Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

May 2009 Archives

Phoenix Adds "Bio" to Twitter Site After Launch

The University of Phoenix effort had only been underway since May 12 when I checked the Phoenix Twitter site for my May 21 blog entry on how several schools were using Twitter for adult student recruitment.

In what otherwise seemed a robust effort based on initial frequency of updates (far more often than the other schools), there was no "bio" included. That's a marketing opportunity lost, as the right bio message can repeat and reinforce the primary brand message.

When revisiting the site today, a bio has now appeared. And here it is:

  • Bio: "We provide a quality higher education for working students and offer associates, bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in small class sizes." The emphasis on "working students" and the degree levels offered is good. A future version might well include the number of degrees offered in each category as the total array is high and sets Phoenix apart from most competitors.

So, late is indeed better than never in this case.

And since my last blog post, updates increased from 44 to 54 and followers from 179 to 224. Several of those updates seem directed to potential students, an example of "talking with" rather than just "talking at."

Phoenix is often considered the goliath of higher education marketing, with an annual marketing budget of more than $15 million and an online ad presence just about everywhere. That makes it a prime candidate to follow on Twitter over the next few months to watch the growth in followers and the way that Phoenix engages them on that site.

 That's all for now.


Twitter: A Tool to Recruit Adult Students?

One of several priority items this week is finishing a social media marketing presentation for Carol Aslanian's upcoming June 2-4 conference on adult student recruitment. (If you might still register, use "Bob100" in the discount box on the registration page and save $100.)

How important is Twitter to the marketing communications mix in this sector?

Results are mixed, based on a limited sample of 3 not-for-profit schools and 4 from the for-profit sector. (We searched the "following" list at DIOSA and the "Universities" section of the Twitter Fan Wiki for obvious titles that indicated attention to adults or continuing education or distance learning. Few were found. We did find Twitter sites for not-for-profit schools whose overall orientation is strongly toward adults students and may include these later.)

The measure of "importance" for recruiting is based primarily on three points:

    • The number of followers. If followers are low, few are hearing the tree fall in the forest. 
    • The branding strength of the "bio" used.
    • Frequency of updates. Neglect in updating indicates that staff resources aren't focused on Twitter. Infrequent updates don't give followers much reason to pay attention after they sign on.

Sites that have been around for a long time, like the one at Penn State, might be updating more frequently now than the data indicates. Didn't have time to check for that.

We did not try to estimate one important element: how many followers are actually potential or current students? From quick scans, certainly not everyone. 

The Not-for-Profit Sector: UMass, Penn State, Harvard

University of Massachusetts Continuing and Professional Education

    • 413 following, 235 followers, 12 updates
    • Started: March 26, 2009
    • Bio: Continuing & Professional Educ Programs, Summer/Winter Sessions at UMass Amherst. Maintained by Sue Cassidy, Outreach Mktg (scassidy).

Notes: Not very active, with just 12 updates over 56 days. Always a nice touch to include the name of the person who does the updates. The "following" number is high in comparison to the number of "followers."  

Penn State University World Campus

By far the earliest site on Twitter for this group, updates have been relatively infrequent and followers are low for the 505 days operating. The bio is simple and to the point about what's offered by the World Campus.

Harvard University Extension School

    • 20 following, 472 followers, 18 updates
    • Started: January 9
    • Bio: Harvard's primary resource for continuing education. Offering over 600 evening and online courses and part-time degree programs to the public.

Notes: Harvard doesn't follow nearly as many people as Penn State or UMass but still has far more followers. Might that just be the power of the brand? Bio adds a nice point by listing the number of courses offered and a subtle touch that they are open "to the public." As with the others, few upates over the 131 days the site has been operating. 

For-profit Sector: Phoenix, Capella, Kaplan, Walden  

University of Phoenix

Notes: Phoenix came quite late to Twitter. For some inexplicable reason, the marketing imperative here doesn't include any "bio" information at all. Nobody's perfect. Followers are developing nicely over the last 9 days. Updates are extremely frequent. Will they keep up that pace of nearly 5 per day?

Capella University

    • 0 following, 911 followers, 38 updates,
    • Started: February 2
    • Bio: "Capella University is an accredited, fully online university that has built its reputation by providing quality education for working adults."

Notes: Capella sets the pace for followers, as well as for those it follows. I think this is the first time that I've found a Twitter site that isn't following anyone. The bio makes key points about accreditation, online programs, and the orientation to adults. Updates are not frequent at about 1 every 3 days.

