Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

November 2009 Archives

Persuasion Technology and Online Marketing

At the J.Boye Aarhus09 conference in Denmark earlier this month I attended a half-day tutorial by BJ Fogg, director of the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab.

A single blog entry can't do justice to the full presentation, but here are a few notes that seem relevant to those of us who focus on creating stronger marketing impact at higher education websites.

  • The web as a "platform for persuasion" is an important concept for marketers building a new website or enhancing an existing one. Let's admit that a primary, if not the most important, purpose of the website is to generate new enrollment and to gain funding support from alumni and other "friends" of the university.
  • Keep conversion expecations realistic. BJ suggests that 1/3 of website visitors will do what we want without much persuasion if it is easy to do it and 1/3 will never do it. That leaves about 1/3 in the middle open to persuasion points as they visit the site.
  • It is important to remove as many barriers to task completion as possible for the middle 1/3 or they won't do what we want.  
  • The more complex the website, the less persuasive it will be.

Remove task completion barriers

And so there is a need for constant attention to these persuasion barriers: 

    • Navigation built around organizational rather than visitor preferences.
    • Language that doesn't connect with visitors as Carewords do.
    • Broken links and out-of-date content. Be ruthless about this.
    • Long inquiry forms. The brevity of the Creighton University form is admirable. 

Every barrier means less conversion from that 1/3 in the middle cluster. Some barriers will even reduce conversion from the 1/3 that really want to do what you hope they will do.

Social media and online persuasion

BJ believes social media sites are strong persuasion tools.

    • Social networks are "platforms for persuasion" and Facebook is the "#1 persuasion tool of all time."
    • Amazon makes good use of social media techniques by empowering community comments and by recommending new items based on the preferences of the visitor.

Don't be afraid to experiment

One note stands out: don't be afraid to experiment with change. Victory, BJ believes, will go to those who are not afraid to take online initiatives without knowing in advance that every one will work. Discard initiatives that fail and expand those that succeed. Getting proof of success before trying anything new makes it likely that your more adventuresome competitors will leave you behind.

J.Boye Conference: Philadelphia 2010

Check the developing schedule for the J.Boye conference May 4-6 in Philadelphia. There is a higher education track, as well as 7 others, including "online communication" and "online strategy" where you can meet and mingle with people working outside higher education.

That's all for now.



Social Media Marketing... the new Mass Marketing Platform?

At the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education earlier this week, social media marketing was the hot topic at presentation after presentation. And there was strong interest in how to demonstrate "ROI" from the financial and human investment needed in this area.

ROI is a worthy topic to explore if the goal of social media marketing is to increase conversion in enrollment campaigns or to increase alumni giving rates.

But what if social media marketing isn't about immediate conversion results but general brand awareness? A story in today's Detroit Free Press positions social media as the next mass marketing vehicle. Ford Motor Company is enthusiastic about the results of a 6-month social media campaign to create pre-launch awareness of the 2010 Ford Fiesta, ready for sale next year.

60% Brand Awareness from Integrated Social Media Campaign

Ford gave 100 cars for 6 months to "mostly young, hip drivers" who were "savvy" with Facebook and Twitter and counted on them to ignite a fire of awareness. Read more about the program at the "Fiesta Movement" website. The results:

As a result of that activity, Ford has measured brand awareness by the public at 60 percent, a level that it projects would have cost more than $50 million in traditional media spending.

Impressive result. But not a car has yet been sold. If you only define ROI by sales results (or students enrolled or dollars raised), there is no direct "ROI" from a campaign like this. 

Note that Ford did one thing that is too often left out of budget-tight higher education branding campaigns: traditional market research that measures results after a campaign is over.

Creative Risk-Taking Needed

If higher education moves forward into social media as fast as ROI measurement allows, that move will not happen very quickly. We need creative risk taking, along with an understanding that measuring the exact impact of individual marketing elements on a final decision to enroll or donate (or buy a car) is not an easy thing. Some would say it is not possible.

What is clear is that we can measure the swirl of activity that does take place around a social media campaign. And we can do that better now than we could for traditional public relations and brand awareness campaigns back in ancient times. We can see and feel and hear the activity taking place. And that just might be all the ROI needed.

That's all for now.



Hello from Denmark where the J.Boye Aarhus09 conference starts on Tuesday. I am here to give a report on what students, current and future, like and do not like about their experiences at higher education websites.

See the presentation now at including a screen shot of a St. Edward's University page that everyone should consider adding ASAP.

Looking forward to the 20th anniversary edition of the Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in Boston this month. Register at and include my Sunday tutorial.

"Writing Right for the Web" remains one of the best ways to improve the web experience for your visitors. Register for the December 8 webinar at and invite everyone on your campus who prepares web content.

