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3.1 Recruitment and transition to HE 

There are many success stories of using social media to help with student recruitment, converting applications into actual enrolments and supporting students through their transition into higher education. If you are considering using these tools for recruitment and outreach activities it should however be noted that there are particular duty of care issues relating to the fact that recruitment activities may involve engagement with under 18 year olds, and you must bear this in mind when designing any interventions.

Bangor University: has adapted a particular feature of social media – social searching – to help student recruitment. It is an approach widely used by advertisers whereby searches are filtered through your own personal networks and preferences rather than relying on the pot luck of a search engine. This is why sites often ask users to rate particular items because you are much more likely to buy a product recommended by a friend. Bangor initiated a publicity campaign aimed at friends of people who were already fans on its Facebook site and specifically targeted international students. During the campaign, Bangor University’s International Page likes increased by 10% (2,657). This response is believed to be around three times the expected industry standard for online advertising. The aim was of course to convert this already engaged group from likes to applications and this translated into 204 enquiries from eligible students through Facebook.

Buckinghamshire New University: has developed the Startonline programme as a means of providing social, practical and academic support for new students during the month leading up to arrival at university and induction. The University chose to create a bespoke social networking platform using Ning because of difficulties giving pre-enrolment students access to the VLE and privacy concerns around the use of students’ existing online profiles on sites such as Facebook. The site is used to provide:
  • non-subject-specific academic activities – critical thinking, logical reasoning, writing skills;
  • social networking tools – profiles, friending, messaging and chat;
  • practical information, ranging from student services to local entertainment.
The site complements on-campus pre-entry activities and is particularly useful for international students and others who are unable to travel to campus. The elements of supporting social integration and the management of practicalities have been considerably more successful than trying to engage students with the generic learning materials. This reflects student priorities during this period and over 60% of discussions in the environment relate to finding others who are either studying on the same course or living in or near the same accommodation. Students who make initial contact via the site often go on to become friends on Facebook or other networks. There is evidence that disabled students find the site a useful source of information and that staff and students appreciate the opportunity to make contact with one another even though the actual learning resources are little used. The site is archived following the pre-induction month.

The University of Brighton
: initially piloted pre-induction support using a closed Facebook group only for broadcast media students. Membership of the group was controlled by an administrator and participating staff set up new profiles that contained only academic information so students had no access to their personal details. Existing students served as ambassadors who were best suited to answering many of the practical questions. Formative steps towards academic engagement were taken by staff posting some learning resources. The group was also used by students to form flat-share groups and to arrange to meet at a house-hunting event. The group was used as the main tool for signposting induction week activities as students still did not have access to the VLE or University email accounts, and the Student Union societies used it to make contact with the new students. The group was felt to be particularly successful at demystifying university and preventing the feelings of bewilderment experienced by some non-traditional students in their first semester. The tone of the group was informal but text speak was avoided to make communications more accessible to students who did not have English as their first language. When teaching began, students continued to use the site for peer support and staff used it as an informal means of dissemination. A number of students who were repeatedly absent and did not respond to emails from the course leader, or letters from student services, were contacted via the private messaging facility on Facebook and subsequently re-engaged. The students who were contacted in this way reportedly felt the messages appeared more caring when they came through Facebook.

Northumbria University: used Facebook to initiate a process of peer mentoring in its business school. New students were assigned a second-year mentor who was employed and trained. The mentors were supported by academics but this was largely invisible to the new students. Questions about matters such as reading lists prompted second-year students to sell on used textbooks. Starting the process of introducing academic, social and professional services early helped reduce some of the information overload felt by students at induction. Cultural differences in the use of social media tools were noted. International students did tend to have Facebook accounts but these were less well used than those of UK students. Use of the group by international students tended to peak around six weeks into the course, which reflects the cultural shock many international students experience at around this point. There was one example in 2010 of a student posting on Facebook expressing doubts about his choice and considering leaving – he received a number of balanced responses from other students and ultimately decided to stay. Following the pilot the University has continued to use Facebook in various ways for student support and is considering the possibility of other tools to support Chinese students.

Seton Hall University: used analysis of social media activity to improve student recruitment. Recognising that decision making begins around 36 months before students enter university, they broke the process down into phases: social media analysis was most useful in gaining an understanding of how prospective students were thinking, who they were talking to and how they felt about the institution during a traditional blind spot period between initial contact with the university and actual enrolment. In 2013 they set up a Class of 2014 Facebook group for potential students and found that the peer-to-peer interactions were having an impact on the decision making process. The University feels it is able to correlate specific Facebook activities with the likelihood of completing certain milestones in the recruitment process, such as filling in an application. Prospective students were becoming more engaged not just because of what the University was doing but because of their connections with one another. Whereas previously they had to arrive on campus to get a feel for University life, they were now beginning to create the atmosphere for themselves. By leveraging its social media intelligence, and adjusting marketing campaigns accordingly, Seton Hall increased its candidate conversion rate by 18.2% over the previous year.

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