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Content Still King for Prospectives

June 10th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

The college recruitment consultancy Noel-Levitz has just released a research report, “Scrolling Toward Enrollment: Web Site Content and the E-Expectations of College-Bound Seniors,” that provides ample data points that might help your position in continuing to shift the attention (and resources) of the university to the importance of quality online communications within the recruiting process.

The report, to those involved in the day-to-day work of creating and publishing content on a university website, is probably not all that surprising. But there’s a big difference between opinion and facts in our discussions with those who control budgets and therefore the mix of media carrying our messages to prospective students. Facts, in audience research terms, require adequate sample sizes (1000 in this study) and sound methodology, such that one can say with confidence that a given result would be repeated if the study were repeated. I’ll highlight a few of those facts in the paragraphs to follow, and what they might mean for the continuing development of the UNL website.

First, as the title of the paper suggests, the idea that users don’t read long-form text online, repeated so often that it’s attained a Gospel status, is debunked, at least for this audience. Please, read on. :)

79 percent of respondents said they would “read it all, even scroll,” to see the information on admissions details and deadlines on a university website. 80 percent said that content (“the content presented on a college or university Web site is more important than how it looks”) is more important than design (“the look and feel of a school site is more important than what I find to read”).

Second, the content has to be correct, helpful and up-to-date … 57 percent of respondents at the prospect stage said they would, in fact, probably take a school off their list if the content was “out of date, incorrect, or unhelpful.”

On social networking, students were generally receptive to schools’ involvement in social media, with 70 percent saying that schools should maintain presences within existing social media sites like Facebook, and 75 percent saying that schools should create their own private social networks for invited students (insert plug here for Smart Site Social, a UNL-focused social framework currently under development in University Communications).

I’ve intentionally left out many interesting though less-emphatic percentages, because it’s difficult to say that some of those things are true without caveats. For instance, do prospectives want recruiters to contact them through social media? 51 percent say “yes,” but 46 percent say “no.” That may not be a risk worth taking.

Informal Communications=Web, Formal=Mail?
There’s a table on page 7 of the study, titled ‘Preferred methods for communications,” that I interpret to mean that prospectives want something tangible delivered in the mail if the communication is very important, such as notification of a financial aid award or acceptance. For most other things, including communicating with current students and communicating with faculty, there is a significant preference for online methods. Most interestingly, to me, is the breakdown on the communication task “getting answers to my questions.” 34 percent prefer to use online methods for that broadly general purpose, and another 60 percent prefer in-person or telephone communications, presumably interpreting the communication task indicated by the question as more personal and unique. Only four percent said they preferred to “get answers to my questions” via mail.

There’s more here of interest, and I invite you to read: Scrolling Toward Enrollment: Web Site Content and the E-Expectations of College-Bound Seniors

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One Response to “Content Still King for Prospectives”

  1. David Says:

    Very useful article Bob. I find this statistic especially relevant. “57 percent of respondents at the prospect stage said they would, in fact, probably take a school off their list if the content was “out of date, incorrect, or unhelpful.”

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