Business schools that aren’t meeting prospective applicants on their mobile devices and via social media may need to rethink their strategy—and fast. This according to a recent survey measuring how today’s mobile generation consumes media as part of the MBA admissions process. Results of the survey, conducted by Southwark Consulting and the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), were released last week.
“Everyone has read stories and surveys about this newest generation shifting its media consumption habits,” says Southwark consultant Alex Brown, who co-authored the study. “The interesting thing about this study is that it is the first one to specifically target people applying to or considering business school.” The survey’s 743 respondents from around the world were all registered on mba.com, the official website of the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), which is the primary entrance exam for business school applicants.
The results of the survey confirm what has been reported in the popular press—that the rate of smartphone adoption among millennials is ubiquitous, between 96 and 97 percent. It also revealed social media’s significant rise in importance as a place where this audience gathers its news. In broad terms, people have been looking to the internet at the expense of print, radio and TV for some time now. But the survey helped shine a spotlight on the newest phenomenon, which is that the current generation of business school applicants now learn things first on their phone—not their PC—and in their news feed, be it Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or some other social media platform.
“Business schools, on the whole, are laggards in their adoption of using these platforms effectively to communicate with their audiences,” says Brown, who worked in graduate management admissions for 15 years, including seven at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, before leaving to teach digital marketing.
That the schools are lagging is par for the course, says Brown, since there’s always an element of catch up involved with technological shifts. “There is no criticism here, but what business schools have been doing in terms of their mobile presence is a little bit behind the curve,” he says.
Business schools, therefore, need to have a strategy that gets their content into those news feeds, since doing so makes that content more relevant and more likely to be seen by people using mobile devices, Brown says. The importance of social media has only continued to rise, with more millennials finding their news there than on traditional news sites or via news aggregators, the survey found.
An Important Way to Reach Female Applicants
The survey also found that millennial women spend more time on their mobile devices a day than their male counterparts, with 46 percent of female respondents using their smartphones three or more hours per day, compared with only 34 percent of males. And while men and women report using the various social media platforms at about equal rates, women are much more likely than men (51 percent versus 30 percent) to rank social media as their number one news source, according to the survey results.
“Having an equal gender mix has always been an issue at business schools, so one way to make sure you are reaching out to female populations is through mobile and social media,” Brown notes.
LinkedIn Trumps Facebook as Source for MBA News
When asked where they would like to receive graduate management news, more respondents endorsed LinkedIn than Facebook (72 percent versus 47 percent). This finding was unsurprising, given that an MBA is a professional degree and LinkedIn is a professional network, notes Brown. “What it tells us is that to the extent that schools have an effective LinkedIn strategy, they should be pushing it,” he says.
Segmented out by age, the findings of the study grew even more pronounced. Younger respondents were more likely to spend long periods of time on mobile and social media and cited social as their first source of news at a higher rate. “Things are going to continue to move in this direction rapidly, and business schools need to have a proper mobile marketing strategy to remain relevant,” Brown says.
So what does that mobile strategy look like? Should schools all rush out to develop their own apps to reside on the phones of this new generation of applicants? Not necessarily, according to the survey. Indeed, 78 percent of respondents said they would download an MBA admissions app from their target schools if it included features such as the ability to complete the application online, view where it is in the application cycle, receive admissions decisions and updates on events and communicate with alumni and current students. “You have to be a pretty well-branded school to make that leap of faith and spend the resources to design such an app,” Brown says.
Complicating things even further, though the majority of respondents reported having more than 30 apps on their smartphones, they also revealed that they only use about eight of those apps on a daily basis. To become one of these eight habitually used apps presents a major challenge.
A more realistic strategy for most business schools will be to make sure they have a very strong social media presence in the LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter platforms that are among the habitually used apps. Another important point of focus, as suggested by the survey results, should be on ensuring that a school’s website is optimized for mobile access, since respondents report spending as much time accessing the internet via a mobile device as they do via a PC.
While not without its challenges, the shifting media consumption habits of millennials present exciting opportunities for business schools. “It’s all new and ever-evolving, but it does provide schools with a direct communications channel into the applicant pool,” says Brown. This is vastly different from times past, when admissions offices had to reach applicants by running ads in a magazine, for example. “To now have the opportunity to move content out directly to applicants and engage in two-way communication is very cool,” he says.
Southwark Consulting is led by Graham Richmond, an original co-founder of Clear Admit.
Prospective applicants, weigh in: How do you prefer to access your graduate management news? Your comments and input welcome below!