BY ANNA HERKAMP
DANVILLE — Danville Area Community College — along with other institutions — face a dilemma with the youngest group of prospective college students — they don’t trust anything.
At least not marketing or advertising messages, anyway.
Most teens and young adults, according to marketing research, tend to follow friends’ advice on everything from fashion to iPods — and even where to go to school, rather than advertising or marketing messages.
So this summer, Danville Area Community College Marketing Director Lara Conklin decided to meet prospective DACC students where they spend a lot of their time — on social networking pages.
DACC now has its own facebook.com and myspace.com sites.
The pages seem to be working.
DACC, a male, single, 61-year-old Virgo, has 65 friends, according to Myspace. Facebook lists more than 200 friends, Conklin said.
The DACC accounts were added to the social networking sites a little over a month ago, so any direct marketing success as a result has yet to be determined.
“This is an ongoing campaign,” she explained.
For now, she’d like to use the site as a way to let 18-year-olds know the college is available — and useful — to them.
Myspace users who link up with DACC might get curious enough about the school to check out the school’s official Web site, which is a tool young adults do trust, Conklin said.
“People really trust a school’s Web site,” she said.
The DACC message is even better distributed peer-to-peer, she added.
In fact, most DACC “friends” sent requests to DACC to be friends just because their friends were already linked up.
Conklin is in charge of the site for now.
She fields many questions — some from young people wanting to know about the school, others from students who want to know when the bookstore opens this year.
Some send messages through the site to ask who had done the Myspace page. One young woman wrote amidst some disbelief.
“She said this is a really cool site, but she had a hard time believing an institution would do a Facebook or a Myspace,” Conklin said.
This generation asks questions and is skeptical in a way that their parents’ weren’t, she said.
“You can’t be false in any way,” she said.
“They’re media-savvy. Under no circumstances can you prevaricate (the source of information on the site). They do distrust.”
Brian Pollitt, a spring 2008 DACC graduate and current programmer with the school’s administrative data systems, helped Conklin set the sites up.
He agrees they’re effective for younger students, and are a way to get more prospective students to look seriously into the college.
“I do think this is an effective way (to market the college),” he said.
“A lot of colleges and high schools use this site. Almost everyone I know has an account on one or both.”
Conklin’s next goal is to find a student or group of students who will regulate the sites’ traffic. She’d like students to write blogs about why they chose DACC.
Some students, Conklin said, go to a school because they know the academic programs there are in line with what they want to do for a career.
Other students aren’t quite as sure, and follow their friends to whatever school they choose, she said.
Either group of students has a place at DACC.
That’s the message Conklin wants to impart.
For example, students who want to go into veterinary science or pharmacy usually think of either Purdue University or the University of Illinois as viable local options because the schools are well-known.
But Conklin wants them to know they can start an in-state university program like veterinary science right here in Danville, at DACC.
“We need to tell them that in a way they’ll listen to it,” she said.
“People don’t think of beginning that kind of a degree at DACC.”
But the new marketing techniques also need to reach students who aren’t aiming for universities.
Jobs in skilled labor, such as in the manufacturing industry, now also call for post-secondary education.
Current high school kids need to know about the variety of opportunity they have at the college.
DACC also serves a larger adult population of workers who need re-training for new careers. Many of these adults may not have considered college before.
“We need to make sure people are getting this information when they’re ready to receive it,” she said.
That’s why the effects of the social networking sites can’t be directly measured in enrollment numbers, she said.
“It’s going to be more of an indirect effect on attitude,” she said.