Title: Discussion Boards, Chat Rooms, Diaries (Blogs), the Power of Transparency
The internet has made a dramatic impact on how colleges can
communicate with applicants, how applicants expect us to communicate, and
how applicants are communicating with each other and sharing each others'
experiences during the admissions process. This session explores in detail
how you can move your website to a new level of effectiveness by
implementing discussion boards, chat rooms and diaries (blogs) as part of your "web strategy." The result: a
new opportunity to be more closely attuned with your applicants' needs and
therefore develop more effective communications that achieve higher yield
rates. Discussion boards can be used for customer service, building
community (pre- and post-admissions) and traditional marketing. Diaries allow students to show the reality of their
experiences at the school.
We will look
at some "rules" for effective use of discussion boards, and some of the lessons learned through
the experience of the Wharton MBA Program's implementation of this strategy.
Context; Goals and Rules
Context: Why Discussion boards, what role do they support?
We are now in an environment, thanks to the internet, where:
Role of the Wharton MBA Admissions Website:
- Candidates are talking to each other (Networks)
- Companies (and hence universities) lack of complete control over their messages and brand
- Honesty and transparency become critical to the conversation (interactions the customer,
students and applicants)
- You rely on your customers (students), understand they are a medium, prepared to deliver
messages applicants (respond to discussion board, post a diary entry
- You should embrace new media, don't hide
- Transactions (register for events, receive decisions etc.)
- Community (Student 2 Student (S2S) and Student Diaries)
- PR (general web site content, S2S content, diary content)
- Customer Service (general web site content, S2S content)
How do discussion boards (S2S) fit the
While the discussion boards (S2S) are the primary tool for community building, they also
serve a role in online decisions (as soon as someone gets their decision they can gather
and meet people with similar decisions to begin building community if admitted, or express
frustrations if not), marketing / PR (having current students addressing questions about
the program and giving real insight) and customer service (answer applicant related
questions, questions related to completing the online application etc., answers from
administration, current students and fellow applicants). Discussion boards also help in
marketing research, as you can really understand the issues relevant to your markets as
these issues are discussed (gain a real pulse to the market).
Context of web site with other schools' web based services.
Also important to note are the experiences of candidates across all schools, and how does the
school fit that landscape (media tapestry)? Benchmark other schools, copy what works, innovate
where it is important to do so. Benchmarking allows you to better understand your candidates'
expectations when they come to your web site.
While looking at peer school sites, also consider external sites such as Business Week for MBA applicants.
Goals: Transparency and why?
Important to allow candidates to really understand:
This increases the size of the relevant pool of applicants versus total pool, and insures the
application is a strong proxy for the applicant. This mindset is important for adopting
discussion boards, and it expected from our applicant pools. By forming a closer relationship
with the applicant pool, we can increase yields of those we admit (those we admit already know
the school / program well, and have a positive affinity with the experience with the school).
- Your program
- Your application process
Discussion board system requirements
4 Cs of use (rules for posting to discussion boards), be:
Integration with other media, including voicemail, e-mail, catalogs, the web and your web-site
- Usability: Prospero.com
Design usability is of increased importance since the value of the discussion board is dependent
on the community adding content, thus it is not simply an issue of good navigation to read, but
also to add information.
- Systems View.
The discussion board system includes the techology and its design usability and functionality,
the administrator and "response team", the prospective students who may interact as customers and
other current students who may decide to contribute. The interactions of each of these elements
needs to be understood.
There are no secrets, what you tell one candidate must be appropriate for all candidates. Assume
all communications you write belong in the public domain. While some communications may be
private legally, be prepared for them to appear everywhere.
Responses should be short and to the point (almost terse) while adding enough context to make
sure there are no misinterpretations. Those asking questions are not interested in hearing how
wonderful everything is and how grateful you are of their interest, they are interested in the
answer to their question.
The best means of being consistent (above) is to be candid. Once you start "stretching" reality
it is hard to be consistent, and remember, people can search all responses and can see your
consistency. Also, candidates will discover reality before they enroll, better they discover it
early in the process so if reality is not good for the candidate, then you won't waste an admit
on someone who ultimately would be better somewhere else.
