5 Questions on Digital Media and Admissions with Jonathan Burdick, Dean of Admissions at the University of Rochester

Jonathan Burdick CroppedWhile things are changing rapidly in the world of digital media, Jonathan provides his perspective on where trends are heading. With tools like college search social media sites as well as a cornerstone of Rochester’s online marketing, Facebook, rather than try and reinvent the wheel, he and his staff strive to connect with students in the places where students already are.

Q1. What are some of the latest social media tools you are using and why?

Our major focus is using the basic social media tools in a very constructed and managed process.  Our Facebook page is updated frequently, and we’ve hired eight students who blog on our site regularly.  The blogs have been an unforeseen success.  They are very popular, which is pleasantly surprising.  It shows that prospective students want something to connect with more than just idle information sitting on our website.  We also have six staff members dedicated to our social media presence.

YouTube is another tool we take advantage of pretty regularly.  We are currently in the process of updating our video content. We even have a fulltime videographer who’s in charge of creating six to seven projects a year, and we loan out cameras to students who want to shoot their own activities and share then.  The various modes of content provide a diversified point of view of the school that can really give prospective students an insider’s understanding of Rochester.

Q2. How should social media be used by college admissions?

I believe that the current obligation of colleges when using social media is to go forward with what they believe in.  This is a tough transition time for institutions that have been set in their ways for years.  Still, we don’t have to bend our principles to push social media out of every possible outlet and wind up inadvertently poorly representing ourselves.

At Rochester, we’ve found that following these three values has allowed us to use social media tools to the best of our advantage:

  • Respond quickly
  • Produce new content frequently
  • Be transparent
  • A firm grasp on who you are and how you want to project yourself to the online world is incredibly important.  There are so many social media channels to use, and without a plan and principles to follow, you will send a confused message to prospective students.

    At the same time, a college should expect that you cannot control the information that floats around online.  There may be information online that you’d like to fight, but the only way to fight bad information is to add information with the university’s perspective to the conversation.

    Q3. How do you think your social media efforts actually affect prospective students?

    In order to make contact with the vast majority of students, you ­have to do it online.  Prospective students are not only looking for information, but also a place where they belong.  That’s the extraordinary thing that social media tools provide.  College search social media sites like Cappex bring in about 10% of our applications from students who could see themselves here.

    Social media is the best way to match people to communities and give them a way to see if they’re a fit.  The Rochester Facebook page is a great example where we have enrolled students and alumni communicating with prospective students.  What’s a better way to match prospective students to a community than to be able to join the dialogue with those who are already succeeding in it?

    Q4. How are you integrating online tools?

    As of late, the most comprehensive integration of our traditional and online tools will be a mixed media page, “Rochester 360,” that includes video, flash and links back to our other social media platforms.  It will be embedded into a various channels like e-mail, the Rochester Cappex account, and even our Facebook page.

    Materials that contain important information for prospective students like our viewbooks have been repurposed for online use.  Our overall goal is to integrate everything across the board.

    Q5. Where do you see college search social media tools in the college admissions process in the future?

    I think online tools including social media should be wholeheartedly embraced. Online is where the students are.   It is where they go to find out anything and everything, especially during their college searches, and it’s why we dedicate six staff members to it.

    Just recently the Rochester Theater program had required thousands of dollars in advertising for their program annually.  With college search social media tools like Cappex, not only were we able to target 1600 students actually interested in possibly pursuing a degree in theater, but we were able to read their responses.  Being able to read a prospective student’s commentary is invaluable.  You cannot as easily acquire feedback from a prospective student who reads an advertisement about you.  The theater department realized that we could reduce spending on paid advertisements and do it for less with better results.

    This is an example of how these online tools can make it easier to target and get feedback from students by spending less money.  So while we still have to reach people who don’t enter the online world as readily, we believe in the importance of fully embracing social media and its many possibilities.

    The University of Rochester admissions page is at http://enrollment.rochester.edu/admissions/.

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