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It's a Zinch

A Q&A with Brad Ward, electronic communication coordinator for Butler University, on new methods for recruiting prospective students.

The following article, "Social Networking: The New Face of Recruiting", ran on our website on March 6, 2008.

It's a Zinch

ZINCH ALLOWS Butler U recruiters to search for students by state, graduation year, gender, and more, and to better target who they’re trying to reach.

IN WHAT MAY BE the future for college recruiting efforts, some 30,0 students now use a social networking site called Zinch specifically to network with colleges. On Zinch, prospective students can enter a personal profile that gives colleges in-depth information well beyond grades and test scores. From the other side, Zinch says that more than 450 colleges and universities are using the site as a high-powered recruiting tool.

And who better than someone fresh out of college himself to understand the power of cutting-edge tools for recruiting? In this interview, we talk with Brad Ward, electronic communication coordinator for Butler University (IN), which has about 3,90 undergraduates. Ward, who graduated from the University of Illinois in 205, talks about his successes with Zinch, which he started using in mid-207 , and other online tools he's used in recruiting efforts at Butler. He also talks about the problems social networking sites can spawn if you don't stay on top of them.

CT: How would you describe your job as electronic communication coordinator at Butler University?
Ward: It's really a new position; we're still trying to define it. I basically oversee all the e-mails for recruitment and content. In a way, it's nice that I'm only 24, so I can still relate to the kids. But at the same time, when I was in college there was no YouTube or Facebook until my senior year.

Can you tell me a little bit about how Zinch works?
Kids on Zinch set up profiles that are more than just their names and test scores. They can list extracurricular activities, whether they're a first-generation student, or their ethnicity. There's a lot of depth to it.

And how do colleges use that information for recruiting?
We can go in to Zinch and, if we're looking to reach out to kids in a certain state, we can filter by the state. Then if we wanted to filter by what year they're graduating high school or what their gender is or something like that, we can really drill down. That makes e-mail more than just broadcasting a message to thousands of kids. With these social networking sites, we can really narrow it down and make it more refined. We can better target who we're trying to reach. That's definitely a huge benefit for us.

Kids on Zinch are interested in finding out more about schools. They're not joining it to hook up with other friends-- the sort of thing you would do on Facebook.

With Zinch, it's truly just kids looking for schools. Students can't add each other's friends or network in that sense. So the kids on the site are definitely interested in going to college, and interested in finding out more about schools. They're not joining it to hook up with other friends-- the sort of thing you would do on Facebook.

You mention some pretty impressive recruiting numbers in blogging about your success with Zinch, like an 'open rate' of 35 percent. What does that mean?
Using Zinch, we filtered a certain group of kids that we wanted to send a message to. And 35 percent of the kids we sent the message to opened it on Zinch. We usually average about 11 to 13 percent at that time of year for larger e-mail blasts.

To what do you attribute that?
I think the kids on Zinch are obviously interested in colleges, so they want to hear what we have to say. And it's also just a whole "me" generation thing with these kids. For us to be going out there and finding them-- I think they find something special about that: "Wow, this school is coming to talk to me; I don't have to go talk to them."

You've also used other electronic tools for recruiting in interesting ways. What is the student blogger program you have there at Butler?
We have eight students who just blog about what they're doing every week. It gives people an idea of what it would be like to go here. We have two staff bloggers, and our mascot has a blog-- we have an actual bulldog on campus, and one of the workers is his caretaker, so he writes a blog as if the mascot were speaking. It's pretty funny.

We put a Facebook advertisement out at the beginning of the year and said we were looking for students who want to blog. We had about 50 kids respond. So we put an application together, and narrowed it down to get a good mix of the student population here on campus. The student blogger program has been going really well. It's the most popular area of the admissions website.

The student bloggers and the forums have more page views than any other part of the Butler site.

What kinds of things are your student bloggers creating for YouTube?
The most popular video is one where one of the female bloggers took the camera into her sorority house and did a seven-minute tour. Another popular video shows Coach Boone, who is the coach featured in the movie Remember the Titans, speaking on campus. That student-life aspect is popular: "What am I going to see here?" "What am I going to do?" And basketball games and things like that are always popular.

In terms of recruiting tools, what else have you tried besides Zinch and YouTube?
We have a fan page on Facebook set up for the bloggers, so that kids on Facebook can ask the bloggers questions there. We haven't really started promoting that yet. It's just there in case a kid runs across it. Right now, we're mostly using that to direct traffic over to our main blogs, which are on our admissions site.

In some ways, you seem the face of the future of college recruiting in that you're starting to use these electronic tools effectively.
We're getting there. When I came on board at Butler, we didn't have the bloggers, the forums, or any of that, so I would say we're doing well now. We have a ways to go. I don't know what the definition of cutting edge is for admissions, because I think in general most departments are behind.

Because they're not using social networking and other online tools as effectively as they could be?
Right. Another problem is, in terms of YouTube and sites like it, there's not yet a defined metric of what is successful. If we put these videos up on YouTube, was that worth it? There's nothing to measure this stuff with yet. That makes it a little tougher when we try to pitch these new sites and new ways to recruit. Hopefully, in the near future, we'll all start to be able to define what success is and whether it's worth it to be on Facebook and those kinds of sites.

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