A Facebook regular, Jerry Chasteen ’15 posted a separate profile to Nazareth College’s own Schools on Facebook application – a private Facebook community designed to help incoming freshmen make friends, ask questions, and share interests – a few weeks before classes started. By the time he arrived on campus, the business administration major had made 15 connections with his new classmates.
“Within one or two days we’d met and it was like we already knew each other,” says Chasteen, who had made more than 50 connections by early October. “It made the whole transition of living on my own so much easier.”
Nazareth launched its Schools on Facebook application this year – becoming one of only a few colleges in the country to do so. All incoming freshmen were invited to join the application, and by the time classes began, 430 students had signed up.
Nazareth is embracing social media as a strategic way to make the campus more inviting, and has over the past few years become a leader in using social networking sites and other online platforms for marketing, recruitment and communications.
Besides having its own YouTube channel, Nazareth uses Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates (and has more than 1,000 followers); the social networking site Foursquare for scavenger hunts and discount specials in the bookstore and dining halls; and the photo sharing application Flickr to showcase images of the campus.
“Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are now being used to reinforce Nazareth’s brand by pushing out news and events that showcase the quality of Nazareth’s faculty and the vibrancy of the campus,” says Alicia Nestle, assistant director of new media. “In just one year, from 2010 to 2011, we’ve doubled our Facebook fan base and our Twitter followers also continue to grow. All the hard work has paid off – according to Google Analytics, Facebook is consistently one of the top 10 drivers of traffic to www.naz.edu.”
Staying ahead of the social media curve is crucial, particularly given that 70 percent of high school students recently surveyed by the College Board reported visiting social networking sites at least once a day.
The marketing and communications team at Nazareth saw the potential of social media early on. With the 2009 redesign of the College’s website, which allowed for richer content online with the use of photography and video, the team – restructured by director of marketing and communications Kate Philbin – made sure all social media outlets were featured prominently and easily accessible to visitors. Nestle, a PR professional reappointed to her current position, along with Julie Long in media relations, then built a strong presence on Nazareth’s social media sites by creating monthly social media user groups and hiring a social media student worker to help strategize ways to attract more online traffic.
“I also instructed the team to always push readers from our publications to www.naz.edu,” notes Philbin, “so that every story in our alumni magazine, Connections, has a URL at the end, and every brochure, postcard and other piece of marketing material includes social media icons.”
Given the surge in mobile device usage – and the 250 percent increase in mobile visits to www.admissions.naz.edu over the past year – Nazareth used analytics and sought opinions from prospective students to launch a new mobile admissions site this fall.
“Social media use is growing, and we want to make sure we’re in the right place,” says Mike McGwin, director of enrollment research and communication.
Focused on the end-experience of the user, the mobile site, designed and developed under the leadership of assistant director of web communications Elizabeth Zapata and in partnership with Buffalo-based Mongoose Research, is an alternative to the more expansive version, offering a much more detailed look at what the campus offers.
Instead of pulling up a general outline of the campus layout, for example, mobile users can get a street view of the campus with directions by using the embedded Google Map, compare different types of financial aid, explore academic offerings, and more. Visitors can also use the mobile site to learn about open houses and information sessions.
“And we’re just going to keep building on that,” says Zapata, who was also responsible for identifying and implementing the Schools on Facebook application. “We want to continue looking at what our audience cares about, whether they’re prospective students, current students, or alumni, and find opportunities to really engage them.”
It all feeds a commitment to offering individualized and meaningful connections online and then, ultimately, offline.
Holly Kohler ’15, a nursing major, ended up meeting some of her best friends through Nazareth’s Facebook application: “It was nice to recognize faces and know things about people even before getting here.”