This blog was originally posted on BuddyPress.org.

Milwaukee School of Engineering's Admissions homepage

In the spring of 2011, Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) approached 7Summits for some assistance with the University’s social media efforts. Like most of introductory meetings, we didn’t know what to expect.  We hoped that they didn’t think we just built Facebook pages…  After a brief introduction to 7Summits, we asked MSOE what they wanted to get out the meeting. Their head of Admissions pretty much summed up both their issue and opportunity when he said, “We need to find a way to connect with the Facebook Generation in new media, before we become irrelevant.” This meeting was the beginning of an intensive 6-month project that would see the creation of the first truly social admissions website and integrated community, affectionately called, “Bridge.” Like most colleges, MSOE historically tried a variety of shotgun marketing tactics to reach and recruit the right prospective students via a mix of traditional marketing tactics including (but not limited to) print, billboard, email lists, events, direct mail and phone calls.  Today, MSOE has transformed the school and its inbound admissions process to truly embrace a social business model.

A Socially Enabled Admissions Process – How does it work?

To best understand how a socially enabled process works, this chart spells out some key contrasts:

From   To
information hoarding thought leadership
management engagement
databases collaboration
baby boomers millennials
user interfaces user experience

The best examples of a socially enabled business process succeed by reinventing a process that was developed in a previous era and worked well for years, but can now be vastly improved with new social capabilities.  Considering students have grown up digital, incorporating social integration is a natural extension of every day behavior.

The Technology

After looking at MSOE’s current website, admissions form and process we realized that we needed to start from scratch. We built MSOE Bridge on a combination of WordPress 3.1 and BuddyPress 1.5 and our developers extended both platforms. We have made a number of enhancements and upgrades since launch, but perhaps the coolest features (separate to the vibrant content and community) is the integration work our team did with MSOE’s existing Admission System of Record/Intake process (in Jenzabar ERP). Our development team worked diligently with MSOE to take a prospective student’s BuddyPress community profile (student record) and link it directly with a custom PHP Application Form (App) we built. From here, we built an integration process that takes the student profile (and linked application) form and bi-directionally syncs it with the student record in the ERP.  This allows us to truly to correlate how a social interaction in Bridge is driving real measurable business outcomes for MSOE. Additionally, as a prospective student moves through the college admissions process, their “status” within the community is updated, and custom content, people (admissions counselors, faculty, current students, etc.) and tasks/to-do’s are presented to them right in the BuddyPress experience.

Later we completed live chat integration and  full Facebook integration, so prospective and current students (even parents) can instantly log in to Bridge via their Facebook profile.

A Resounding Success

In 2012, MSOE beat Harvard as one of the “Top 10” most innovative solutions with its Bridge community.  But apart from the elegance of the technical solution and pleasing user experience, MSOE has wildly increased its admissions to the school.  Since revamping its Admissions process with Bridge, the Admissions team has increased its active/enrollment metric by a full one-third increase year over year.  The school had the largest open house ever this year and is over 300 applications ahead of where they were last year.  Personal visits to the school have taken off, and the increase is so intense, they had to request more staff to handle the volume.

MSOE has always been known for its personalization, but Bridge gives the university a relevant human voice.  It reaches them where they are – on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and draws them into a relationship with the school.  The community enables the staff to create real connections with other students and demonstrates authentic caring on behalf of the staff before the students ever set foot on campus.  In nearly every metric the university tracks, the social initiative has resulted in game-changing results.  In fact, ABET, the accreditation board for the University cited the Bridge community in its annual review.  That’s the first time in its century-old history that a non-academic feature of the school was cited as a strength in the board’s report.

Download the case study now.

More details:

You can see a video example of Bridge at this link or at this portfolio page.

This post was written by James Davidson, a member of the BuddyPress community and Digital Strategy VP at 7Summits in Milwaukee, WI.