group and the BUForums?

So I went to my network of higher ed professionals on Twitter for advice.

(Start at the bottom!)

So now I have some thoughts from peers about where to go, and call it a day. But I get home that night, and it’s still eating me up… What is the best way to make sure these ~950 kids get the info and actually read it? Facebook is nice, but only 400 kids are there. BUForums would be good, but only 350 kids there, and they aren’t all incoming students. I can start a blog easily, but will they read it? Do they even know what RSS is? Or will I have to rely on them to come back to the blog? If I am emailing them that there is a new post, would it be better to just email them the info and skip that step??

So last night I get in touch with Josh, the Admin of the Butler Class of 2012 group. I’ve talked to him before and he said he would help out with whatever we need. Perfect.

I put together a quick form in Google Docs, linked to a spreadsheet that will collect the data. I ask one simple question:

And last night I screencast within about 15 minutes of when the Facebook message went out.

As of now (8:30am EST), there are 160 responses. 144 of those came within 4 hours of the Facebook message being sent. I can only expect this number to grow as today and tonight goes on.

And for the data? Pretty much tells us what we need to do. And you thought email was dead? 149 of 160 students (93%) chose email as their preferred method of communication for this information.

Email: 149
Class of 2012 Facebook Group: 112
eNewsletter: 12
BUForums: 8
Other (regular mail): 4
Welcome Week Blog: 3
RSS Feed: 1
Other (Facebook Messages): 1

Looks like I need to get to work on some emails.  Just goes to show, as much as we think we know the students (I was looking towards Blog myself…), it never hurts to just ask.

Comments posted (7)

Not sure the survey is really valid….email and enewsletter are virtually the same thing. Plus obviously Facebook students are more engaged and so that we weigh the results. Mail may not be the way the students want it, but it might be the way their parents want it, which is probably more effective in terms of actually getting what you need. I don’t know, lots of things to consider. Why not just put it out over multiple mediums instead of just one?

My last year in admissions, I started a new students blog and updated it literally every single day with bits and pieces of info. For 600 students enrolling, that thing had well over 20,000 views in less than 3 months. There’s another idea for you, but it only really works if you update it super often.

I agree that the survey methodology wouldn’t really hold up academically, but what I think is the most important is the conversation.

WAAAAAAAY better than whatever newsletter you send is the students being welcomed to Butler with a sincere question about their preferences.

I personally don’t think there is a good / easy technical answer. And the behavior answer – what will they use – shifts over time as email gets burned out over the year.

So this type of survey isn’t going to result in some statistically valid ah hah. You are communicating care. Which goes a long long way.

And maybe, just maybe, by giving students the option to express their opinion about the channel, you might be building up the goodwill that gets you closer to the click through / read / engagement rates that you were looking for, regardless of the channel.

Well done!! And great use of a pile of tools in this blog.

One more thing: conversationally at least, and so sorry to interject cynicism after excitement above, when I ask students about communication preferences from the University they often say email. When I talk to them more about it, they say it’s because email is easier to ignore.

Very quickly students (not at Butler I’m sure, on on avg. nationwide) learn to assume that University communication is SPAM. They would rather get spam in email.

If, however, you ask them how they would like to communicate about a class they are excited about with a professor they are close to, Facebook comes up.

So email is and isn’t “dead”. It’s preferred for junk mail. Putting junk mail (one size fits all mass communication) into FB is not the answer.

The better answer, and the technical solution that is still very challenging, is reducing SPAM by breaking content into smaller chunks and delivering what’s relevant or urgent.

I somewhat agree with Kevin, but this is a question that should have been asked BEFORE you won these students over. Right now they are at the super psyched – your stats for almost any medium will be good as long as the message applies to their needs as incoming students. Also, you aren’t collecting individual preferences and then doing what individual users want – you’re talking about doing a survey to find what what medium you “should” be applying to all students.

Thanks for your comments, Karlyn and Kevin.

Yeah, this definitely is nothing scientific and probably could have been worded better. Can’t you tell by my screencast that I’m getting a little tired/drowsy? I went straight to bed after that, lol.

I do plan to spread it across multiple mediums, which wasn’t really conveyed in the blog post. To post only to Facebook would only reach maybe 200 students out of 950, which is unacceptable. The email I sent to ’08′s last week had a 43% open rate (400 students), so we would be missing out on a good chunk of students there also if we only did email. Multiple formats has to be the best bet.

Unfortunately a print/mailed newsletter is not in the budget, I am told. They are sending a packet of info out (already mailed maybe?) which will be a part of the communication we send; more of a heads-up that it’s coming and there will be a lot of information there.

Good thoughts on ‘junk’, Kevin. I had wondered if people weren’t choosing the Facebook group because they did not want us putting information there.

Karlyn – I like your idea of asking before we win them over, but the sample size would be so much larger… think 24K prospects vs. 900 matriculants. I wonder if we did that, would the prospects then expect to get the information how they asked for it and be disappointed if the method of delivery wasn’t what they wanted? I think that would be a ton of work to segment, and definitely couldn’t do it on my own. What a great way to head towards the future though, with more staffing of course :) :)

Quick Update: There are now 194 responses, and it’s following the same trend as the first 160 I blogged about.

I trust your email isn’t going to be five pages though? ;-)

Fortunately, it should be easy enough to repurpose most of your content and use it in different places (forums, fbook event invites, stickers affixed to Blue II’s forehead, etc.).

You still might want to look at using a blog as your “home” for all things Welcome Week, and then sending out shorter emails and fbook messages that tease events/info and guide interested readers to the blog.

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