Interview Week: Dara Crowfoot, DePaulQuad.com

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Alumni, Blogging, Concepts, Interview, Marketing, Recruitment, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Web | Posted on 10-15-2008

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This is part 3 of Interview Week at SquaredPeg.  Missed past interviews? Click below.
Interview Week [Part 1]: Jordan Goldman, CEO of Unigo.com
Interview Week [Part 2]: Pauline from “The ‘C’ Word”
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Today we’re talking with Dara Crowfoot from DePaul University about DePaulQuad.com, a social network exclusively for parents of current students.  This hit my radar a while back and it was great to talk with Dara and learn more about the initiative, so I wanted to share it with you.

Dara is the Director of Marketing Strategy at DePaul, and comes from an impressive marketing background including time as the Director of Marketing of Verizon Avenue at Verizon and Assistant Brand Manager at Kraft General Foods.

SquaredPeg.com: When was DePaulQuad.com launched?

Dara Crowfoot: We launched the site in August 2007. We launched it as a pilot for just first-year parents.  Then in the spring we decided to expand it to parents of students who had deposited at DePaul because we felt like it could be a tool that would help families continue to explore DePaul and help them make their decision to attend DePaul.

SP: And how many parents are currently on the site?

DC: We have 1900 parents on the site.  About 30% of the people we have invited have joined, which we think is good.  There are 24,000 students at DePaul, about 1/2 undergraduate, 1/2 graduate. Right now we have parents of first-year and parents of sophomores on it.  We just started inviting parents of juniors and seniors.  I’d say by the end of October we’ll have invited all parents of undergrads at DePaul.

Initially there was some hesitation, so we wanted to launch it as a pilot. There was some concern; I think with social media and online communities that’s pretty typical and it happened at DePaul.  People were worried.. “what if people say bad things about DePaul?”  But one of the things we’ve found, that I think is consistent with the industry, is that when people say bad things other parents chime in and actually share their opinions and self-correct the situation. And in other cases when we’ve had people agree on some concerns about DePaul, we have helped people realize that this is a chance for us to jump in and change what we’re doing in response to their real-time feedback.

SP: How active are the forums?

DC: Last month we had 67 parent posts, and I think that’s been pretty typical.  Between 60-70 a month.  But we get a lot more viewers for each post.  But that’s pretty typical in the social media realm. There are the people who actually create and participate, and then there are the people who benefit from it.  We’ve been trying to reach out to the ones who are posting and sending a t-shirt or a note to say “thanks for your participation.” It seems like people really appreciate it.

There are two things we just added to the site that I think will help. We added parent blogs and asked for 2 volunteers to blog through the first quarter. I’m hoping that user-generated content will be interesting to people because it’s actually hearing what other parents are going through and then they can comment.  But the feeling I get is that for many people in this demographic (parents in their 40′s and 50′s) blogging is so new to them that we’re not seeing as many comments as we thought we would to the blog posts.  We’re learning how we can add value to parents, what it is they want to talk about and learn from each other.

SP: How many DePaul staff monitor the site?

DC:That’s been a huge learning for us. We thought you could put up a real good site and parents would just come to it and use it.  What we found is that it takes a lot of active management to get the right content on the site. But more importantly, to reach out to parents through email on a regular basis and let them what’s new on the Quad.  So we’re sending parents 1-2 emails a week alerting them to new content on the Quad or things they might want to check out.  We’ve found that has had a huge impact on our numbers and our involvement. There is so much going on online that if you don’t remind them to visit you, they’ll forget. I’d say I work about 20 hours a week on the Quad. That includes everything from reaching out to partners across the University to get their content posted, to having people give live presentations and letting parents ask questions.  It’s finding people to present, editing and proofing emails to send out.  That’s one of the things we have learned this year, you need someone. We’re going to ask for a full-time person to work on these communities.

SP: Sounds like a Community Manager role, which is becoming more common in business.

DC: Yes! I’ve seen a lot of those community manager positions.  In order for it to be really vibrant, which is ultimately what you’re investing in, you have to get the dialogue and responses going with parents.  It takes a lot of energy, but it’s exciting to see the conversations that the parents are having together on the site and sharing experiences and stories.  It’s really a place for parents to make this big transition.

What we’re waiting to see is…. it definitely has value for people making the transition from high-school parents to college parents. We’re confident that we can also add value to the parents of the older student. But that’ll be the big challenge next year with upperclassmen parents on the site.  What are their key issues? We imagine it’s a lot of career and job placement stuff.

SP: Do you get any feedback from the DePaul students?

DC:It’s password protected. We’ve added some student videos on the site so parents can hear first-hand on topics like “How do you want your parents to communicate during the first quarter?”  One idea was to reach out to students through Facebook and ask them to tell their parents.

SP: Finally, what are the big-picture goals for the initiative?

DC: One goal is to exceed their expectations in terms of customer service. We want them to feel like they are a part of the University’s community. We want them to help recruit other students to DePaul and spread the word about the great things going on here.  Long term, we hope to use more social media tools to participate in conversations and create venues for new conversations so all of our audiences can learn. We haven’t leveraged the Quad for getting feedback on a specific initiative. We are going to try to use it to get feedback on the next registration to see what we need to do a better job on.

SP: This is great stuff, and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk!

DC: No problem! Thanks a lot, Brad. Bye.

There you have it. A great initative.  Since DePaulQuad.com is locked, here are a few photos of what’s behind the login.

(To see full-size photos, click here)

Comments posted (5)

[...] Interview Week: Dara Crowfoot, DePaulQuad.com : SquaredPeg.com: Thoughts on Higher Ed Recruitment “Today we’re talking with Dara Crowfoot from DePaul University about DePaulQuad.com, a social network exclusively for parents of current students.  This hit my radar a while back and it was great to talk with Dara and learn more about the initiative, so I wanted to share it with you.” [...]

Hey, Brad, did you learn anything about the technology behind the DePaulQuad social network? I’m curious whether it’s a third-party product (like Ning) or if it’s something DePaul developed.

Sherry – great question. It is a 3rd-party software. I’d have to look back at the notes for the company name. I did ask her that question but left it out of this writeup for the sake of length. They outsourced it but found it to be limiting in terms of the time to get new content updated, etc.

Cool. Thanks. We (at Stein) are just starting to research various community software packages so we can figure out the best product(s) to recommend to our clients. A few years back, we built a social network for admitted students, and it’s not bad, but eventually it will be woefully out-of-date. So now the decision: pour more money into development, or hook up with a third-party.

Excellent fodder for what we’re discussing creating. Thanks for the heads up on this, Brad!

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