And now here are your marketing news and notes for November.
Pumpkin Special for Social Media Fans

If you like carved pumpkins visit the Mashable site and see 12 social media carvings, starting with the Fail Whale. Some clever work at
UPhoenix Enrollment Climbs; Stock Price Falls

Enrollment at University of Phoenix rose to 443,000 in August, a 22 percent gain from a year ago. The major reason was an increase in associate degree enrollments.

But the stock price plunged in the last week on news that the SEC is taking an "informal" look at how revenues are reported for the university.

More details at
Your Viewbook and E-Readers

New news on e-readers is coming out every week or so now. The latest is that Barnes and Noble is taking online orders for the most advanced model priced at $259 and due out before the end of this month.

B&N plans another version for business users early in 2010.

See what will be available soon from B&N at

Delivering e-book versions of your viewbook and similar recruitment publications ordered from your website admissions page gets closer and closer.
How "Top 100" Schools Use Twitter

It had to happen. Here is a review of how the Top 100 US News colleges and universities use Twitter.

Over 70 percent have more than 10 Twitter accounts, but very few have more than 15. University of Florida leads with 24 micro blogs.

Prestige counts for Twitter followers. Highest numbers are at the most prestigious privates and flagship publics.

More details of the research at
Who Uses Twitter and Similar Services?

With all those higher education Twitter accounts, it makes great good sense to monitor who uses them and who does not. That is just what the folks at Pew Internet and American Life Project do on a regular basis.

Pew has just reported that 19 percent of Internet users include Twitter or a similar site in their regular activities. That is up quite a bit from the 11 percent reported in December 2008 and April 2009. The key question, of course, is how high the percent will climb.

See details of the report at
Facebook in the Future

To help keep a balance on the role of social media in marketing, visit the column by Robert Lockard that asks if Facebook is "falling apart" and links to a recent NY Times story on people leaving Facebook.

Privacy concerns are an important issue, feeding into a feeling that Facebook is Big Brother paying too much attention to what members due as it seeks to expand advertising revenue.

An article worth reading at

Remember when MySpace ruled the social media world?
Web Analytics in Higher Education

Shelby Thayer has a great article on why colleges and universities should pay more attention to web analytics. Do not let anyone at your school tell you not to bother with analytics because the information is not needed or not reliable. While it might not be perfect, it is one of the most valuable marketing tools you have to measure how well you are connecting with potential students.

One point Thayer makes is especially important for recruitment marketers: give careful attention to the "bounce rate" for new or first-time visitors to your site. Those wise words and more are at

If first-time visitors to your first admissions page bounce at 30 percent or more, you have a real problem.

Web Analytics: A Guide for Higher Education Marketers is the most popular of my 14 presentations on SlideShare. Make a visit at
New WOMMA Higher Education Group

Deborah Maue at DePaul University sent word a few days ago that she is leading a new Higher Education Learning Council within the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

The WOMMA summit this year is in Las Vegas on November 18-20. Program details are at

Congrats to Deb for helping to create a higher education presence within WOMMA. To learn more about her plans and how you might help, contact her at
NACAC 2009 Admissions Report

The annual NACAC admissions report is ready for downloading. Free for NACAC members and $25 for the rest of us.

A rapid shift to online applications continues. Paperless apps were 72 percent in 2008, up from 68 percent in 2007 and 58 percent in 2006. How easy is it to complete an online application at your website?

Highlights are in a press release at where you'll find stats on acceptance and yield rates, expansion of Early Decision applications and more.
Admissions Selectivity is Falling

Elite schools aside, admissions selectivity is decreasing according to a new research report.

Conclusions are based on analysis of a database that starts with 1960s SAT data. One point highlighted: an increased willingness of students to venture further from home to find a college.

See more details at where you can link to a PDF download of the entire report for $5.
Predicting Student Success

Good, objective information about student success would be a boon to higher education marketers in the era of growing accountability demands. Depending, of course, on how successful your students are.

Rio Salado College is embarking on a promising effort to predict success in both in-class and online courses based on a student's activity early in the course. Check the details at
Web Content Coordinator at SUNY Orange

It is always good to see people filling positions like this. If you are interested in applying or just want to see the responsibilities, requirements, and minimum salary, visit
SUNY CUAD Call for Papers by 6 November

Advancement people take note. The call for papers for the 2010 SUNYCUAD conference is online now at

Paper proposals are due by November 6. SUNYCUAD will waive your registration fee and pay your travel expenses and one night at the conference hotel if your proposal is selected.

The 2010 meeting is in Buffalo, June 9 to 11.
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.

November 3-5, Aarhus, Denmark: J. Boye Conference: Aarhus09, "Improving Higher Education Websites: Lessons from the Student Experience." Conference program and registration at

November 15-17, Boston, MA: AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, "Marketing in a World without Paper: Creating a Recruitment Communications Plan in a World without Paper" (3.5 hour Sunday afternoon tutorial). Details at

December 3, Ames, IA: Iowa State University, Social Media Marketing Summit

December 8, Webinar: "Writing Right for the Web." Program outline and registration 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

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