Define your Efforts: Social Web Recruitment Funnel

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Flickr, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Web, YouTube, Zinch | Posted on 05-13-2009


I’ve had this thought bouncing around in my head that came out of a client visit/strategy session… a visualization of the traditional recruitment funnel in terms of the social web.  This is what I came up with.

(Click Photo to Enlarge)

*NOTE* –   This chart is by no means inclusive of all sites or tools available. This chart is meant as a visualization of strategy to help you think about a framework for your recruitment efforts.  This chart is meant to be thought about, modified to fit, and executed as resources are available.

The Social Web Recruitment Funnel

The Funnel resembles a traditional recruitment funnel (suspects -> prospects -> applicants -> admits -> enrolled), and is designed to dissect 3 areas of recruitment:  Seek, Engage and Retain.


The students are not always going to look for you.  Traditional methods such as name buys, print and email still hold a place in your marketing/recruitment arsenal.  But take a good look at web-based tools and sites, for example: Zinch, CollegeBoard and Cappex. Facebook might also be a method of seeking potential applicants and this platform can be leveraged as a great place for prospective student Q&A.  Use email and print to reinforce your message and to drive students to your social web efforts. Your .edu website is still important and things such as ‘Get more info’ need to be prominent and easy to find/fill out.


This is where it gets fun.  Build your social web presence to start engaging and interacting with these prospective students.  Think outside of the box. Never before have we had access to so many opportunities to connect and utilize free tools, but approach with caution and don’t overwhelm your audience.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  It’s easier to make your web presence bigger. It’s much harder to shrink your web presence and cut connections and friendships with others on a platform you decide to no longer utilize or maintain. Allow them the opportunity to engage with you from the moment they show interest to the moment they step on campus.


After the applications come in, your pool has decreased significantly in size.  Take the opportunity to create community with these students and allow them to interact with each other.  Host the conversation or set up a Facebook group for them to interact.  Promote it heavily through traditional methods such as email and print, but drive them to the conversation. If possible, scale back your efforts to a smaller collection of tools for this select group and focus on community management and getting them excited about your school and brand. Outside of the social web, continue interactions via yielding events and personal phone calls.  Use the web to enhance these connections and to network the students together.

Final Thoughts

These thoughts are from the 30,000 ft. view and hundreds of other decisions and ideas would go into each effort. A well-defined strategy would incorporate many, but not all, of these social web tools.  The most important thing is to know where your audience is and cater to them.

If you have any thoughts or comments, leave a message below or shoot me a message on Twitter (@bradjward).

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Comments posted (24)

This is a great visual example for the funnel. Too often we think of the funnel in traditional terms of college fairs and such and forget that students are out there to be reached in new ways.

LOVE this idea Brad!! Gr8 stuff!! :)

Interesting. I’m not sure I agree with it 100% but I think it’s a really cool idea :-)

This is by far one of the best illustrations of where we should be headed as the marketing/relationship building/admissions offices of tomorrow … Thanks Brad!

Brad — I love this!

I figured out what bothers me about this – to me it seems much to akin to people assigning “rules” for different social media. You know as well as I do that some people will latch onto this as the end all, be all, and use it as a way to avoid thinking outside box on any of it.

That being said, I think it’s a really great guide. Well done.

What I like about this is that it puts social media in a context that’s very familiar to enrollment managers.

What’s missing on the visual is the institution’s own web presence.

I’d love to see the next chart show the interplay between traditional methods, the social web and the .edu website. Good work, Brad!

Thanks for the comments everyone! Glad you find it helpful.

@Karlyn – Thanks for the clarification on your first comment. I total agree and hope that my initial note and comments encourage others to use this for thought/discussion/inspiration, but not as a blueprint.

J. Todd – note ‘.edu’ at the very top. Still important for seeking students. From there, tools such as Ning can be integrated into a .edu as a private community or something like YouTube embedded directly into the .edu. Sorry for not making it more prominent in the visual!

This is a great funnel. Thanks Brad.
As a grad school recruiter, I also think it’s incredibly important to remember faculty at other institutions when folding people into the funnel. The faculty connections I have made over the last few years have significantly impacted our recruitment efforts. I try to always engage those connections as much as our prospects.

Doh! Didn’t see the .edu at the top. Sorry, Brad!

I’d say it’s probably still relevant throughout the funnel, in different ways.

Using the funnel explanation is an interesting twist, since enrollment folks are typically familiar with the recruiting (just a variant of the sales) funnel: prospect, applicant, enrolled. Or, as it is sometimes expanded, pre-prospect, prospect, applicant, admit, enrolled, retained, donor.

You list what I consider to be one of the key points in the post: “This chart is meant to be thought about, modified to fit, and executed as resources are available.” And modified to fit the recruiting needs/goals of the particular institution/office.

As resources are available is the tricky part, since resources are inevitably limited.

Where is the greatest return on effort?

What social media efforts can be recycled and promoted across different approaches (Web, e-mail, etc.) to make the effort more worthwhile? i.e. don’t just have a YouTube page, be sure to use those videos elsewhere.

Further, how can the efforts be recycled across campus offices? Admissions, alumni relations, etc.

Where will an institution be most conspicuous and/or at risk in absence (such as Facebook “Class of…” groups)?

Zinch, Cappex, etc. are innovative and a potential resource for enrolling students. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the resources (time and/or money) can’t get greater returns elsewhere. Some schools have success using sites like these, to be sure, and other schools have success by putting their limited resources elsewhere.

This is an interesting theory to be sure. It kinda bothers me that it is technology focused.

I’m reading David Meerman Scott’s “World Wide Rave” right now, and one of the things Scoot asserts you have to do to create a world wide rave is to loose control of your message. I know a lot of people in higher ed are going to be completely lost on that point, but its true.

I graduated from Texas A&M about two years ago. What got me interested in A&M and retained my interest was the Fish Drill Team (, not the academics, not the location, and not the potential for advancement. Having said all that, I have graduated, my peers consider me to be one of the hardest working most dedicated members of the team, and I’m sure a few believe that I am an asset to my alma matter and my community.

If the university bureaucracy had been controlling “the message”. If I hadn’t gone to “Spend a Day with the Corps”, I probably wouldn’t have come to Texas A&M at all. But that wasn’t the case.

So I am wondering why don’t universities (especially A&M with around 800 odd student groups), make these student leaders their emmisaries? Why not provide the leaders of student groups funding for travel to go try to recruit their new members (and the university’s new students) straight from the high school campuses? Why not get students who worked on their projects to go show them off at high schools the university is targeting instead of creating a brochure to tell you about student work, and recoup some of the money spent on printed materials? Funnel that money into human to human outreach.

Having said all that, I’m sure the author of this blog gets it. I’m sure he’s aware that Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter allow you enough rope to lose control of your message so as to make old-school administrators extremely nervous. I hope some of the administration in various institutions start to get it.

But there is still no substitute for face time.

The .edu should be in the Engage and Retain section as well.

The .edu should be in all of them. I assumed it was a given. Will modify at a later date!

hahaha….assuming is dangerous in higher ed ;-)

email was in each, .edu wasn’t. hence the confusion. ;-)

Great stuff!

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