Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

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March greetings to everyone. And best wishes for success to everyone who is heading into the deposit collection recruitment stretch for your new freshman class in March and April. 

Today I expect to finish the new recruitment focused edition of my two-day conference on Writing Right for the Web, set for March 27-28 in Denver. Check the agenda at 

The Call for Papers for eduWeb14 is extended until March 21. Visit to submit your session for review.

How effective is your online marketing? My April 1 Master Class will help you answer that question. From the first impression you create on your website to your ongoing electronic communications will impact conversion success at each stage of the recruitment cycle. Register to join us 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for March.
Net Price Calculators: How Results Differ Among 16 Schools

Inspired by an inquiring mind, an enterprising VP for enrollment completed 16 Net Price Calculators to see how his school compared to both private and public sector competitors. Four different financial and academic profiles were used.

The experience and the results, as you might expect, varied greatly. Check the results and the reasons and plan a similar competitive intelligence study of your own. Visit 
Email Subject Lines: The Best and the Worst in the 2013-2014 Recruitment Cycle

Everyone in higher education marketing should read the report by Jens Larson about his secret shopping experiences during the current recruitment cycle.

Jens gives plaudits to Bates College, Oklahoma State University and the universities of Chicago and Oregon for doing an excellent job. He has reviewed hundreds of emails to bring you a selection of what he thinks works well and what does not work nearly so well at 
"Honest University Commercial": 3 Million+ People Have Watched This

You will lose track of how many things in this nearly 3 minute video parody of higher education advertising will drive you mad. But 3 million people and climbing have at least clicked on the YouTube link since it was first posted. Add 125,000 likes and 9,374 comments as I type this.

This is another piece in the negative PR world that has a lesson for higher education marketing efforts. Watch the video at 
MBA Marketing: New Approaches to Product, Price, and Place

Repeat the four Ps of marketing as often as you want but attention to Product, Price, and Place often ranks much lower than attention to Promotion. And that is why it is good to see three MBA programs at three very different types of universities adopting innovative approaches to better fit the interests (and schedules) of potential students.

Changes at Benedictine, Cornell, and Villanova universities are reviewed in an in-depth article by Inside Higher Education at
Pew Research Center: Yes, Attending College is Worthwhile

This new survey report from the Pew Research Center will give heart to anyone who can use statistical reinforcement of the value of a higher education degree, particularly from the perspective of recently graduated Millennials. 

A key variable: graduates in some majors are more convinced of the value of their time and money than are others. Engineering and science majors are the most satisfied.

See a summary of 6 key findings at and move from there to a copy of the full report.
2014 Mobile Behavior Report: Smartphones vs. Tablets and More

Strengthen your online communication strategy with an in-depth knowledge of how and when people actually use their mobile devices.

The top activity on both phones and tables: accessing email. People are much more likely to visit Twitter from a tablet than a smartphone. The reverse is true for Pinterest. On mobile, people prefer to use Facebook on a mobile app. The reverse is true for Twitter. Overall, mobile apps are popular in comparison to mobile-ready websites.

For more, including age, gender, and income information download the 35-page report 
Text Messaging and Student Recruitment: New Approach at Drexel Online

Drexel Online, a place with strong marketing savvy, has recently adopted an approach to text messaging that I have not seen elsewhere: in order to submit an online inquiry form, you must agree to receive text messages along with phone contacts.

Drexel tells me people can opt out after receiving the first message. This is a new effort and results on how many people are opting out are not available. See the inquiry form at 
Simplifying Financial Aid: New College Board Reports Recommends Process Changes

The College Board has just published a "Back to Basics" report that focuses on reducing or changing the data needed to complete the FAFSA and still arrive at a reasonable measure for need-based aid. One key point in the recommendations: get realistic information on college costs in the hands of first-generation families, especially likely Pell Grant recipients, as soon as possible.

Will these recommendations find favor at your school? Answer that question after reading the Chronicle article at 
Website Readability Test Tool: Check Your Site Today

On the web, simple is most often better. The University of Cambridge university research site home page is written at a 10th grade level.

Will your site do as well? Use the free Readability Test Tool and find out at 
Viral Marketing: Examples from Oberlin College and McMaster University

Can you make viral marketing a fruitful part of your marketing toolkit?

Cameron Pegg thinks you can and writes about that in a CASE article that includes examples of successful Oberlin College and McMaster University efforts. Pay special attention to the infographic on how to create a "viral marketing culture" when you visit 
LinkedIn for Student Recruitment

Graham Edwards has written an interesting piece on how to use LinkedIn for student recruitment. Not advertising, but how to best take advantage of the new LinkedIn university page feature as you build your presence there.

My personal best bet: use this to show parents of traditional age students how your alumni are doing out and about the world after graduation. Graham has more ideas at 
For-Profit Sector: 22 State Suits Focus on Improper Marketing

Suits are in progress in 22 states against 10 for-profit schools. Four Federal Government divisions have also filed suits. Just four schools are attracting most of the attention, often based on loan practices and claims about employability and earnings after graduation. 

