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Location Aware: University of Kentucky Mobilizes Social Recruiting

The University of Kentucky is ditching some of its traditional media and turning instead to social networking tools like Facebook Places and online outlets like Pandora to build awareness among prospective students.

Most of the University of Kentucky's marketing dollars are allocated to undergraduate student recruitment in Kentucky and in neighboring states. Knowing that those prospective students are active on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, the school has integrated both social networking and online advertising into its marketing mix.

Kelley Bozeman, marketing director, said the integrated, tech-based approach is a far cry from the traditional means of reaching out to prospects. "We're doing a lot of out-of-the-box marketing here," said Bozeman. "This isn't your television ads, direct mail, and billboards approach."

Checking In with Facebook Places
Instead, the university invests in interactive media on social networking sites and on regular Web sites where students visit often. One of them is Facebook, according to Bozeman, who saw the site's new "Facebook Places" feature as an opportunity to connect with recruits. The application lets users check in via cell phone and alert friends, family, and other interested parties about where they are and what they're up to.

To get students to use the "Daily CheckIn" service, the school created a grassroots marketing campaign centered on the installation of 5-foot-tall, wooden icons (painted the school's signature blue) on campus. The "pointers" encouraged them to check in at various locations across campus, every day. Students check in from a campus or sporting event, for example, and the activity shows up on their Facebook newsfeed, which is then shared with friends.

Bozeman said the university was considering a similar campaign even before Facebook Places launched, with the idea of encouraging students to report in regularly from campus events. Because many of those students have friends and family who are in high school, she said the strategy serves as a useful recruiting tool: kids see firsthand how other students are having fun at a particular college, and then they want to go to the same school.

The university is also using this campaign as a way to educate students about online privacy and responsible use of location-tracking services. "This is not about checking in while you're home alone at 2 a.m. and letting the whole world know," said Bozeman. Part of the education included setting up a Flash Web site that details exactly how GPS tracking should (and shouldn't) be used. "If students are going to use the check-in feature, we want them to use it responsibly," said Bozeman, "both on and off campus."

Bozeman said the hardest part of the campaign was getting the wooden pointers made and installed quickly. "It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, and we didn't have huge expectations from it," said Bozeman, "but we wanted to get it mobilized quickly and give prospective students an inside glimpse of campus life through the social networking site."

One of those pointers is positioned outside of the university visitor's center, where 10,000 students pass through annually. Visitors are encouraged to check in as soon as they start their college tour, said Bozeman, in order to spread the word via newsfeed to friends who are back home.

"Someone may not have even been thinking about the University of Kentucky until a friend visited and [reported back] via the service," said Bozeman. "When those students from back home come to visit, we end up with a great return rate on this low-cost investment."

Bailing on Traditional Media
The investment also dovetails well with the university's other interactive media strategies, which this year were given top priority over traditional methods like television advertising. "We dropped TV altogether this year," said Bozeman, "and put our dollars into interactive advertising."

Bozeman pointed to Pandora, an online music project where users can listen to their favorite musicians for free, as one of the school's target sites for advertising. "I don't think that many other universities have caught onto Pandora yet," Bozeman said, "but we've started to put our name out there on the site and it's working out well." The school also buys advertising on social networking sites, where it can target specific geographies and demographics (such as students who reside in Kentucky).

To track the school's success rate online, Bozeman uses an analytics program that's installed on its Office of Undergraduate Admission's Web site. She said the system allows her to follow a media buy for a specific area (a three-week period in Columbus, KY, for example), and see what kind of traffic and response that ad generates. "We can tell how many visitors are coming from Pandora, Facebook, and so forth," said Bozeman, "right down to which zip code they live in."

With that information in hand, the school can tweak its advertising investments by, for example, allocating more (or less) money to its pay-per-click campaigns or changing them altogether. The Daily Checkin system isn't as easy to track, said Bozeman, who is unsure of just how effective that campaign has been for recruiting. "I do notice that students are using it, and that it's creating a buzz," said Bozeman. "Basically we just see it as a conversation starter about university pride more than anything else."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

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