College recruiting shifts to social media

A quick scan of a bar code was all it took for college recruiters in Milwaukee to add prospective students to their database, as recruiting efforts have seen a major shift to mobile-based social media.

Many colleges have seen a spike in social media followings.

Recruiters who participated Sunday in the Milwaukee National College Fair told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that while they still pick up the phone, their first contacts with prospective students these days are usually through social media and email.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison admissions office had a 90 percent increase in Twitter followers and nearly 60 percent increase in Facebook “likes” in the past year, said Ken Cutts, recruitment and media services manager.

Admissions counselors at the fair scanned about 300 prospective students’ barcodes into their database in just the first 90 minutes as part of the university’s recruiting effort.

Students obtained bar codes by signing up for the event online.

“It doesn’t replace the personal touch,” said Tim Cigelske, director of social media for Marquette University, which also participated in the fair. “Social media is the initial contact or follow-up to get someone to actually take a tour or meet with an admissions counselor.”

The effectiveness of social media-based recruiting initiatives has come under some question in recent years.

A survey published by online student community The Student Room showed that about one-fifth of college students think social media is “less influential and less trustworthy than more traditional sources such as prospectuses or open days.”

Many student respondents didn’t know their school had a presence on Twitter or Facebook.

Marquette also is among the colleges reaching out to high school students through social media like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram in an effort to expand recruiting.

The Milwaukee School of Engineering reaches out to high school students as early as their freshman year with a social media tool called Bridge that matches them with an admissions counselor and current students.

“We still call parents on the phone, but we meet students in their space on a social platform,” said Seandra Mitchell, director of admissions at MSOE.