Dean Tsouvalas, editor-in-chief of StudentAdvisor.com, recently interviewed Daniel Creasy, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins was ranked No. 1 on the Top 100 Social Media Colleges rankings released in fall 2011 and is recognized as a trailblazer in social media use among colleges.
This is the latest Q&A from StudentAdvisor, which has teamed up with eCampus News to share the latest social media strategies and trends in higher education in this monthly feature.
Here’s what Creasy had to say, including his philosophy that “more is better” when it comes to social networking platforms on campus.
DT: When did Johns Hopkins incorporate social media into the admissions process, and how did it all begin?
DC: December 2005 is when we first launched the Hopkins Interactive website and Hopkins Insider Admissions blog. Hopkins hired me two years prior in August 2003, and at my previous institution, American University, I dabbled in what we were calling at the time “e-Recruitment.” In 2001 and 2002, the number of social media that were out there was very limited and weren’t even called social media at the time.
When I got to Hopkins, I talked to my dean about using these technologies, and the one thing I really wanted to do was blog. He said, “Absolutely. Start looking into it.” His best advice to me was, “Take a year where you’re just learning how to recruit and evaluate for Hopkins. Be an admissions person for one year, and then go into it.” It was in my second year that I started to plan.
The best idea that I ever had was to bring in these students who would incorporate discussion and brainstorming of what we wanted to do.
The first site was not even close to what we have today. It was launched with a number of student blogs, a few student profiles. It was really just one page that linked off to the different blogs, and then it had the admissions blog that I was writing. We took off a couple of years later when we started doing Twitter and YouTube.
DT: Tell me some of the things you’re doing now at Johns Hopkins.
DC: Basically, our philosophy has always been more is better. Currently, we have 13 upperclassmen who are writing their own blogs. We have nine freshmen who have a shared blog. We also have an admissions blog and three other kinds of university-related blogs: a guest blog, an alumni blog, etc. We also have all of our archive blogs. We’ve amassed more than 4,000 individual entries between all of the blogs that we’ve had since 2005.
We have 25 student profiles on our main web site, and a very active message board where you directly ask questions of these students. We have an entire YouTube page with more than 80 videos that have all been student-created.
We have six students who are using Twitter, as well as a university Twitter account and a Twitter account that I [operate] as well.
We have a Flickr page with more than 500 pictures that have been student-submitted. All of these are pretty much run by a student group, which consists of 25 current students. They’re the ones who work behind the scenes and create all of the content.
DT: People talk a lot about protecting the information. Many schools don’t allow comments on their blogs. How do you respond to that?
DC: We definitely feel that the ability of our prospective audiences to comment, to communicate with us, to post on a Facebook page is what social media is about. So we keep those channels open.
The only protection we have against it is [anti-] spam features—just making sure we don’t get spammed. Other than that, if a prospective student goes to a blog or goes to our message board, they’re able to create posts or comments.
We do moderate. It’s very rare we ever delete a comment or remove a post, unless it doesn’t fit into the guidelines that we’ve set. In our guidelines to our message board, we state that we’re not going to comment on or about a student’s chances for admission.
DT: Talk about your staff of 25.
DC: Our selection process has grown, as each incoming class knows the resources of Hopkins Interactive a lot better. With what we’ve created now, there’s such a buzz about what we do. The incoming freshmen are contacted in the late summer with an application to fill out. It’s a three-page application, which includes writing two sample blogs.
They have to tell us their experiences with social media and then share with us some ideas on how they would improve the Hopkins Interactive site.
This year, we received more than 80 applications and brought in nine freshmen. Those students are then fully part of the group. Returning members—upperclassmen—tend to stay with the group. That’s how the group expands each year.
It’s pretty intense. By the first week of classes as freshmen, they’re already a part of something that’s a major organization—and they’re going to be blogging within two weeks of arriving on campus. I think that’s something we do that many other schools don’t—get those freshmen blogging right away.
DT: You have these 25 stars on your team. What are some of these young social media mavens doing that is inspiring?
DC: They really are what keep me going every day. What I’ve begun to realize is how much what they’re doing with me and what they’re doing with the admissions office is helping them along the way.
I just finished a letter of recommendation for a freshman who is applying for an internship at the White House. She wants to work in their communications division. And I’m thinking, “She’s already published 10 blogs, has a social media profile, has a Twitter account, she edits our YouTube videos.” She’s a viable candidate, and she’s only been in college for four or five months so far.
Anything new that we do, any new project or idea, is always coming from them, and I think what happens is the freshmen arrive and they are just so excited to do new things. We started Twitter because a student told me we should be on Twitter. We created a Flickr account because a student said we needed more pictures.
DT: Which departments at Johns Hopkins oversees the social media communities?
DC: At Johns Hopkins, we are decentralized in a lot of ways. Each office runs its own shop. The Hopkins Interactive site and all the students—that is run out of the Office of Admissions. I’m actually the only person in admissions who oversees them.
Other offices on campus are using social media for internal dialog, whether it be using a Twitter account for a specific class, updates, or Facebook pages. We’ve seen social media expand with student groups and faculty, but that’s for the internal community. The development office and alumni office are beginning to use social media to do outreach to their communities. The central communications office at Hopkins has been using a very active Twitter [account] and a very active Facebook page.
There’s no real central social media agenda for the entire university; it’s just different populations.
DT: Is there a social media policy or guidelines in place?
DC: We’ve been talking about it for a really long time about whether or not one should be created, but we haven’t put any pen to paper yet on a general philosophy across the campus. To some extent, it is difficult to do, because there are so many different agendas and initiatives at each of the different offices of a large university like Hopkins that you would have to deal with.
DT: How would you define social media success for you and what you’re doing at Hopkins?
DC: We incorporated analytics only about a year and a half ago. In terms of raw data, I won’t feel comfortable reporting data for another couple of years when we can compare a year-to-year cycle. In many ways, success has to be defined differently. The way that I feel, we’ve been successful; I always say there are three things:
1. Have we provided a good overview of what life is like at Hopkins in a candid way? I think we do that very well.
2. That we’re engaging our prospective community.
3. That we stay up-to-date with whatever the technology is.
DT: How has social media changed the admissions process?
DC: There’s two ways you can go when discussing the admissions process. There’s the selection process, and then there’s the recruitment and marketing process.
In terms of selection, I don’t think social media has changed us one bit. I know there are stories all the time about schools that are looking at students social media profiles, searching them on Google and Facebook. We don’t do that. We don’t have the time with 20,000 applicants.
As far as recruiting and marketing, I think in many ways it revolutionized the way we present the university. I look at comparing the view book that we present to our students now and compare it to when I started here. What you find is much less text, many more pictures—but also the student voice throughout it.
In fact, you go through the section on housing, there’s a couple pictures and a couple quotes about students living in the dorms, and there is this huge box about “go online to the Hopkins Cribs videos series.” I don’t think social media replaces print media especially. The parents want the view book, but the ability to continue the story online has really been a strategy we’re focusing on here.
Daniel Creasy is currently the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. He has been in admissions at Johns Hopkins for the past eight years, specializing in social media marketing and outreach. He was one of the first admissions counselors to use a personal blog as a form of outreach. Creasy coordinates the nationally recognized Hopkins Interactive social media platform.