Kaplan University

    • 21 following, 39 followers, 1 update
    • Started: 27 April
    • Bio: Building futures online and at eight Kaplan University campuses across the nation. Career-focused education tweets from Kaplan Higher Education home office.

Notes: Did Kaplan note the update activity at Phoenix and decide to take the opposite tack? A single update over 24 days is about as low as it can get. Someone at the "home office" did have time to add a bio, but things must have been really busy since then. 

Walden University  

    • 63 following, 166 followers, 141 updates
    • Started: March 6 
    • Bio: An accredited online university founded in 1970 and dedicated to enabling the success of working professionals around the world. 

Notes: Walden makes a solid effort that hasn't yet paid off with many followers. Over 75 days since starting, the 2 updates each day is the best pace other than Phoenix. The bio lets us know Walden has been around for 29 years, or far longer than the other for-profit institutions and pre-dating "online" universities by a wide margin.

Overall Conclusion: Twitter Not a Priority 

For marketers at most of these schools, Twitter is not a priority. Phoenix will be an interesting "follow" over the next few months to track how rapidly followers build and interact with the university. Phoenix includes a link to Twitter and 4 other social media sites on the website but hasn't yet updated the graphic to include the Twitter symbol. 

That's all for now.



Customer Carewords and Top Website Tasks

Gerry McGovern gave a webinar yesterday to 60+ plus people from around the world, including several from the higher education sector in the U.S. and Canada.

The purpose: focus on the special ability of Carewords research to identify top tasks that people coming to a website want to get done and to generate interest in future Carewords engagements.

You'll find both the PowerPoint presentation and Gerry's audio at

Questions from the Audience

People asked a variety of question... here are a few that stand out this morning:

  • How is the survey done? We place the survey online using Survey Monkey. Clients either send an invitation to take the survey to people in an email database or place an invitation online at their website. The right approach depends on the audience. Email invites are faster, with most response arriving the first day. The online version will take longer.
  • What is the survey about? The survey asks people to quickly select top tasks from a list of about 100 that we create from a variety of sources, including the present website, competitor websites, and internal stakeholders. Response is rapid (not more than 5 minutes) as we are looking for an immediate, instinctive reaction similar to how people react when first opening a web page.
  • How long does a project take? While a project can be completed in as little as 8 weeks, it really is better to allow for more time and plan for about 12 weeks.
  • Is it best to do this before or after creating a new website? Since a website is never done, a Carewords research project brings benefits whenever it is done. That said, people planning a website redesign should consider building site architecture and navigation based on results of the research that identify what tasks are most important to people using the site.
  • What does a project cost? Cost depends on the size of the website, the number of stakeholders involved in deciding on survey content, and the number of audiences included in the survey. In U.S. dollars, a Carewords project might run from $12,000 to $50,000. Most higher education projects will be at the lower end of the range.
  • What's the primary benefit? People come to websites to do one or more tasks. Carewords research replaces conflicting opinion about what's most important on your website with an objective, fact-based guide to the most important tasks. That in turn has benefits for organization and presentation of content. When you make it easier to do things on your site, you make people happy. And happy people will think well of you and return to your site again.

Visit the Customer Carewords Website

You can learn more about Customer Carewords at the website.

Contact me to talk about a project for your college or university. Email to or call at 248.766.6425.

That's all for now.



Illinois Legislature Voting on Bachelor's Degrees at Community Colleges

After my May 8 blog entry about myopia in Arizona re options to lower the cost of higher education, there is news from the Chicago Tribune that Illinois has the chance to do the right thing and allow a community college to offer bachelor's degrees for the first time.

Harper College is making a fifth attempt to win approval in the state legislature to offer two degree completion bachelor's degrees for firemen and police officers who have completed associate's degrees at the college. Previous efforts have passed the lower house but been defeated in the Illinois Senate by what the Tribune describes as "fierce opposition from four-year colleges and universities."

Harper is optimistic that this year it will prevail. And it should.

Community Need Should Prevail Over 4-Year Sector Self-Interest

It is long past time for the 4-year sector to move past a self-serving opposition to allowing community colleges to offer 4-year degrees that are natural extensions of the 2-year degrees now available. In this case, tuition for the programs would be $8,000 and people enrolled in them would save time on money on commuting to another 4-year public university.

In the present economic circumstance, these are compelling reasons to grant approval in addition to demonstrated need for the programs.

