The Story Behind the Numbers

At the 69th NACAC National Conference in Toronto in September, I had the opportunity to attend an educational session presented by Bob Bennett, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Clemson University; Sundar Kumarasamy, Vice President of Enrollment Management at the University of Dayton; and our own Melissa Rekos, Vice President of Digital Services at Carnegie. Their presentation, “Using Data Analysis and Market Segmentation to Reach and Engage the Right Prospects—and Their Families—Online,” focused on lesser-known sources of real-time data, methods to tackle market analysis head-on, and opportunities to reach core prospective audiences online.

During the session, I was struck by Mr. Kumarasamy’s piece on data analysis. While focusing time on digital content and audience engagement, Mr. Kumarasamy (with special mention of his team’s work at the University of Dayton) stressed the importance of looking beyond data to uncover narrative through an organization’s digital and social media assets. With three stories of his own, Mr. Kumarasamy clearly illustrated the power of his team’s approach.

1. On content created/shared internally

On March 13, 2013, the University of Dayton announced a scholarship contest, through Facebook, that invited prospective students to create a video with a big charge: “Produce a short video on how you’re going to change the world, upload it to our contest site and generate buzz—and votes. You can win a $40,000 scholarship to the University of Dayton.”

With his colleagues, Mr. Kumarasamy consistently monitored the reach and reaction to the contest. In the graph (left), you’ll see a breakdown that highlights a clear reaction, through Facebook Insights, to their announcement. While there was no doubt that the effort created extraordinary buzz, Mr. Kumarasamy highlighted the importance of looking into the reactions of all content created internally: Is your audience reacting? How? If not, why? Is there a time of day, or week, that your audience is most engaged?

Don’t stop there, either: Is the reaction reflective of negative feedback? Have users chosen to hide your stories or report spam? Is there positive feedback (likes, re-tweets, or shares)? As your team seeks the answers to these questions, you’ll simultaneously discover methods of reaching your target constituencies at the right time.

2. On content created/shared externally

As social media continues to change the way we connect with prospective students (and each other), we must remind ourselves that our followers have as important a role in generating and circulating content useful and relevant to external audiences than we do alone. In the graph below (again, from Facebook Insights), Mr. Kumarasamy portrayed the reach of Dayton content impressions driven by specific users on a social media platform. In this example, a story published on August 12 was widely distributed, and viewed, after a user with 1,699,451 followers shared it on Facebook during the same day.

If you imagine the flow of your content beyond clicking “publish” on your website’s content management system, you might find the most compelling reasons behind your Web trends are best attributed to a small group of individuals that shared your content to their own networks. In the future, consider how you might engage with your digitally connected audiences, as they hold an extremely important role in sharing the story of your institution. 

3. Looking beyond the basics

Once you’ve seen the Admissions Lobby at the University of Dayton ([Video] from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “The Marketer and His Mission”), it’s no surprise that Mr. Kumarasamy is fond of visual interactivity. With a consistent eye on engagement and connectivity, he often uses a heat map, with ClickTale’s product, to understand how users interact with Dayton’s online media (University of Dayton’s home page below).

Reviewing a heat map on your institution’s website can answer a few questions—and uncover others—right away: Of the users on each of your website’s pages, where did they click first, and most? Where did they hover their cursor? How long did it take for users to click on a particular link? Did they hesitate? When you create landing pages for programs, open house visits, and your application portal, examine these trends with focus on providing your users with as much interactive value as possible. Basic traffic, page views, and bounce rate statistics might summarize the story of your audience—looking at your website through their eyes will give you the full story.

As a self-proclaimed enthusiast of all things data, Mr. Kumarasamy challenges himself, and his Dayton-based team, to decode the story that exists behind numbers, statistics, and charts. During the packed 8:30 a.m. session on the last day of the NACAC conference, it’s transparent that he’s been successful in his charge.

You can follow me on Twitter @jyoumell; or on Google Plus as Jake Youmell.

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