Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

January 2009 Archives

Every since I visited my first online financial aid/scholarship calculator at the University of Toledo 3 or 4 years ago, this service has been gradually expanding at more schools.

This latest addition to my blog list turned up in conversation during a presentation at ACT's annual Ohio conference in Columbus on Wednesday.

Visit the "Financial Aid and EFC Estimator" and take a trip through the pages.

Criteria to win an academic scholarship are clear on the second page:

  • ACT or SAT range
  • GPA (below or above 3.0)
  • Class rank (top 10% & top 15% count)
  • Status as a valedictorian

Things get a bit more complicated on the 3rd page. Here you'll find some FAFSA-like questions for both parent(s) and student for an estimate of the EFC. Best to have the most recent family tax forms at hand for this part. And that's where I stopped.

The form does seem easy enough to complete, particularly if the family has had anyone in college before and completed a FAFSA for them.

If academic scholarships are awarded regardless of need, then it might make sense to let people who are only interested in merit awards complete this part of the form without having to complete the EFC part.

But without a doubt it is good to see services like these continue to spread. And in 2009, it is certainly reasonable to assume that the already strong interest reported in Noel-Levitz surveys is only going to grow in intensity. 

See a list of 10 other colleges and universities offering similar services (some just for merit awards, others including need-based grants).

If you don't already offer a similar service, this seems a high priority goal for website improvement. 

West Texas A&M university president Pat O'Brien deserves special credit for putting the issue of a tuition increase front and center with a new blog he just started on 20 January.

So far there's only one category for "Tuition" and only one entry. But that single entry has already generated 38 comments as I'm typing this, including several from the president responding to the remarks of others.

Many of these are quite long. Number 29, a lengthy poem, is the most creative. The others run from senseless rants to quite thoughtful opinion. Needless to say, not many people think a tuition increase is a good idea. Actually, I didn't see any that did but I didn't quite read all of them.

One part of the PR approach here mirrors what colleges often say to explain tuition increase levels in relation to things like cost of living in general or the long-term value of the college degree earned. In this case, the West Texas A&M stance is that tuition at the university is already "below both the average and median of the designated tuition rates of the 35 public universities in Texas." Faced with a tuition increase, almost no students pay attention to arguments like that. And judging from the newspaper editorials cited by NAICU, neither does the media.

Of special interest... the related discussion underway in the comments about the role of athletics and athletes at the university and a recent increase in athletic fees.

Follow President O'Brien's blog as the discussion/debate continues.

And thanks to David Pittman, a reporter at the Amarillo Globe News, for calling for an interview about presidents who blog and alerting me to this one.

See my list of 36 college and university presidents who blog.


You can't do any better than the Pew Internet & American Life Project research reports on how people are using the Internet. The most recent report on "Adults and Social Network Websites" was just released on 14 January.

After reading the report, some elements that seems to stand out for higher education marketers recruiting adult students and wondering how to best integrate social media into their recruitment communication plans.

  • 75% of adults 18-24 have social network profiles somewhere, as do 57% of adults from 25-34. Expect that last percent to grow steadily as some people age and others continue to join for the first time.
  • Participation falls off rapidly past age 34, declining to 30% for people 35-44 and less than 20% for anyone older than that.
  • As of last spring, MySpace was the place of choice for 50%, with Facebook at 22% and only 6% at LinkedIn.
  • Men and women participate at about equal rates.

Some possibly unexpected findings:

  • African-Americans (43%) and Hispanics (48%) participate at higher rates than Whites (31%).
  • Based on income, the participation rate is highest among families with annual incomes of less than $35,000.
  • Based on education, the participation rate is higher for people with less than a high school education (43%) than for those who have completed college (33%).

Twitter fans take note: the survey data is from spring and fall 2008, so it started well before the "boom" for Twitter. And the impressive growth rate for Twitter is based on a leap from a small beginning. LinkedIn still has far more users than Twitter.

