East Asian Languages and Civilization Uses Facebook Ads

The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations did more this semester to attract students than just host office hours, distribute appealing syllabi, or even tack up posters. It paid for Facebook ads.

The department advertised introductory language courses in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese as well as three other undergraduate courses, according to Gustavo Espada, the financial and IT coordinator of the department.

One ad that appeared on the side of Harvard students’ Facebook news feeds read: “Is Vietnamese Too Hard? Unlike many other Asian languages, it uses Western characters! Study it at Harvard.”

When students clicked on the ad, it directed them to the iSite page for the introductory class Vietnamese Ba.

Binh Ngo, who teaches the course, which meets five days a week at 9 a.m., said that the class jumped from 8 students last year to 11 this year. He did not ask his students whether they learned about the course from Facebook, but he guessed that the ads had been effective.

“My feeling is more people know about my courses, and it may be one of the reasons why this semester I have more students,” he wrote in an email.

Espada declined to say how much the department paid for the advertisements, though he described it as a “modest” sum. The price of Facebook ads varies widely based on the targeted audience and the amount the purchaser bids per click -- sometimes as low as a dollar or two per day.

Espada said that the Facebook ads for classes were just one prong in a longer effort to increase the department’s online presence.

For example, East Asian Film and Media Studies 120: “Critical Exposures: Documentary Media in Postwar Japanese Fiction, Film and Photography” posted a trailer video on the class iSite to entice students, a technique that several other classes at Harvard have tried.

Espada also mentioned innovative uses of technology in the classroom and other social media outreach meant to connect students and faculty.

Harvard Summer School study abroad programs and the Peer Advising Fellows program have also posted paid ads on Facebook in the past.