Consider these points raised in opposition by lobbyists for 4-year sector schools and reported in the Tribune article:

    • "It would encroach on their mission,
    • "create duplicative, unnecessary programs, and
    • "fundamentally shift the structure of higher education in the state."

What sounds especially silly is the comment from the Illinois Board of Higher education:

    • "Our fear is that by allowing Harper to offer bachelor's degrees, they would be diluting the mission of community colleges," said Don Sevener, a spokesman for the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Last time I looked, it was the mission of community colleges to serve the educational needs of their communities. How is that mission diluted by offering need-based 4-year degrees to residents of a community college district?

Let's hope that the Illinois Senate does the right thing this time and shows Arizona the path to the future. 

That's all for now.


Registrar's Website is a Link of the Week Success

It surprised me.

When I was searching for a May 8 Link of the Week selection, motivation already existed to search among college and university websites for a strong example of a "service marketing" site that was oriented to students as the primary audience. We are about to rewrite the present content and recommend new pages for a public university's registrar pages. My thought was that stellar examples would lend inspiration and insight to that task.

University of Missouri Leads Service Marketing Approach

Turns out that service-oriented Registrar's sites are not easy to find. After visiting 43 websites in the U.S. and Canada and coming across a very few that were candidates, the University of Missouri site stood out from the rest. Visit the Mizzou Registrar's page and see for yourself.

The search also helped me understand why in our CCI (Customer Centric Index) surveys the negative response level from current students has been much higher than the negative response level from "future" or "prospective students." A marketing orientation of "let's make this as easy to use as possible" hasn't yet spread throughout most higher education websites. People have to use these sites on a regular basis. For most, the experience isn't nearly as pleasant as it might be.

Why is that the case? Sometimes the answer is internal politics, sometimes it is staff time to make things work better... and sometimes it is just "Why should we make it easy to use? I had to struggle when I was a student." Yes, I actually heard that sentiment at an on-campus presentation about 2 years ago from the chap who developed the website. Fortunately, not everyone thinks like that.

Lori Croy, director of web communications at Mizzou, said it well:

    • "Those types of sites are a pain to work on, no fun at all, but are the great workhorses of our universities. It's seldom anyone notices them for the good they do. More often they're noted for falling short of good service and usability."

7 More Registrar's Sites to Visit

Based on my experience last week, most often sites like this do fall short of good service and usability. But not all of them. Missouri seemed the strongest, but here are 7 other U.S. and Canadian sites that stood out from the 43 visited for various elements of their approach:

That's all for now.

Arizona Searching for Lower Cost College Degrees

This qualifies as a rant.

The Arizona Republic is today reporting on how the Board of Regents in that state is trying to figure out how to provide lower cost bachelor's degrees to students by offering them in some way other than through the state's 3 research universities. "Everything is on the table."

Options being considered include:

    • Creating a new university in Yuma.
    • Purchasing a community college.
    • Building "several regional state colleges" around the state.
    • Letting the research universities start "university quality" programs in partnerships with muncipalities. (An ASU proposal.)

Lower down in the article is this news:

    • "A network of community colleges offers certificates and two-year degrees; some programs allow students to earn up to three years' worth of credits before transferring to the universities. Community colleges don't offer four-year degrees, and efforts to change state law to allow them to do so have been unsuccessful."

And thus the rant.

Community Colleges Should Offer 4-Year Degrees

Why have efforts to change state law so that community colleges can offer 4-year degrees been unsuccessful?

That's a simple, low cost way to expand the availabilty of bachelor's degrees. Other states, including Florida, have taken that route. In New York, some once-upon-a-time 2 year colleges have been 4-year technical colleges for several years now.

If research universities really want to get behind this lower-cost movement, then perhaps ASU and others will lobby in the Arizona legislature in favor of letting community colleges move in this direction. Let some community colleges become "regional state colleges" and create the additional facilities needed. More convenient that people having to live in Yuma. Less expensive than creating new regional colleges.

Many "Community" colleges in today's world will best serve their communities by expanding to include 4-year degrees that meet community needs. No logical reason exists not to give them that option. 

And as the expansion to 4-year degrees takes place, plan to keep faculty teaching loads similar to those at community colleges. If the faculty don't have research expectations, then teaching loads can be higher. And instructional costs will be lower. In some cases, much lower.

End of rant.

Thanks to my friends at Academic Impressions for running a blurb on this in their daily news summary.