Marketing notes from this report:

  • If you want to reach adults on the social networks, consider MySpace as well as Facebook. Demographics differ so this one depends in part on the profile of the person you are trying to enroll. According to a November report, Facebook has now passed MySpace in total users, but both are in the 14-15 million range.
  • MySpace users are more likely to be women, African-American and Hispanics without college degrees, while Facebok users are more likely men with college degrees.

Most adults use their social networks to stay in touch with the friends they already have. There's nothing in the Pew report about how open people are to advertising on the social network sites. Like any other form of advertising, done correctly you should expect good results.

LinkedIn is worth a special test to advertise to upwardly mobile young professionals looking for online degree opportunities. About 4 million people are using LinkedIn now and many if not most of them are very interested in advancing their careers.

My sense is that higher education marketers hold Facebook in higher regard than MySpace and thus don't pay quite as much attention to each as they should. Given the origins of Facebook, that's understandable. It might also be a marketing mistake. DIOSA Communications is one of the better places for frequent updates on both these sites and others as well.

That's it for now. Explore the Pew Report and you'll no doubt find more information of special value to your own adult recruitment plans.


In the last couple of weeks, interesting new ad campaigns have come from Kaplan University and University of Phoenix. Today's comments are for the Phoenix effort.

In a nutshell: strong up-front creative but weak integration of what follows with the original marketing theme.

The new online campaign first appeared on my LinkedIn page... a good placement given that Phoenix is in search of professionals who might need more education to advance their careers. The creative theme in the ad also is strong... portrait of an individual person's success story with the prompt to "Be a Phoenix." For some, that just might mean rising from the professional ashes of a career damaged or destroyed in today's economy. Or it might just mean becoming a Phoenix alumnus. Either way, it works.

Following the link in the ad brings you to a strong landing page at 

The landing page repeats and reinforces the "Be a Phoenix" theme as it should. And there's an important message that Phoenix has 15 years experience in distance learning. Nice to know when some schools are just starting out.

And so I completed the inquiry form. In doing that, one element appeared that I haven't seen before... a place to indicate my agreement that since I had given them my phone number (I always use a false number and that part of the response plan is not included in this review) and it was OK to call me. 

An email response came just seconds after the inquiry form was submitted. That's about as fast as it gets. Great response time. And that's also where things started to fall apart:

  • There's nothing in the email about the "Be a Phoenix" concept. If I click on one of 6 student images, I get to a curious page that isn't quite right. It does offer video stories based on the "Be" theme, but this page wasn't created just for people moving on from the email. It includes an opportunity to inquire again (is this a landing page for another campaign or for an online search?). It gives me a path to information about available programs and campus locations... but I already gave a program interest and a distance learning preference when I completed the first inquiry form. All in all the page at just doesn't fit as well as it might. The stories are good; much of the rest isn't relevant at this point.
  • The email is personalized by name but everything else is generic for any inquriy. This email should link me to more information about the program of interest that I told them about when completing the original inquiry.
  • In the center of the email is a link to a "Quick Start Guide to Becoming a Student" that leads to an 11-page PDF that has no content about how to "Become a Phoenix." I'd bet major dollars that this hard-to-read PDF existed before the new ad campaign and was first prepared as a printed document. For sure, the people doing the campaign creative didn't have anything to do with this. The PDF appears at 103 percent of the page size. You can't see an entire page at one time until shrink the page to 75 percent. Not everyone visitor will know how to do that.
  • A link at the end of the email also leads to

So what do we have here? A campaign with an impressive new creative approach to introduce people to the University of Phoenix brand. The message of "Be a Phoenix" seems strong. But like many online advertising campaigns, not enough time, energy, and money was spent on the follow-up to get maximum conversions from the initial effort.

The primary rule is simple... if you ask for and get important personal information like the name of the degree program I'm interested in and how I want to study it, then send me an email that builds on what I've already told you. Connect me directly to that program. 

