On Feb. 8, 2012, Sweet Briar College’s official Facebook page recorded its 10,000th “like,” becoming the first women’s college in the country known to reach that mark.
On Sept. 5, 2011, the Office of Media, Marketing and Communications commenced a rigorous campaign to expand the marketing reach of the small college in rural Virginia, in part through its Facebook presence. Dubbed “Project Rosebud,” the measurable goals were simple: to increase the average number of prospective-student inquiries from 80 per month to 200 per month, and to move the number of Facebook likes from less than 4,000 to 7,000 within a 90-day window. By Dec. 1, the like-count stood at 7,046, and requests for admissions information were averaging close to the monthly goal.
The fall Rosebud campaign was designed around deliberate messaging tailored to achieve benchmarks identified in Sweet Briar’s strategic plan. The marketing office used any and all media at its disposal to continually refresh the College’s own web pages and social media sites with images and stories illustrating seven institutional characteristics — one for every day of the week: academics; athletics and riding; experiential learning including study abroad and internships, a 3,250-acre campus that provides a “landscape for learning”; graduates who change the world; traditions and history; and the advantage of attending an all-women’s institution.
Behind these efforts, demographically targeted advertising on Facebook helped drive new traffic to the College’s official page. To make sure visitors liked what they saw, and to tell the Sweet Briar story in persuasive and personal ways, daily posts included videos, news releases, student and alumnae profiles, photography, print publications and shared online content.
“We organized this effort for the height of the admissions recruiting season and with careful attention to reach out through video, stories, photos and events,” said Zach Kincaid, director of marketing.
“We also were intent on replying to every question that came through our Facebook wall. It was an intense time with really clear goals — raise inquiries and increase applications.”
Regular posts continued when Rosebud concluded in the fall. A second iteration of the campaign is under way this spring, Kincaid said, with a “new set of challenging priorities that will invite an even larger audience.”
The marketing office also asked for and received the enthusiastic support of others in the community. For example, more than 30 faculty members have recorded videos for an ongoing series titled “Why I love teaching at Sweet Briar.”
While Facebook is effective in reaching highly specific audiences, it’s just one of several tools applied toward the ultimate goal of increasing enrollment. The combined efforts led to a 20-percent jump in applications and 25-percent increase in inquiries over the same time last year.
However, site statistics do reflect that substantially more new and returning visitors arrived at sbc.edu via Facebook in late fall 2011 versus the same period in 2010. Based on available data, the numbers are estimated to be more than four times greater this year than last.
Counting Facebook likes began as one easily quantifiable measure of Rosebud’s efficacy. As they piled up, it became fun. It also prompted an inevitable peek at the pages of peer institutions, including women’s colleges. Based on a survey of Women’s College Coalition members, Sweet Briar officials are confident in claiming to be the first to reach 10,000 Facebook fans.