Canadian business schools are following a global trend of spending money on digital and social media to recruit prospective MBA students.
According to a recent study by the London-based Association of MBAs, an accreditation organization representing 245 schools worldwide, $3 of every $10 spent on marketing MBA programs globally is earmarked for social media advertising.
For schools, the investment is a simple acknowledgment that they need to reach would-be students in new ways as the digital era deepens. In-person recruiting hasn't been replaced, but tweets, likes and shares are part of the marketer's new vocabulary.
"For me it always comes down to where are people's eyeballs," says Neil Bearse, director of marketing at Smith School of Business in Kingston.
"You walk down the street and see people's eyes are glued to their phones, and they'll walk right past the bus, let alone the ad on the bus shelter."
Smith, at Queen's University, has increased its investment in social media outreach over the past few years through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other channels, Mr. Bearse says.
"We want to make sure our messaging, content and brand are in front of their eyes, and different platforms allow us to get at them in different ways," he says. "We've really integrated our social media strategy to match our recruitment strategy, and a lot of our efforts are designed to create that first touch point."
That first touch is increasingly important to grab the attention of prospective students, who are growing in number but have more study options than ever.
According to the U.S.-based Graduate Management Admissions Council, 261,248 people worldwide wrote the GMAT (graduate management admissions test) in 2016, an increase of 6 per cent year-over-year.
"The war for talent amongst business schools is extremely competitive, especially when it comes to domestic candidates," says Julia Michienzi, the global relationship manager for MBA recruiting and admissions at Ivey Business School in London, Ont.
Ivey, at the University of Western Ontario, has found success using LinkedIn to drive awareness of its programs, she says.
"These LinkedIn campaigns allow us to target candidates who may not have otherwise been thinking about Ivey for their degree or perhaps weren't even thinking about pursuing higher education until we reached out to them," Ms. Michienzi says. "First-mover advantage is critical in this market."
Diana Luu, head of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions in Canada, says schools are using the platform because it provides an opportunity to engage with the best audience interested in MBAs.
"We have robust first-party data so we make it easier for schools to find that quality candidate that they are looking for," says Ms. Luu, noting that 170,000 of LinkedIn's 14 million members in Canada have "MBA" listed on their profile.
Ms. Michienzi says Ivey also has Twitter accounts for each of their undergraduate and graduate degree programs (four total) along with two Instagram accounts and a YouTube channel.
But as much as social media has become part of a recruiter's role, it hasn't replaced hitting the road. Ms. Michienzi, for example, travels about 65 days a year to in-person meetings and fairs around the world.
With 77 per cent of Canadian MBA programs reporting increases in international applications, according to GMAC figures, international recruitment, especially, is as important as ever.
Amber Wallace, director of communications and external relations at Smith, says while fairs are shrinking in number globally, the school still wants to connect with people in person and answer their questions.
"We have a presence all over North America, but if we're recruiting in India or England, the recruiting fair is a great way to tap into that audience," she says. "In the near future I still see that as part of our mix, but who knows about the distant future."
Would-be students, while glued to their devices, will also likely insist that in-person contact remains.
Dan Shaw, director of the MBA program at Dalhousie University's Rowe School of Business in Halifax, says it's unlikely people would commit to a five- or even six-figure degree entirely online.
Rowe now spends approximately 70 per cent of its marketing budget on digital advertising, an amount that's increased every year since Mr. Shaw began with the school in 2013, "but [we] encourage people to go to grad fairs or information sessions, and we also do a lot of class visits at schools in Atlantic Canada," he says.
"If people are going to do a $50,000 purchase, they're going to want to have a face-to-face meeting or a Skype call. There may be one or two in a class that have completely had a computer-based interaction, but it's rare someone in the office didn't meet with an MBA student face to face."