September 25, 2017

Webster changes recruitment focus to online efforts

Universities start filling mailboxes with flyers full of aesthetically-pleasing campus photos to students as young as sophomores in high school. At least, those are the traditional recruitment techniques — but as the next generation of college students makes the shift to social media, admissions departments find they are making the shift as well.

Webster University Dean of the School of Communications Eric Rothenbuhler said early in the process, before students know about a college, it is a game of visibility. “These days, the digital world is hugely important,” Rothenbuhler said. “When you ask prospective students, ‘how did you find out about us?’ …It has been over 50 percent web page for years now. Our web page is very important, our presence in Google searches is very, very important and social media presence as well.”

Research shows a trend in the college recruitment process — prospective students are more likely to use social media and digital technology when looking for schools. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 67 percent of teenagers said they used Facebook when researching colleges in 2014, which was up from the 58 percent of students in 2012.

Because of this online recruitment trend, both Webster’s admissions and Global Marketing teams are shifting gears from sending traditional flyers to incorporating more digital media. Chief Communications Officer Rick Rockwell is the one to push for this change. He became chief communications officer just 10 months ago, and his plan of action is a greater emphasis on the use of social and digital media in the recruitment process.

“I am a believer in a switch to a more digital strategy,” Rockwell said. “I think it is a modern strategy. Specifically, we are talking about special things we can do on Snapchat, special things we can do on Instagram that would align with next year’s view book so it’s not just the paper copy in your hands.”

Part of the game is to determine what social media outlets are the most commonly used by this generation of college students. While Facebook is popular, Webster Admissions Director John Massena said Snapchat is the platform many new students want to engage on.

“Snapchat is actually surprising, I didn’t think it would be something students would ever want to engage us on,” Massena said. “They really want to engage us on Snapchat because it’s fast and it’s because it is how a lot of them talk.”

Some traditional recruitment tools include flyers, pamphlets, financial aid packages and the award-winning Webster University Viewbook. Webster’s Viewbook recently won a merit award through the Educational Advertising Awards. This places Webster’s marketing efforts in the top 40 schools of more than 1,000 schools that applied for the award. Despite awards and positive feedback, a common place for traditional pamphlets to end up is in the trash.

Prospective college student Matt Woods from Granite City High School said unless he has already heard of the school, he throws away the pamphlets he receives.

“I have received pamphlets from many colleges, some that I haven’t even heard of,” Woods said. “I throw away the random ones, but I only kept ones from the schools that I thought about going to.”

Massena said in the past, Webster printed and sent tens of thousands of Viewbooks and pamphlets to prospective students. Now, however, they only send out roughly 4,000, with the goal of saving money by targeting students who are going to enroll and be interestedin reading the printed sendouts.

“Print is not dead,” Massena said. “Print has its place. But if you could look at five or six other institutions and see what we all did six years ago, you’d see we did a lot more print. It’s not as effective as we want it to be probably, but we still have to have it.”

Webster expects to see a greater increase in the use of digital and social media as Rockwell’s ideas take shape in the next recruitment season.

“Definitively, we will have much more of an emphasis on digital, but that does not mean eliminating print,” Rockwell said. “It means having a mix. The truth is, you have to be multi-platform, and you have to be in multimedia to be able to make an impact. A potential student wants to see that you have a presence I think in all those places.”

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