Even marketers who do not work in the for-profit sector should pay attention. Will anyone ask universities to prove their claims to "academic excellence" anytime soon? The winds on what is acceptable and what is not are changing.

See who is attracting the most attention when you scan the chart at 
Most Popular Topic in February Newsletter: 8 Web Design Elements You No Longer Need

The runaway top topic last month from UX magazine discusses website features you can safely dispense with starts with drop-down menus and carousels and adds six more elements to review at 
Conference and Master Class Presentations in March and April

March 27-28, Denver: "Writing Right for the Web: Focusing on Student Recruitment" sponsored by Academic Impressions. Agenda and registration at 

April 1, Philadelphia: "Critical Online Steps to Boost Enrollment: Speed, Simplicity, and Top Task Completion," an eduWeb Master Class. Review the program and register at 

Plan a custom presentation on your campus. Host a workshop on any of my conference topics. Review the 2013 list at and contact me at or 248.766.6425.
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Video & News Content to Engage Professional School Visitors: Boston University School of Public Health

Today's Link of the Week selection replaces the common top-of-the-page rotating collection of photo or video presentations with introductory images of 2 video and 4 news options when the page opens. Run your cursor over each one for a short summary of what's behind each image and pick your favorite to watch.

Using the rotating image approach has always seemed like a bit of a crap shoot to me. Yes, a new visitor might see something of interest. On the other hand, maybe not. That's a risky game to play for such an important first impression opportunity.

This alternative passes the critical 5-second scan rule. You'll see each image in less than 5 seconds and it won't take you much longer than that to see what each one is about if you don't go immediately to a single selection.

The presentation behind the links might be better. One video is more than 6 minutes long. A news story would benefit from subheads to scan when the page opens. 

For an unusual opening to a professional school home page, visit the Boston University School of Public Health.

Bob Johnson

P.S. This Link of the Week is on the blog rather than the usual website page. Connections to edit my website have been broken for over a week and I've yet to have a response from the firm that operates my web editing software. Less than impressive service, for sure.

Forecasting online tools and policies: J.Boye conference delegates speak

Forecasting the future is the theme of the closing Town Hall event each year at a J.Boye conference, a session that's both fun and informative. Two volunteer experts offer their respective "yes" or "no" opinions on possible future trends on the online world. And then the delegates vote on which possibility they think is most likely to happen.

Here, with a few notes about the discussions from yours truly, are the questions and answers from last Thursday at J.BoyePhiladelphia2011

Do you say "Yes" or "No" to these predictions of the future?

QR codes will be huge.
    • No. Several things are holding them back. Most people, at least in the U.S., don't know what they are. The apps to read them don't come installed on smartphones. Here is the U.S. you don't see them often on ads. For those who have the apps now (I have Bakodo), they simply don't always work on every QR code on every device.
Just pick the "cool tool" for social media or undertake a procurement process to decide what an organization should use?
    • Pick the cool tool. Many people cannot stand formal procurement processes and don't feel that a procurement review would result in better decisions about the most appropriate social media tools.
Websites are "sooo dead."
    • An emphatic "no" on this one. Present websites will adapt but some tasks that people expect to do online are best done on a regular website, now and forever.
Keyboards and a mouse will vanish.
    • No. Lots of division on this one, with some taking note that today's 5 year old child may not ever use a traditional keyboard or mouse. But for many in the room, keyboards allow much faster writing than smartphones and tablets and are not going away anytime soon.
"Governance" of websites is a waste of time.
    • No. Although few felt that present "governance" or "management" schemes were especially effective, even fewer could imagine letting anarchy reign.
Forgo text, video is the new thing.
    • No. Video is important, but almost nobody felt it was going to replace text.
Facebook is the next Google.
    • No. I couldn't sense how much of the sentiment here was a wee bit of latent hostility re Facebook but the best comments suggested that Google was a much broader enterprise than Facebook and was not about to lose its current position as had IBM and Microsoft.
Steve killed Flash.
    • No. Some discussion here of the HTML5 impact on web development, but Adobe remains vigorous in defense of flash and Adroid tablets use it. A majority felt it would continue to exist in the future.
How far away is the future?

At least one person asked just how far away everyone felt the "future" was. From the discussion, I'd say it was at least as far away as the working lifespan of everyone in the room. Safe to assume that's about 25 years old and up. Only a brave few were trying to imagine the future for today's youngest children.

J.Boye Future Conferences

Plan now to explore the future this year or next at a J.Boye Conference
New "Writing Right for the Web" Event

My first 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" Conference is set for San Diego on July 26 - 27. Check the detailed outline and register to improve your website content.

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.



Ono of the themes that emerged during questions and discussions at yesterday's ACT pre-conference workshop was the increasing use of video at college websites to introduce the real people who live and learn at these places. In other words, to humanize them by using the web in a way that goes beyond what student profiles in print can do.

Like anything else, these can be done well and not-quite-so well. These 4 examples stand out i my personal web searching among the many that are available.

More examples stand out among my Link of the Week selections at 

And of course I'd certainly like to hear of more that you might know about. Send me a note at or leave a comment.

Bob Johnson
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