May 5 greetings to everyone, and especially to those who are tallying enrollment deposits this month. It has been a year of special anxiety as old enrollment formulas struggle in a new economic climate. People will be attending college but we will have to wait a while longer to see just how many and in what schools and programs and at what cost to tuition discount rates. As I write this on Monday, Twitter updates have not yet produced new insight into how things are unfolding.

One expected increase area is among adult students. There is still time to register for the June 4-5 Carol Aslanian conference on "Web Marketing to Adult Students" and fine tune your website marketing for maximum fall enrollment conversions. Register at and use "Bob100" to save $100 on the registration fee. I will do a new presentation on using social media for adult student recruitment.

Pre-conference workshops on recruitment communication "in a world without paper" are on my July conference agenda for the ACT Enrollment Planners Meeting at and eduWeb 2009 at

Join me on Twitter to read daily marketing notes on social media and more at

And now here, in space that blessedly allows for more than 144 characters per item, are your marketing news and notes for May.
Early Moves to Wait List

One sign of the times in 2009 is an early move to wait lists to maintain desired enrollment. Washington University in St. Louis, Union College, and Lawrence University anticipated lower than usual yield rates of admitted students and made admission offers to wait-listed students before the May 1 deposit deadline.

Read details about these changes and others at Providence and Vanderbilt at
University of Phoenix Website and Brand Position

How well does the University of Phoenix website support the university brand position? Very well indeed according to a BrandFeatures review by Abram Sauer. He notes that Phoenix only has to appear comparable to other higher education websites to make the desired impression that Phoenix is as reputable an institution as its rivals. In the Sauer view (he compared with Harvard, Yale, University of California - Berkeley, University of Florida, University of Oregon) Phoenix succeeds at the effort.

Read the analysis at
Google Offers Prep for Mobile Advertising

If you are new to online advertising, spend some time at the Google for Advertisers web pages at where you can find an overview of what to consider in planning an online campaign, whether you use Google yourself or plan to work through an online agency.

Even if you are experienced at this, take note of the section on mobile advertising. Just about everyone on the planet is convinced that the advent of mobile advertising is upon us in a serious way in 2009. Time will tell the truth of that, but it makes great good sense to start learning now about how to make this new format work best for you. If you are still advertising in print, you might want to move some of those dollars over to mobile at least by 2010.
Introduction to Web Analytics for Everyday People

As I work with people at various colleges and universities, I am always impressed by the wide variation in how well people use web analytics to help them meet online marketing goals. And I am equally impressed by how difficult it can be for marketers to talk with IT staff about how to get relevant analytics information out of the extraordinary amount of data available.

If that sounds familiar, read the Web Analytics Demystified blog post by Avinash Kaushik to get extra confidence the next time you take your IT friends to lunch. Kaushik is a recognized analytics expert. You will gain credibility just by knowing who he is. But you will also get valuable information that will help you ask for what you need most. The post is at

After that, join 462 people who have read my presentation "Web Analytics, A Guide for Higher Education Marketers," at for specific recommendations on elements that deserve close attention.
Best, Worst Rejection Letters

The Wall Street Journal gives us a detailed if unscientific review of admission rejection letter details from 9 colleges and universities.

Tough but Honest: Bates College
Kindest: Harvard and Duke
You Were a Legacy Candidate and You Still Could Not Get Admitted: Boston University

Are you ready to fine-tune your rejection letters? Visit
Social Media and Analytics

You are thinking about investing more marketing time in social media activities but you are not sure how you can justify that, especially if it means pulling someone away from other, more traditional recruitment activities. You need to show ROI for any new ventures like this.

Get off on the right track with "How To: Track Social Media Analytics." This is not easy work for the uninitiated but if you can find an office volunteer who wants to develop a new skill, you will be well on your way to more successfully using Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter and whatever other elements you think will work best for you.

Setting up on Facebook or Twitter is not difficult. Knowing when you are getting good results is a challenge. Start at
Peter Drucker and the Cost of Higher Education: Good News or Bad?

Business Week magazine returns to Peter Drucker to lament an ongoing rise in the cost of higher education that is not reflected in an increasing quality of education received. Will that change? Not as long as colleges and universities control degree access that for most people is essential to career success.

That is good news if you make your living at a college or university. Not quite so good if you do not.

