Thursday, March 6, 2014

What One Prospective Parent Wants to See from Colleges on Facebook

You know that feeling you get when you get a long private message on your university’s Facebook page? For me, it’s mixed – is it going to be a request to post something? Did I do something wrong? Did I do something great? Is it some kind of emergency?

Last week, it was a message from a prospective student’s mother who had some questions about our university and wanted to know about our arts programs and hadn't found much on Facebook. I messaged her back, answered her questions and thanked her for her feedback. Then I asked if there was anything else I could help her with. She asked why some colleges post certain types of content and others don’t. I looked at this as a fantastic opportunity to pick her brain a little bit, and after telling her a little bit about what I try to do with our Facebook page, I asked her what she, a prospective parent, is looking at and for when she is researching a college on Facebook (because yes, this proved to me they are researching colleges on Facebook).

These are some of the highlights (in the order she mentioned them):
  • What’s NOT in the glossy handouts: Like students, parents want a real-feel for our campuses, and that perspective often comes from anyone but the colleges themselves (even though we try!). She spends time reading comments to get a sense of how authentic a college is being based on their community’s reactions to their posts (and also noted how we, as a university, respond to those reactions and comments). She also looks at what other people post to the page – not just posts by the university.
  • How a community responds to tragedy. How quickly do you post during an emergency or following a tragedy affecting your campus? She noted that some schools she’s looked at try to shy away from sharing tragic news and she took note of this in a negative way, but applauded others that did post - and did so in a timely manner. She also said she could get a sense of the college and its community by how people commented and responded to such news. Did a lot of people comment? How did they comment? Were they reacting negatively to the timing of the news being shared (was it posted too late)?
  • Show me the student experience. This parent wanted to know more about what Orientation is like, the community service opportunities, the town (or city) the college is located in and where students could study abroad. Are sports popular? I read this as: Will my child fit in? 
  • Current campus news. Who are your professors and what are they doing? What are your students up to? Is there construction? What does that look like? When will it be completed? I got the sense she’s looking for a college moving forward and that the college regularly showcases that through news and photos. (No mention of rankings.) 
  • What are the hot issues? She mentioned she enjoys reading articles from the college’s student newspaper so she could get a real sense of what the college and students are like without the marketing/PR filters on them. (Do you see a pattern? Authentic content is critical.)
  • Campus photos. We know this one. (No girls under trees, please.)
  • Photos and videos taken by students. Again with the authenticity!
There aren’t many surprises here, but it was refreshing to get an outside perspective from a constituent I don’t often hear feedback from. It reaffirms our work in trying to be as authentic as we can be but was also a good reminder that it’s often what people are saying to us and about us - and how we respond to those comments - that tells people outside our community who we really are. 


  1. It's so good that you asked for her opinion. I completely agree that it's all about being authentic. Sometimes that can be a simple 'sorry' when we see someone complaining on social media. Plain honesty goes a long way. And love the comment about using 'real' photos, I think universities are improving now that they can tap on Instagram :)

    1. Her points are all great reminders about what people are actually looking at and for. Our brands are much more than what we post, but how others react to it. It was a nice dialogue!

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