Higher Education Marketing Expert Predicts a Revolution in College Recruiting

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TargetX CEO Brian Niles says schools are entering a new era -- "Recruiting 2.0" -- where students expect conversations instead of marketing; where they prefer interactive tools like blogs and instant messaging; and where they want the unvarnished truth about colleges.

High-school age Millennials are revolutionizing the way colleges communicate with prospective students, says the founder of interactive recruiting firm TargetX.

And schools that ignore the revolution risk undermining their marketing efforts, says Brian Wm. Niles, a former university admissions officer and pioneer in using the Internet to recruit students.

The current crop of college-bound students, part of the so-called Millennial generation born after 1981, are different from their predecessors in the way they respond to information, says Niles, TargetX CEO.

"These teenagers are much more interactive," he explains. "They want to converse with colleges, not be marketed to. They want to be able to ask questions and comment on what they see and hear. They demand the unvarnished truth and are extremely resistant to hype and advertising speak."

Schools need to accomplish this interaction and new level of truth telling through the technologies that today's teens know and love best, says Niles, including instant messaging, blogs, podcasts, personalized email and text messaging.

"I call this new environment Recruiting 2.0," he says. "You can no longer talk at students through publications, direct mail, static websites and email broadcasts. You have to open a dialogue with them.

"And you can't rely on slick marketing copy to tell the story of your school. You have to let your current students and faculty and alumni explain what differentiates you from other colleges -- and in their own words. Teens find that much more believable and authentic."

Niles says higher education administrators have to recognize what marketers in other industries have already accepted -- the consumer is in charge.

An example of how the prospective student is increasingly in charge, says Niles, is this year's college applicant pool.

"Many schools are telling us that one-fourth of their applications for next fall's freshman class represent the first point of contact," he explains. "That means students are finding enough information on their own to decide where they want to apply -- and where they don't."

Niles' Recruiting 2.0 concept reflects his belief that colleges have been marketing the same way since they realized 25 years ago that they had to compete for students by producing slick brochures and direct mail campaigns.

"Even when they started recruiting online in the late '90s, they simply communicated electronically the way they were communicating with ink and paper," he says. "Now students are forcing a revolution in the way colleges recruit. Version 1.0 won't work with this group, so it's time for a new phase that is more interactive, more candid, less controlled. It's finally time for an upgrade."

About TargetX

TargetX is the leading provider of interactive recruiting solutions to higher education, helping colleges lower their costs and strengthen their connections with prospective students (http://www.targetx.com). The company offers communications planning, creative services and proprietary technology to such clients as Columbia University, the University of Miami, Drexel University, Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Oregon and Ohio State University.

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Ray Ulmer
TARGETX
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