We set up our Class of 2014 Facebook group for the same reason most colleges do — to give a place for our incoming students to interact and learn more about SUNY Oswego. Little did we realize we’d encounter a bonus bit of free market research.
One incoming student started a “get to know each other” thread with a list of questions which included “Why do you love SUNY Oswego so much?” We couldn’t have phrased it better ourselves! And as the results come in, we see feedback on what appeals to students who have committed to attending.
With 59 relevant responses (and counting), we already see some trends emerge. I extracted the following, with some entries touching on more than one theme:
– Campus beauty (curb appeal): 22
– Right major/program: 21
– “Comfortable” or “felt right”: 11
– New York state school/SUNY tuition: 10
– Lake/physical location: 10 (not including distance)
– The people/friendliness: 9
– Distance (i.e. far enough way, not too far): 8
– Atmosphere (exact word): 6
– Sports/hockey: 6/3
Since we’re currently redeveloping our Web site, seeing what resonates with students helps. That majors and academic programs rank so high underscores the importance of well-placed and helpful Web pages to aid decision-making. Facilitating physical tours of our campus (while we are working on a virtual) remains important with so many liking its beauty, friendliness, lake, atmosphere and comfort level. Knowing how students who like us describe us also should influence how we craft our copy.
This does not, of course, present perfect research. Just 59 replies from a group nearing 500 and an expected freshman class of around 1,400 isn’t an ideal sample size. The group is self-selecting, not random. It’s not a blind test in that previous responses could affect participants. Yet we can’t discount seeing such strong trends among a key affinity group. And some knowledgeable higher ed folks, like Mike Petroff at Emerson College, have gone back and surveyed group members with specific questions of institutional importance.
But this also comes back to an overlooked aspect of social media — what we can learn. All those people using social media as a megaphone, just blasting out messages, are missing a lot. You can use social media as a microphone, the same way a journalist does while conducting interviews. I’m not saying you should eavesdrop on every conversation — that’s creepy and who has the time? — but if you create Facebook fan pages or groups, Twitter accounts or blogs for your institution, the feedback and interactions are all relevant and represent learning opportunities.
In a way, the 2014 student question represents serendipitous happenstance. But it comes from us being out there in social media, encouraging connections and conversation. We all have opportunities to find out more about our institution (or brand) if we want. We just have to ask the right questions … or, if you’ve set up a good community, benefit from someone doing it for you.