Case Study: YouTube as a Student Recruitment Tool
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In the 1980s, the University of Bridgeport (UB) in Connecticut was one of its region’s leading institutions for higher education. With sweeping views of Long Island Sound, close proximity to New York City, and the inclusion of the Fones School of Dental Hygiene (the nation’s first), it enjoyed many of the benefits of a large university and the intimacy of a private institution. However, later that decade, the university was faced with one of the longest teacher strikes in U.S. history, nearly closing the school. Now, more than 20 years later, UB boasts a diverse student population with pupils from every populated continent and all walks of life. However, this diversity created its own unique problem for admissions: how to reach a broad cross-section of potential students with a message uniquely tailored to each one of them.
Multiplying the Long Tail
Universities around the world employ online video as a tool to reach potential students. Often, these videos take the form of a broad overview of the school or a video tour for students who have not visited the campus. While this approach is usually effective as an introduction, the messages these videos convey are typically broad, reaching out to as many people in the target population as possible. UB had a different need: to reach potential computer engineering students from Beijing, Boston, and San Francisco while also engaging potential psychology students from São Paolo, Brazil; South Beach, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan. To do this, the school called on Saxon Mills.
With the added benefit of being local to UB, Saxon Mills brought years of experience in one specific area: streaming video. The company opened its doors in 2005 and focused on entertainment content, winning numerous awards and being honored by the Webby Awards. In 2007, the company opened a business line specifically focused on helping organizations utilize this medium. Since then, the company has helped municipalities, private entities, and luxury brands take advantage of streaming video.
During initial meetings, Saxon Mills worked closely with the UB admissions office to understand the reasons enrolled students had selected the school. What they discovered were issues similar to those in the consumer industry, i.e., buyers are often interested in the core aspects of a product, but they end up making a selection between similar products based on a personal connection. At the university, students believed that academics and accessibility to professors were important criteria. However, it was the personal connection to other students and a community feeling that helped set UB apart from other schools. The challenge would be to create a video that would do this for a broad cross-section of potential students.
Having identified connections with other students as a critical success factor for the video project, it was agreed that students would be featured. Saxon Mills’ team focused on six of the major schools on campus (the International College, the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education and Human Resources, the School of Engineering, and the Fones School of Dental Hygiene).
Soon, a pool of nearly 30 students was developed, but the question of how to provide more than a chorus of affirmation for the university remained. As the team assessed cost and delivery—the intent was to make the videos available on the university’s website, streaming directly from YouTube—it became clear that one of the larger costs would end up being production. This would be especially true if the team intended to conduct individual interviews on location. That is when the team turned to recent technological advances in cameras and editing software.
Figure 1. Highly targeted YouTube videos, available from the school website and delivered directly to prospective students, helped the University of Bridgeport exceed 2008 enrollment goals by 30%.
Panasonic has developed a number of high-definition cameras in recent years, all of which utilize the company’s proprietary tapeless acquisition "P2" technology. The cameras boast improved codecs and extraordinary definition in the images they capture, and the Saxon Mills team had utilized the technology to chroma key (or green screen) backgrounds for a number of entertainment properties. The team planned to condense production time by shooting in one controlled indoor environment against a green screen.
With production time reduced, the team decided to make a series of videos for each of the schools. When completed, potential students would have access to a series of videos targeted to their specific school of interest. What might have taken a week to shoot on location with a large crew was shot in 8–12 hours with a skeleton staff. The time saved was applied to postproduction.
Once postproduction was complete, UB had a series of 25 videos composed of students introducing themselves and then speaking candidly about a number of things: why they chose the university, what they found when they arrived, their experiences with the faculty and campus life, and examples of how the university is preparing them for their careers. In essence, UB was planning a long-tail marketing campaign utilizing streaming media. However, instead of going after one niche, the school identified six niches and developed a series of unified campaigns to reach each one.
Reaching Targeted Niches With Streaming Video
It is estimated that across the U.S., approximately 30% of all college applicants for the fall 2008 semester applied to their college(s) of choice without ever filling out an inquiry card at a traditional college fair. In the admissions profession, these applicants are commonly referred to as "stealth applicants." The national rise in stealth applicants, which is expected to increase to 40% in the next year, means that universities are slowly losing their ability to communicate with prospective students at the inquiry level. As a result, universities must evaluate the ways in which they are communicating with their applicants, and they must make sure that these strategies are in alignment with the stealth applicants’ preferred mode of communication.