Not so Confidential about College Confidential

My two least favorite words in social media: Chance Me.  Or at least they were a year ago.  For an entire year they were often how I started my mornings.  For any of my fellow admission peeps who troll the vast online land that is College Confidential (CC), these two little worlds will be all too familiar. 

In the summer of 2011, our annual matric and non-matric surveys revealed that after the William & Mary website and our campus visit, College Confidential was the third most popular source from which our applicants gathered information.  As the dean tasked with overseeing our office’s marketing and communications efforts, I was intrigued.  Sure we had a presence on the more traditional social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the Admit It! Blog) but here was an entirely new arena for us to explore – and it was an arena in which our students were actively interacting and searching out information about us…bonus! 

So I created a username (and here’s the big reveal, W&M Admission is me but please don’t tell anyone, it’s supposed to be confidential after all) and subscribed to the College of William & Mary forum.  Each morning, I replied to every new comment posted on every thread.  I also replied to every visitor and private message.  College Confidential had been running for quite some time without any official W&M presence (that being said big ups to soccerguy315, frazzeled1, squiddy and the other dedicated W&M fans on CC) and there was a lot of misinformation throughout the William & Mary forum. 

And the results were positive.  Prospective students and families really seemed to appreciate the time our office took to respond to their questions.  We were able to put forward a great deal of accurate and up-to-date information.  We also had the opportunity to promote W&M through starting new threads, through featuring other W&M social media and through sharing anecdotes about our campus.

But as we all know, time is a valuable resource, and after one year, mine could no longer be spent replying to every post and to every new comment.  So with a year’s worth of good information uploaded into cyberspace, we transitioned to being a lesser presence on the site.  I still respond to any visitor and private messages, and I check the W&M forum each morning (and I’m on the site full blast when we release decisions) but I respond only to admission questions.  We also have a “News and Updates from W&M Admission” thread which is permanently pinned to the top of the forum where I post about approaching deadlines, need-to-know application information, campus visit opportunities, etc.

So what are the lessons learned?

  1. Pay attention to the sources from which students are gathering information and be present on them.  It helps you stay informed about how your institution is perceived and CC specifically provides you yet another platform – and a popular one at that – through which to convey your school’s primary messages.
  2. You could literally spend your entire work day on the site in any one of its seemingly infinite forums; selectively choosing which forums to enter, rather than diving into all of them, will make your experience much more pleasant.
  3. College Confidential provides a great way to get your important messages out there; use it.  Our new print publication microsite is prominently promoted (both as a link and as a featured thread).  As a result of the massive amounts of traffic to CC, we decided to enter into an agreement with Hobson’s by which we expanded our presence on all Hobson’s sites (Naviance, CollegeView, College Confidential).  By expanded presence I mean a more in-depth profile, link buttons to our inquiry form and application page and a video/photo tour.
  4. College Confidential is a form of social media.  Incorporate it into your office’s social media strategy and use it to inspire what you do on other platforms.  I’ve written blogs based on CC posts (our Time Out for Transfers blog series – which was inspired by transfers who posted on CC clamoring for more information – is a great example), we’ve created Facebook and Twitter statuses based on questions or information shared on CC, and we’ve been prompted to continue exploring other new social media platforms (Pinterest and FourSquare are more recent examples).
  5. Like other social media platforms, traffic on the site waxes and wanes.  The 2012-2013 cycle on the College Confidential W&M forum was far quieter than the 2011-2012 cycle.  Is it merely coincidental that the waning coincided with our decreased presence or is it simply that students feel colleges have infiltrated yet another one of their social media platforms and are therefore going yet somewhere else new for their information gathering?  I cannot empirically say which is more accurate.  I suspect it’s a little bit of both.

I’d certainly be interested in other admission offices’ perspectives on this topic and how other schools are making use of College Confidential or if they’re not present on the site, why not.  But I put this out there to the EDUniverse because when we discuss social media and admission it’s not usually a platform that springs to mind, yet it offers a lot of possibilities and potential benefits for both the school and the student.  And in admission, isn’t that what it’s all about?