And don't, for heavens sake, use the email to connect me to an 11-page "Quick Start" PDF that's hard to read, has background information of no interest, and gives me no chance to connect from that document to anywhere else at Phoenix. That's not a Quick Start to anywhere except maybe to another university. 


The "blogazine" at Mount Holyoke College is a great example of an alumni magazine that makes a successful transition from the print version to an online format that's easy for people to find and read. I've been using a screen shot of the latest issue in my "Writing Right for the Web" presentations and workshops for more than a year.

The current issue is online here.

One question that's often asked is whether or not anybody indeed reads the online version. And so I recently contacted the magazine's editor, Emily Weir, and asked her that question. Here's what she sent back:

"To date, we've received only a few comments per article (I think 6 comments is the most for one article so far), which is disappointing. (We thought one of the major benefits of offering the blogazine would be that it allowed readers to have a dialogue through the "comments" function.)

"But, though most readers aren't commenting, they ARE reading!  And what amazed me is that people are reading the blogazine articles long after each issue's "active life" (by which I mean the three months that it's the latest issue) as well as immediately after a piece is posted.  We usually get several times as many readers AFTER an article's active life as during its active life. This implies that people who don't get the print magazine are coming to the site (by googling the topic, presumably) long after those who got the printed magazine have gone to the web (presumably to check out the web "extras" found only online in relation to a particular article.)  So each article gets a sort of double life."
Emily's experience is a strong confirmation of the value of putting the magazine online in a form that's easily available to search engines and that's easy to read when people find it. 
What about the lack of comments? That's not anything to worry about. A while back (far enough that I don't remember the source) someone wrote that the great majority of people who read blogs regularly never comment on what they read. The more important point is whether or not people are reading in the first place. And that certainly seems the case here.
The blog format is an incredibly flexible (and relatively low cost) way to make transitions like this. Special thanks to Maya D'Costa at Mount Holyoke for sending me a long-ago note about the blogazine.


New Year's greetings to everyone!

Many things about 2009 are uncertain, but we know for sure that marketing efforts are going to have a new importance as colleges and universities work to reach enrollment goals set when economic conditions were far better than they are now. Best wishes that your goals are met.

Two changes are taking place with my newsletter. First, starting with this January edition, it will appear at the start of each month rather than at the end. Second, past copies of each newsletter will now be at my blog ( rather than on my website. This will let you use the blog's search engine to scan past issues and make it much easier to find news and links on earlier topics as the year moves along.

The popular Link of the Week emails will continue with a new selection next week. Previous sites will remain on my website at where you can now find 93 picks. And if you are not already on Twitter, visit, follow along, and comment at where I report items from my daily marketing reading.

Carol Aslanian is offering a quick turn-around (10 weeks) market analysis for colleges and universities that need to recruit more adult students in 2009. More and more adults will return to college for new skills and training, and you can benefit. Visit for details on how the Aslanian Group can help you meet summer and fall enrollment goals.

Look down below for my presentations in 2009 that start later this month at the ACT Ohio conference in Columbus.

And now here are your marketing news and notes for January.
NAICU Survey on College Economic Fears and Plans

Just before Christmas, NAICU released preliminary results of a survey on "The Impact of the Economic Conditions on Independent Colleges and Universities". A press release with details is at

With responses from 371 presidents (39 percent of those invited), you'll find information about the level of anxiety over loan availability (especially for first generation students with weak family credit histories), popular cost saving remedies (hiring freezes, travel restrictions, delayed facility plans) and much more. Scroll down the press release page to a link that downloads a 15-page PDF that's well worth reading.
3,359 Schools Reviewed at "StudentsReview"

Have you checked your ratings on StudentsReview yet?

The site offers reviews by alumni as well as students and highlights the percent of current students who say they would return to their college again. Reviews, varying from several hundred to just a few contributors, are available for 3,359 schools.

Glancing at the top 20 group, Brown, Texas A&M, Cornell and RIT seem to do well, while Boston College, Georgia Institute of Technology, SUNY Binghamton, and Bob Jones University don't do nearly as well.

