Office of Communications plans a restructured Skidmore website: Administrators take first-year student opinions into account in redesigning the College's webpages

Posted by Adrian Appleman

Based on the comments from first-year student focus groups held throughout November, the Office of Communications, in conjunction with the Admissions Office, will execute a complete revamp of the College's online and print publications.

The series of focus groups, conducted annually for the past three years, focuses mainly on first-year students and their experiences with the college admissions process. Administrators for the groups included Daniella Nordin, online community manager, Daniel Forbush, executive director of Communications, Emmeline Taylor '14, a student blogger for the Office of Communications' new proprietary social networking site, Skidmore Student-to-Student, and Peter MacDonald, director of Recruitment Marketing.

One component of this year's focus groups was the implementation of a Facebook community for incoming students. On Oct. 24, the Office of Communications sent out a survey to all first-year students asking for feedback on the admissions process, as well as the College's Facebook pages and applications.

"The results of the survey reinforced that a majority of the students use Facebook as their primary way to connect with people," Nordin said.

Of the 103 first-year students who responded to the survey, 92.2 percent "liked" the Class of 2015 Facebook page, and 87.4 percent subsequently joined the private "Skidmore College" Facebook application.

"Incoming students seemed to love that they could make connections before stepping foot on campus," Nordin said. "One student even said he met his girlfriend through the site."

Further analyses of the feedback from focus groups from this and last semester showed that what students valued most during the admissions process was the personal connections with people who were already part of the college community.

"It's always about the people," said Romeo Makore '15, an international first-year student from Zimbabwe who participated in the Nov. 7 focus group and applied to Skidmore early decision having never visited campus. "Everyone at Skidmore is amazing, and everyone is accepting."

While students approved of the College's outreach on Facebook, overall they disapproved of its main website. "You shouldn't have to dig to find out about the school you want to attend," said Makore said on the difficulties navigating the site. "It should be right in front of you."

"We've known the website needs an update for a while now," Nordin conceded. "That's why we are going through a 'refreshing' period."

Efforts to redesign the website are already under way. Upcoming changes include translating the website into Spanish and Mandarin, soon to be followed by other languages to help promote international student interest.

Another possible change includes converting the "Skidmore Mind Owner's Manual," an informational manual on the average Skidmore student's mind, into an interactive web application for prospective students.

Further changes to the main website will debut between June and August of 2012, including the current "Creative Thought at Work" campaign evolving into an all-encompassing "Creative Thought Works" branch of the website, expanding it to more than just the alumni profiles offered now.

"What particularly stood out to the students were the alumni stories," said Nordin said. "We are also looking to build web components for these publications."

Edwards and Company, a communications consulting firm that helped develop the College's "Creative Thought Matters" campaign in 2002, worked with the Admissions and Communications departments to redesign the website and refresh the admissions publications.

"We wanted a better understanding of 'Creative Thought Matters'," said Forbush said, "and how it is interpreted by different audiences – what it means to the greater Skidmore community."

Through the focus groups, along with the "Recruitment Communication Strategy Group," a new coalition of several departments that including the Office of Communications, Admissions, the First-Year Experience, the Web Team, etc., Communications has re-prioritized what to focus on when it comes to refurbishing the website.

"We want more emphasis on story-telling and a focus on the outcomes of a Skidmore education," Forbush said.

With its success in generating productive feedback, the Communications department plans on continuing this series of focus groups for years to come. "Two years ago," Forbush said, "focus groups helped us understand the importance of Facebook in the admissions process. We'll always do this; we always want feedback on how we're doing." 

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