Instant gratification is a driver, if people see quick responses they are more likely to use the
medium to ask more questions, so respond frequently. This is not a once a week medium. Better
to interact with it in regular short bursts.
for fifth C: Community
Like all communities you need a formal Code of Conduct. Once the community reaches a certain scale, the Culture of the
community is established, such that the official code of conduct becomes less relevant and the
community behavior is developed by the community itself.
Discussion boards (asynchronous communication) versus chat rooms (synchronous communication:
Use chat rooms with discussion boards, announce chats to bring people to your website for a
purpose. Create a chat schedule that is well publicized and be very consistent when chats are
offered. Note, candidates may want to schedule their own chats, with each other, no problem with
Examples: a list of examples that highlight the use
using Discussion Boards.
The following was posted by an applicant, summarizing the advantages
and disadvantages of discussion boards:
- Builds wharton applicant community. Large upfront effort, (relatively) minimial ongoing
- Demonstration of wharton's student driven culture to applicants (vs. brochure/visit)
- Applicant loyalty - increases yield rates upon acceptance due to maintained "touch" and
developed relationships between accepted applicants
- Helps applicants self-select resulting in more qualified applicants
- Help Wharton remain responsive to applicant issues
- Forum establishes trust with applicants
- Helps connect students and applicants (Taniah, FF, etc.)
- Provides a community for internationals to connect with during application process
- Access to info ensures more informed visits, applications, etc.
- Keeps adcom in touch with applicant pulse
By the numbers
- Cost associated with maintaining consistent communication (and quality). Quality and crap
must always be met with a smile.
- Access can make you too connected (difficult to unplug - see bullet 1)
- The more transparent you make the process, the more Wharton opens the door for ludicrious and
ridiculous questions (see bullet 1 & 2)
- Potential downside of too much communication, if managed wrong, could backfire affecting PR
(team of individuals, not department make discussion forums sucessful)
- Applicants still don't know what you guys look like!
- These strings are cyclical.... it would be nice if there was a better search and retrieve
tool to pull up previously discussed "how the process works," "what's the timing" type
Number of posts, over last three years, increases due to changes in technology, and higher
yr 1 = eshare for etalk (admitted students)
yr 2 = eshare for etalk (1,000 posts) and s2s (2,000 posts)
yr 3 = prospero for etalk (10,000 posts) and s2s (10,000 posts): change in technology and
therefore design usabilty.
yr 4 = prospero for etalk and s2s (20,000 posts S2S: 12,000 for e-talk) higher level of
integration within the admissions site, e-talk increase will be attributed to learning how to use
S2S and increased use of S2S.
yr 5 = same technologies with greater integration (and integration of diary site), s2s = 22,000, e-talk = ? diary entries,
upwards of 1,000 page views.
Chat Party for R1
I must say that by
creating a "community of applicants" with their message board
MBA Admissions Site
explain integration, how does the site pull the diary and discussion entries ?
access the discussion board and answer a question
view latest diary entries
MBA Applicant / Student BlogsFuture
Deciding to come to
Wharton: But I'm excited about Wharton. 1)I feel a connection with the Whartonites that I didn't feel anywhere else
Discussion boards can also be useful for:
Having the applicants familiar with the technology through the application process removes the
need to learn a new user interface as students evolve into the different communities (applicant,
current student and alumni). This increases the likihood these new communities will work.
- Current students: implementations for career management, and general class and out-of-class
discussions. The advantage of this model versus separate "portals" for each class, or club, is
the cross-promotional effects that will occur as people can see discussions evolving that they
may not be directly involved (as long as the design does not overwhelm with too much content, and
the information in classes and clubs is not proprietary). There will also be issues that can be
discussed that may not fit neatly into only a class discussion and / or a club discussion.
- Alumni: similar to applicants, alumni are scattered accross the world but have similar
reasons to connect to Wharton and to each other. Leveraging the community will make the
community more valuable for each member, classic Knowledge @ Wharton), graduating class etc.
- Lifelong Learning: students are on our campus for a short period of their time, we now have
the ability to keep them connected for life, and provide learning resources for life.
Discussion Boards w/ Chat Rooms: Prospero
@ Wharton Article