Finding the right medium for communicating with the most tech-savvy generations can be difficult. With the abundance of devices, platforms, and channels available to students these days, universities and colleges are forced to make difficult choices. Do they focus their attention on a select number of channels, or do they try to spread their efforts across as many as possible in the hopes of reaching the largest audience possible? There may not be a single right answer for every institution, but recent trends should help make finding those answers easier.
The 2014 E-Expectations Report from Noel-Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, and NRCCUA sheds some light on how students and their parents prefer to interact with the universities on their wish list.
The report provides some interesting findings regarding how students and parents prefer to communicate with universities over a wide range of channels and mediums. Some stats that caught our eye are:
- Parents and students both rated college websites as the most influential and reliable recruitment resource by a significant margin.
- 62% of students and 51% of parents prefer web-based resources for learning about prospective universities.
- 67% of students and 59% of parents indicated that a university’s website experience affects their perception of the institution.
- 96% of students and 85% of parents will open an email from a university they are considering.
- 71% of students are viewing university websites on their mobile devices, yet only 41% of them have completed an action, such as requesting information or applying for enrollment.
- Only 51% of students have “liked” a university’s Facebook page, and only 37% have followed them on Twitter.
- Only 38% of students and 50% of parents prefer phone calls and printed materials.
While the preference for communication via digital channels doesn’t come as a surprise, the high marks for mobile use, and equally low marks for social media do peak our interest.
Web experiences on mobile devices continue to grow exponentially with each school year. However, many websites (not just university sites) are not able to provide the same experience on a mobile device that they are able to provide with their traditional website. Interacting with forms, downloading information, and viewing videos are often difficult if they have not been properly optimized for mobile platforms. This is evidenced by the fact that of the 71% of students who viewed a site on their mobile device, no more than 41% completed a measurable action.
The lack of interaction between students and universities across social media (shown in the graph below) is a bit surprising, as social platforms should offer a unique opportunity for students to interact in real-time with the university, and for universities to show their unique value proposition.
The take away here might be to reconsider the content you’re posting to your social feeds. If students and parents are looking to your website for reliable information about enrollment and academic programs, you can help them find it faster by posting it directly to your social feed. By focusing on the most important questions, like degree tracts, faculty or university awards and recognition, or financial aid opportunities, you'll make it easier for your audience to find the information they seek, and develop a stronger connection with your university.
With such a high number of prospective students relying on web interactions before choosing the institution that they will call home for the next 4 years, the statistics presented in the Noel-Levitz report reinforce the importance of having a consistent and high-quality website experience.