UB Uses Instant Messaging to Recruit Prospective Students

Release Date: June 26, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Recognizing that for many teens email has become passé, the University at Buffalo is among the first universities in the country to utilize instant messaging (IM) -- the preferred method of online communication of American teens -- to communicate with prospective students.

Tapping into teen-agers' demand for rapid response, the UB Office of Admissions went live with instant messaging last September and to date has logged more than 1,100 individual contacts with prospective students.

"Since the university's wide use of technology is a key factor in our marketing messages, our use of this tool helps us to 'walk the walk,'" says Regina S. Toomey, associate vice provost for new student recruitment programs at UB, ranked by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine as the 11th most wired campus in the U.S.

IM, Toomey adds, not only is cost-effective and user-friendly, it's also comfortable in its anonymity, which seems to ease the difficulty teens may have in asking questions.

And the measure of convenience can't be beat. "It's there when the student wants it," she says.

Nearly three out of four of America's 13 million online teens use IM, according to a study released recently by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Among the 73 percent of them who go online daily, it found that 89 percent use instant messaging and one in five say its their primary means of keeping in touch with friends. Such statistics are not to be ignored when colleges and universities consider the most effective way to communicate with prospective students.

UB's Office of Admissions has found IM integral to drawing prospective students into the admissions process: teens know IM, they like it and, most important, it's part of their social scene, according to Andrew H. Morris, who oversee the project as telecounseling supervisor in the UB Office of Admissions.

Morris notes that as a conduit for connecting with prospective students, instant messaging offers real-time, interactive, one-on-one communication between a student looking for answers to questions about UB and a UB student telecounselor who can offer an insider's perspective.

Just as email requires a username, IM requires an anonymous "screen name" in order to communicate with another user through America On Line Instant Messenger (AIM), the software used at UB. Prospective students also hooked into AIM can contact UB through one of two screen names: "ubadmit" for general inquiries and "ubadmitmetro" for New York City-area students. Prospective students are encouraged to add "ubadmit" to their IM "buddy list" from their earliest contacts with the admissions office.

Part of an intensive telecounseling program that also includes phoning and emailing prospective students, IM has been available only during evening hours, but will expand to include daytime hours this fall, Morris adds.

To promote greater access, the UB Office of Admissions is preparing to expand its service to users of other IM providers, such as ICQ, MSN and Yahoo, and plans to add a screen name for students at other institutions interested in transferring to UB.

The goal of the UB teleteam -- comprised of some 20 trained undergraduate telecounselors who serve as telephone counselors, as well keyboard answers to questions received via IM -- is to build lasting relationships with prospective students that will see them through the recruiting process, into acceptance and right up to enrollment, Morris says.

Given that among members of the "Millennial Generation" email no longer reigns supreme as the fastest or most fashionable mode of online communication, Morris says UB's IM approach gives young adults already immersed in this medium the opportunity to reach out to the university in a way that appeals to them.

"We hope that when we reach the student by telephone, the student wants to talk about their college choices," Morris says. "But I also know that when students reach out to UB, their questions, their interest level and their thirst to engage in an ongoing conversation is greater than it is when we initiate it. This affords us the opportunity to be even more responsive to students' questions and concerns."

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