Recently, my husband and I were asked to review the communication strategies of a liberal arts college in the Southeast. In addition to our joint experiences and expertise which covered a range of marketing materials–view books, webpages, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.)–we also engaged in research on communication strategies for a range of institutions from Ivy League to small liberal arts colleges.
Admittedly, we did not engage in focus groups or conduct extensive surveys with prospective students–that would come later to refine strategies for the specific college. We did, however, seek feedback from some recent college graduates and prospective students about the slogans, looks, and feel of selected college websites, and the general capability of most colleges to convincingly answer that critical question, “Why come here?” through their virtual open doors–their websites’ home pages.
What we learned was not surprising, but it reinforced our theory that adept design of the home page and employment of the growing multitude of social media connections have become extremely important in attracting and engaging students who regularly use social media, and who would benefit from learning about the unique college experiences and resources of a specific institution.
It was also obvious that some colleges constructed their home page for audiences other than the media saturated prospective students (i.e. with a great deal of text for students to read). Other institutions employed home pages as opportunities for students to explore how they could fit into college life–with skillful, vibrant photography, and easily visible links to various resources and social media sites. These institutions allow students to read comments of other students, to ask questions, and to use the portal as a window to observe college life, by skillfully placed links to photos and videos, depicting a range of students and faculty participating in campus and community life.
So, why is all of this important? As a nation, we seem to have reached a consensus that we must increase the number of students who complete a quality college education so that we will stay competitive in a world quickly evolving through the adaptation of technology, just-in-time learning, and innovations in the workplace that have already exceeded projections of some futurists (Remember the cinematic prediction from the movie, “Back to the Future“?). Moreover, most colleges have distinct niches, cultures, and characteristics that will be a better fit for some students than others. It is through the college home page that prospective students and families will make decisions whether to visit the campus and whether the curricular/co-curricular experiences are likely to lead to a fulfilling and empowering liberal arts/professional education and/or a solid foundation for advanced study and lifelong learning.
Some of the recent graduates we asked about home pages noted that the brands/slogans seemed to be a call to action like: “Reach Within…Shape the future” and “Become yourself…Change the World.”
These slogans appeared to be more exciting and attractive than the standard claims of excellence, tradition, or a focus on famous graduates from years gone by. Another observation was that the strategic design of a home page portal to attract students who are good fits for a college is a highly cost-effective technique for attracting students. YouTube videos and testimonials from students through homepage links can also level the playing field for smaller colleges with quality learning environments, but smaller advertising budgets. When coupled with College Board data, visits led by student ambassadors, constant email updates or news feeds, easily accessible college applications, and the demonstrated promise of their slogans, smaller colleges struggling to attract students might be pleasantly surprised about the power of a well-planned, stimulating homepage with appealing social media windows.