Read details of the Business Week position at
Grinnell College: Using Endowment to Reduce Student Debt

Grinnell has an unusual advantage over private colleges of similar size: one of the highest endowments per student of any college in the country. The value of the endowment has fallen from a 2007 high of $1.7 billion to a still impressive $1.1 billion today.

Grinnell retains an endowment far beyond those of most private sector schools. And the college is using those resources for a significant reduction in the average student debt at time of graduation: from $18,000 for graduates last year to about $10,000 for the class this year. That should leave the college in a strong competitive position, even against many public institutions, in these times of diminished debt acceptance.

Details are at
6 Reasons a Blog is Your Best Social Media Bet

Every once in a while a silly article appears by a person obsessed enough with the latest social media fad to write that blogs are no longer important.

To help ward off anyone who suggests you spend more time on Twitter than your blogs, read Newt Barrett on "Six Reasons Why Your Blog is Your Most Important Social Media Tool" at

In online marketing today, you of course need more than blogs to succeed. But make sure that blogs remain a core part of your marketing mix and integrate their use into your plans for Facebook and Twitter. Millions of people love them. And read them.
5 Twitter Research Tools

Twitter is a new arena in higher education marketing. In the last week or two there have been a multitude of happy Tweets from people extolling the news that admissions offices around the country are starting to use Twitter as a marketing tool. That is indeed a good step, but like any tool, the results will only be as valuable as the skill used to wield the tool.

Find valuable advice on 5 ways to measure your Twitter impact at

One favorite is TweetStats (, a program that will tell you how your use of Twitter compares with those of your competitors. Enter the Twitter URL for the schools that most plague your enrollment success and you can learn how many times they update content each month, what words and phrases appear most often in their Tweets, the frequency of interaction with people on Twitter and more.
Berea College Defines Value Education

In the private sector of higher education, one mantra that is often held up as the saving marketing element is the "value" proposition: "Yes, we cost more than a public university but your experience here will be so much better that we are worth the extra cost and/or debt." In 2009, that value proposition is being put to a strong test.

Berea College has an unusual advantage: it offers free education to students willing to work for the college. This year, yield from admitted students is expected to be around 78 percent. That is about the same as last year, but in 2009 the academic credentials of entering students will increase. Details are at

Berea is not immune to the economic plague. Endowment is down and layoffs have been made. But for students, value is stronger than ever before.

A personal note: if you are ever traveling through Berea, do try to stay in the student-run hotel in town. And enjoy the Spoonbread pudding with dinner.
Online Magazines: Amherst and Flagler

The spread of alumni magazines as true web publications continues. No, a printed alumni magazine put online in PDF format does not a web publication make.

Check my blog post highlighting true online efforts at Amherst College and Flagler College and the subtle but significant content additions that make both these efforts fit the Web 2.0 era. You will also find links to 3 other online magazines. Mix and match the best of what you find here for your own online publishing effort.

Visit for the details.
Reducing the Product: Academic Programs Offered

Concern over efficiency amidst diminishing resources is fueling unusual attention to one of marketing's proverbial 4 Ps: Product.

A recent "Dead Programs Walking" article in Inside Higher Ed reported on ventures in Louisiana, Florida, and at Radford University. Read the details at
My Upcoming Presentations in 2009

Share questions and answers with people like yourself who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Join me for one or more of these events!

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." Enter "Bob100" as a discount code to save $100 from the registration fee. Review the sessions at

June 15, Orlando, FL: Career College Association: "Anatomy of a Student Community," Google hosted panel discussion. Conference details at

June 17, Webinar: Paper Clip Communications: "The Technology Revolution in Admissions." Session details and registration at

June 21-25, San Antonio, TX: College Sports Information Directors of America, Annual Conference: "Writing Right for the Web." Conference program at

July 15-17, Chicago, IL: ACT Enrollment Planners Conference: "Student Recruitment in an Online World: Creating a Recruitment Communications Plan in a World without Paper: 2009 Update" (Pre-conference workshop) and "Rating Higher Education Websites: The Student Experience." Review the program and register at

July 20-22, Chicago, IL: eduWeb 2009: "Student Recruitment in the Online World: Communicating from First Web Search to Final Enrollment" (Pre-conference workshop). Sessions and registration at

July 29, Webinar: Magna Publications: "Crafting a High Impact Recruitment Website." Content and registration soon at

October 26-27, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin System, Adult Student Recruitment & Retention Conference: "Key Website Features for Adult Student Recruitment." Conference information is 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
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