Read about what people are saying about your school at
10 New Year Resolutions for Social Media Marketing

Brad Mays suggests 10 resolutions to help develop an effective social media marketing plan in the context of declining traditional media impact and a weak economy. Three seemed especially valuable: a continuing admonition to give up trying to control what's said about you; the value of a formal plan; and attention to emerging mobile marketing opportunities.

Read the resolutions at
New Phoenix Online Ad Campaign

Competition for non-traditional students in general and online programs in particular will be intense in 2009 as more schools turn to this enrollment segment to boost enrollment revenue. The University of Phoenix has launched a new advertising campaign around a "Be a Phoenix" theme featuring individual students who have, we presume, risen from the ashes as a result of their Phoenix experience.

A landing page for the campaign at will give you a good idea of the actual online ads if you haven't already seen one. As a good landing page should, this one repeats and reinforces the initial message in the ad that prompts a visit to this page. Be sure to complete the inquiry form. A phone number is mandatory and you'll be asked to acknowledge that you know a phone call is coming your way if you send them your number.

An email response came in seconds. Can you do the same with new online inquiries?
10 Pointers on Raising Money with Online Communications

Remember when communicating online was all about email and not much else? Things are more complicated now. If you work in the fund raising sector or are trying to convince friends in that area to get more involved with online communications, get them to read Robin Fisk's article "Electronic Communications Pays Off: How to Get Returns" at

Risk's review touches on Facebook and Twitter techniques and the value of getting your president involved. And don't forget the last and critical point: make it easy for people to respond on your website. Take this tip from some strong student recruitment sites: make the response link prominent in the right hand column on every relevant page.
Get Ready for Mobile Marketing

Mobile marketing, empowered by the continuing spread of smart phones, continues to creep over the horizon. Your marketing plan won't fail in 2009 because you've left this out of your communications mix, but that might change in a year or two.

The Pew Internet and American Life project released its report on future evolution of the Internet last December. The report is at

You might want to first go direct to a special segment on mobile marketing where you'll find a plethora of predictions from experts who agreed to be quoted in public at

If you have a marketing strategy group on your campus, these quotes should make for great discussions over the next few months.
Air Force Outline for Responding to Blog Postings

If people on your campus are still blocking blogs from lack of a clear policy on how and when to respond to positive or negative comments, be sure they read detailed recommendations from the Air Force at

The guidelines should work well for both your own blogs as well as comments made on other places, including social media sites. The clearly presented chart will help you determine who is a Troll or a Rager or just Misguided or Unhappy. And of course, you might also want to respond to those who say nice things about you.

The response elements are especially worthwhile: reveal your organizational identity; don't rush a response; and cite specific sources when you are correcting false information.
10 Resolutions for Better Email Results

Sometimes there's value in refreshing our minds with things we know but maybe don't give enough attention. That's the value of Stefan Pollard's ClickZ column on "Ten Resolution to Make 2009 a Better E-Mail Year" at

My favorite was the last one: "I Will Banish the Word 'Blast' from my Vocabulary."

If all you are doing is "blasting" email at hordes of people, that's not smart marketing. Most of the resolutions that come before this one remind us that we need to tailor email campaigns as much as possible to the special interests of the various people who receive them. That's smart marketing and the effort will pay dividends in sustaining interest and increasing conversions.
Anthropology Professor Changing Education with Social Media

If you haven't yet had a chance to watch Michael Wesch on YouTube, don't miss his University of Manitoba presentation on "The Future of Education" at

Wesch is a professor at Kansas State University. He was just named a "Professor of the Year'" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and CASE.

Here he's talking about using social media to engage more students more easily so they learn more. If there is a college or university where faculties widely adopt these techniques, the resulting marketing advantage will be great.

Share this video with any professor who will watch it.

