The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is latching onto a catchphrase from the Twittersphere as it completes a six-month social media project.
The University launched an “Only At GW” website Wednesday – a flashy, interactive website using student stories to link the GW experience with D.C.
The site allows prospective students to sort GW headlines, tweets and stories according to their interests, such as Greek life, sustainability and media. It is part-blog, part-chatroom with bright designs and technicolor photos portraying campus life, part of GW's massive rebranding campaign.
“Instead of trying to create a product that’s a fit, and forcing that fit, we’re going to do something that’s more organic, that’s already in the culture of prospective students,” Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment Marketing Deborah Snelgrove said. "We can deliver a GW experience on their own terms.”
The new website largely repackages existing content, features from GW Today and the admissions office’s student blogs.
Its chat function connects students to an admissions representative – part of the one-on-one “relationship building” that Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper said is key to attracting quality students.
Napper said she wants prospective students to go on the new website and think, “ ‘I like what that girl is saying about 'X,’ or ‘I like what that video says about what’s happening on this front’; ‘I like what the faculty is doing in their research,' " even if they cannot make a campus visit.
Napper said prospective students can glean a better understanding of the school by hearing what real students are doing on and off campus.
“One of the biggest sellers about the University is our students, is what each student experiences from academics to social life,” Napper said.
It pitches the GW experience as one that includes internships on the Hill, trips to Nationals games and paddleboating on the Potomac.
Last year, the office stressed face-to-face communications, but this year she said she wanted to boost GW's online presence in correlation with GW's new logo and branding campaign.
GW’s social media focus echoes those of admissions offices across the country that are spending more on online outreach, according to a report by CUnet, a firm that specializes in higher education marketing.
The study, released Sept. 20, reported that 84 percent of institutions say traditional marketing approaches – such as direct mail campaigns or print advertisements – are not enough. Nearly 50 percent of those schools said they plan to increase outreach through social media in the next year.
Napper said a large portion of GW's admissions funds are going toward social media, but said travel for admissions officers remains the largest cost.
She said the office does not track its cost of online outreach.
Cam Cruickshank, founder of Enrollment Builders, an enrollment managing consultant firm, said the explosion of social media use by higher education institutions will “level the playing field” for schools nationwide.
“It’s made it less about how much marketing muscle a company or college has, and it’s more about how good of a quality of the service or product is provided and if the produce or service deliver the value that the customer was expecting,” he said.