Netflix Type Engine for Higher Ed Marketing?

In Friday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Jonah Newman wrote an excellent article entitled Netflix-Like Algorithm Drives New College-Finding Tool.

He describes the process of the creation of a web algorithm developed by Daniel Jarratt, an admissions counselor at Valparaiso University:

Using that algorithm, he could explain what the students could not: what was it that a collection of colleges had in common. From there, Mr. Jarratt could highlight other institutions that shared some of the same attributes…So on his nights and weekends, Mr. Jarratt, now a first-year Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, started working on a tool that would direct students to the right colleges even if they didn’t know what they were looking for.

That tool Mr. Jarratt created has been folded into PossibilityU, a college search engine, personalized.

While the Chronicle article focused on the development of the algorithm and how it compared various schools, I believe the site is much more powerful beyond the algorithm’s cross-references. Here are my reasons why that site and others like it will add to the disruption of higher education, especially traditional higher ed marketing:

 

1. Personalization of Big Data

Experts have been predicting that 2014 will include a number of new trends in digital marketing, but personalization and the growing use of big data are both certainly going to continue in importance. PossibilityU has harnessed the power of the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or Ipeds in its engine. Ipeds is a big data set and PossibilityU provides access to it in a very personalized format for both students and parents.

Very smart; very easy to use; and very personally tailored.

2. Infographics & Visual Communication

As a designer, I see additional potential for a more elegant presentation of the PossibilityU website – I believe they are working with version 1. Even with that said, PossibiltyU is headed in the right direction by keeping the information simple and very visual. The site uses the bones of an infographic to show heat maps and presentation tables for all the information. I also like the use ability of roll-over interaction and the introductory video. As you consider college marketing, remember that the use of visual communication is critical to all audiences, especially digital natives.

3. Socially Connected

PossibilityU has added a layer of social engagement by asking the user to login via Facebook. By doing so, the user is presented a tab of “Your Friends Colleges” – those schools that they are currently attending or have attended – with a convenient link to their profile to enlist their opinions. Brilliant.

4. Discovery and Search

Teens and the generation that will be enrolling during the upcoming disruption, are naturally drawn to research on the Internet. The ability to discover, search, and explore is part of the DNA of digital natives and will begin to disrupt the traditional models of college marketing: purchased search lists and direct mail. Inbound marketing will become the new norm. PossibilityU has nailed this aspect and created a place that has more value unique to the need than Google to find those connections.

While Mr. Jarratt admits in his article that the tool in not perfect:

…he’s using his Ph.D. research to improve it. First on his to-do list, he says, is incorporating data that could accurately show students how much need-based aid they might receive at a particular college. Still, PossibilityU is a powerful tool that puts college data in the hands of high-school students and, more important, gives them a smart way to actually use it.

Look for more tools like PossibilityU as college marketing starts looking more like the consumer world in which we all live. By adapting and learning from the basics of business, higher education can adapt and plan for best practices to embrace the upcoming changes and make the most of them.

Do you need help keeping up with all the ever-changing marketing tools? Feel free to reach out.


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