Thanks to my Carewords partner Mike Atyeo at Neo Insight in Ottawa for sending the link during our work on the Manitoba Carewords research project.
Web Analytics: Interpreting the "Bounce Rate"

The WebTrends "Fundamentals of Web Analytics" glossary defines "bounce rate" as "The percentage of entrances on a web page that result in an immediate exit from the web site."

At my presentations on web analytics, I've found some confusion over good and bad bounce rates, perhaps driven in part by that "immediate" word in the definition. When you look at the bounce rate reported, also look at the average time on the page and whether or not you actually intended someone visiting the page to go anywhere else on your site.

If people are spending as much time on the page as you'd like them to before they leave, then a high bounce rate might not be a bad thing. On the other hand, if you expect them to continue on from one page to another, then anything over 50 percent is bad. It all depends on your goal for the page.

See the A to Z definitions at
It Must Be True Department

Marketers see the recession ending in 2010, so we only have one year to suffer. See the results of a MarketingSherpa survey at

But MS is hedging bets here. For the New Year, it promises to focus on "data that explores inexpensive and high-return methods to improve the performance of your marketing programs" so you'll be prepared if evil times last longer.
Pillars of Civilization Department

For the first time in history, the New York Times has accepted a display ad for the front page.

See the AdAge report at

When the financial barbarians are at the gate, the unthinkable becomes acceptable.
My Upcoming Presentations in 2009

Share questions and answers with people like yourself who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Hope to meet you at one or more of these events!

January 27-28, Columbus, Ohio: ACT Conference, "Surviving in a New World: Social Media and Web Communications"

February 17, Webinar: Innovative Educators, "Key Website Features for Better Adult Student Recruitment." Session details and registration at

March 30, Webinar: Academic Impressions, "Writing Right for the Web." Session details and registration available soon at

June 4-5, Chicago, IL: Aslanian Group, Web Marketing to Adult Students: "Writing Right for the Web" and "Using Adult Friendly Social Media in Marketing." Registration starts 15 February; review the outline of sessions now at

Increase ROI from your online marketing. Expand the writing, editing, and search marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on online marketing.

Contact me at
That's All for Now

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (
President and Senior Consultant
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your online marketing success with these 6 services.
• Customer Carewords Research with Gerry McGovern
• Writing Right for the Web On-Campus Workshops
• Marketing Communications Website Review
• Competitive Website Reviews
• Content Copywriting Services
• Usability Analysis

Start now at

College and university presidents who blog often come from the ranks of new presidents. The featured entry as the new year starts is Thomas Rochon, who started as president at Ithaca College last July 1.

The presidential blog first appeared in September and has continued each month since then for a total of 9 postings, with entries ranging from the relatively trivial (remembering phone numbers and campus directions) to the entertaining (the annual football rivalry with SUNY Cortland and the campus Christmas party) to the very serious (reactions to the economic plague). That's a good mix and a good pace and bodes well for meeting one of the primary blog challenges in a busy schedule... reasonably frequent new additions.

Ithaca College Financial Plans

The last post of 2008 focusd on the president's 6 resolutions for 2009... and not surprisingly, all of them in some way address upcoming fiscal challenges, especially the first three:

  1. Ithaca College will increase the cost of tuition in the coming year by a smaller percentage than at any time in the last five years.

  1. We will increase our financial aid budget by the largest amount in College history.

  1. We will expand our emergency financial aid fund for those students whose personal or family financial circumstances change in unexpected ways while they are enrolled.

  1. We will move ahead with our strategic priorities to advance educational excellence, even where those require new funding.

  1. We will pay for the reduced rate of tuition increase, the increased financial aid, and the excellence initiatives in part by scrutinizing expenditures within the College. We will question whether each category of expenditure directly contributes to the quality of the student educational experience. Where it does not, we will evaluate the continued need for that expenditure.

  1. We will ask our friends and alumni to help us assemble the resources necessary to keep Ithaca College as accessible as possible to all students of talent.

President Rochon's blog is at


35 Presidents Who Blog


See the list of 35 college and university presidents who blog at


Expect more new entries soon. 

Bob Johnson
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