Throughout campus, the sight of students plugging into their laptops or smart phones has become increasingly familiar. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 94% of 18 to 29 year olds use the Internet—a higher percentage than any other age group. Further, people of all ages who have had some college education are more likely to be plugged in than people who never went to college.   

Whether your goal is reaching prospective students, current college attendees, or alumni, your college can benefit from a strong online brand.  At Localist, we’ve seen clearly how online efforts lead to offline results—schools that implement our calendar have seen a 5% increase in student retention. Pretty cool, right?

As we work with different schools, we’ve learned how the best colleges grow their online brands, and benefit offline. Here are our tips:

Optimize your website.

Websites are the interactive hubs for any online brand. Your website should be easy to navigate and dynamic, engaging visitors without bogging them down with flashy features. Plus, be sure to keep all of your target audiences in mind. Is it easy for a prospective student to figure out exactly where to go? What about a sports fan? If your site is too complicated, it will lose visitor attention very quickly.

Provide essential information.

Do your target audiences rely on your website for information they use every day?  This might not be applicable for alums, but for current students, features such as an interactive campus map, a professor directory, and of course, a frequently updated calendar like Localist can keep visitors coming back for more.

Get social.

As a higher ed institution, you face a unique challenge and opportunity when it comes to social media: Your school has a ton of different target audiences. Each department and even student group can pull in a different audience. Don’t try to control everything, but do give departments and student groups guidelines—what they publish online reflects on your entire institution. Also, keep tabs on who manages the most influential social media presences at your school so you can quickly collaborate to spread the word about truly big news.   

Be found.  

Your school has a fantastic web presence—but can people find it? We’re not talking about just googling your school’s name. For example, if you’ve got a great agricultural program, do you show up for terms like “agricultural research school on the East Coast”? Conduct keyword research and structure your onsite and offsite efforts so your school is easy to find online. You could also consider spending some money on paid search. Look at what online universities do to see this system in action.

Give classes away.

It might sound radical, but giving course content away for free is a great way to grow your school’s brand, online and off. From MIT to Stanford, top universities are posting academic course content online for free. Doing this establishes your school as a trendsetter, and gives the world a glimpse of your topnotch professors and curriculum. And when your biggest online fans decide they need advanced degrees, your school will be at the top of their lists.  

Retarget with ads.

Yes, the best advertising is word of mouth, but once you have someone’s attention online, following them around the web with retargeted ads can convert them into prospective students or donors.  

Integrate online and offline efforts.

While people may be tied to their phones and laptops, they still see posters on the door and pick up free key chains at the activities fair. Use offline advertising to push your audience to connect with your online presence.

We hope this gives you some ideas to chew on. And always remember, as you grow your online brand, pay close attention to site and social analytics. In doing so, you will see how users are engaging with your school, giving you the insights you need to improve your online presence and reach your overall goals.