Schools Turn to Facebook Ads to Recruit Students

Social Networking Becomes Another Tool for Attracting Applicants

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NEW YORK ( -- Adeodatus Ronie Twumasi didn't know sports-M.B.A. programs existed until he saw the Facebook ad. At age 23, he has a lot of options. His straight-A average in economics from the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. makes him a serious contender for an M.B.A. program at Wharton or Harvard and an investment-banking career. And his enviable athletic skills have garnered him an offer to play as a linebacker for the British American Football team, the GB Lions.
Scott Minto, program director for SDSU's sports M.B.A. program
Scott Minto, program director for SDSU's sports M.B.A. program

That's why, in early August, Mr. Twumasi was intrigued by the sports-M.B.A. program at San Diego State University. The program's Facebook page, which he found after stumbling on the program's small box ad, had photos and videos of alumni events at the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach and San Diego Padres games. He quickly contacted the director of the school, whose phone number and e-mail address were listed on the page, for more information.

As it turns out, recruitment for SDSU's sports M.B.A. program has been done almost entirely through Facebook since June, two months before the coming application season began. According to Scott Minto, program director, it is a lot of time -- uploading videos and e-mailing current and prospective students -- and a little money well spent.

A $100 ad on Facebook can lead a prospective applicant to the program's Facebook page. During one day, one particular ad got about 160 clicks, which translated into five program "friends" and still more visits to the site. Since advertising on Facebook, the school's website receives more than 8,000 unique visitors each month. Mr. Minto expects even bigger numbers as the application season unfolds. And, of course, when prospective students become friends of the program, their friends know. The viral marketing is free.

Steven Price, an intern with the Minnesota Vikings, found the Facebook page while researching sports-M.B.A. programs. Struck by the postings of alumni events, he was also impressed with the easy access to the program's director. When he asked about the school, Mr. Minto invited him to an open house.

Virtual meetup
Through Facebook, Mr. Minto introduced him to Ben Seiz, a student. Because Mr. Price already has more than 940 Facebook friends, "meeting" Mr. Seiz though the web was natural. When Mr. Price attended the open house, he stayed with Mr. Seiz.

He came away impressed. Mr. Price said the easy contacts inspired the visit. "If I didn't have that," he said, "I would never even have made the trip."

Students in the program range in age from 22 to 35, with a median class age of 27, a demographic that neatly overlaps Facebook users. Linking to prospective students keeps the school in their consciousness with regular updates of activities at the San Diego Chargers' training camp or a PGA Golf Tour. "This is more than any text in a brochure could do," said Mr. Minto.

Of course, not all academics view Facebook as an acceptable recruiting tool. Jeremiah Nelson, director of professional student services and interim director of the M.B.A. program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said the school's sports-M.B.A. program does not use Facebook. "It's a hot topic in graduate programs," he said, adding that university academics debate the appropriateness of educators contacting students through what is primarily a social network. "Education is different than advertising for a product," he said. But a Facebook page that displays a school's activities would be appropriate, he said. "It's a forward-thinking use of the technology."

While he said he would never disqualify applicants if they did not use social networks, Mr. Minto also said he does not favor them because they are Facebook friends. He compared it to a job interview where an applicant asks questions and follows up with a thank-you note. If someone writes eloquently about the program, it might carry some weight.

Mr. Twumasi, meanwhile, remains undecided about his future, but is considering SDSU's program. "It was one of those serendipitous things," he said. "Sometimes you just ignore the ads. But this caught my eye."
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