As we move through the fall, marketers at universities and colleges around the globe are contemplating how to attract the best and brightest to their institutions. This often means different things to different schools – some may simply want the most elite scholastic applications, while others may be trying to cultivate a specific culture on campus; many will also be working to correct imbalanced student bodies by targeting specific demographics more aggressively than others.
No matter what your goals are for this year’s application cycle, there are four key tactics you can take to not only make sure that your target audience is aware of your school and what it offers, but that they have a holistic user experience that will entice them to apply – and enroll.
Don’t Be Shy
Master Your Social Media Presence
This topic can feel a bit like the marketing dead horse, but we cannot stress enough how incredibly important it is to be on top of your social media presence. This aspect of marketing is almost always the first contact that a potential applicant will have with your brand personality, and it will be how they research what type of cultural and social experience they can expect as a student.
The main pain point with social media from an education marketer’s perspective? Students do not usually engage with the institution before applying. In fact, as infuriating as it is, they’re less likely to engage with schools they like than those they don’t. You’ll have to publish content that they can’t help but share with their friends. That means investing in high-quality content marketing, from fun videos to insightful articles to quotable quips.
A great tip we love? Create a social media profile specifically for your content that’s a half-step away from your general university or school brand. This could be a little bit informal, and be branded as a school newspaper or magazine. Consider names such as “Student Speak,” “University Insider,” or “Campus Chatter” to reduce the impression that it’s sales material.
Another social tactic we think is an important step is making sure that your admissions team has a separate identity than your general school profile (and content profile, if you follow our last tip) on each website. Lastly, make sure you’ve planned out a strategy for the content you’ll share and the audience you’re trying to target. As we said above, it takes planning, the right talent, and a little bit of luck to get students to actually engage early in the admissions process, so don’t just throw random content on your profile – it’ll do more harm than good.
Be a Part of the Community
Host, Attend and Sponsor Events
Putting in facetime really is the best way to form relationships, especially when they involve big decisions and trust. By getting involved in events that match with your campus culture, values and goals, you’ll be able to not only meet prospective students in person, but you’ll also form a lasting association between your school and the great time they had.
Make sure your school participates in a variety of events, from volunteering and career-focused scholastic days to fun concerts and local festivals. Don’t be shy about creating events on campus that welcome the community to participate in a great time – word of mouth is an especially powerful tool for education marketers.
Now that you have a calendar of events that you’re preparing to send ambassadors to, and you’re readying your own campus to receive visitors, don’t forget to make sure that everyone can find your events! A calendar tool like Localist creates SEO-friendly interfaces that boost your search engine rank, reduce administrative work, prevent many duplicates and errors and effectively attract prospective and current students.
Work with Recognizable Faces
The Value of Key Influencers, Ambassadors and Alumni
When you made your last important decision, you likely made it by consulting not only those close to you who you trust, but also other resources and experts. Students are no different in this way.
Eduventures, Inc, found in 2014 that the people that the student trusted most played a significant part in the application decisions that student made. You can learn about your school’s most effective influencers, be they parents, guidance counselors, coaches, or someone else, by conducting research into your own current student body. We recommend focusing on whichever type of relationship wins in your survey while still providing materials and communications to the next five or ten relationships.
Consider also investing in more traditional influencer marketing – that is, bringing in big names, either general ones like musicians and actors, or more specific ones, such as the titans in the industries you provide majors and courses for. Pro-tip: this is where alumni can be especially helpful. Have a graduate who went on to do something great? Have them give a talk on campus, or even at a nearby location, and have them include how their time at your institution helped them on their way.
To Touch is to Experience
Using Direct Mailers to Make a Stronger Connection
Direct mail pinpoints your users in a way that digital media just can’t – it captures 100% of their attention for the time they’re looking at it. There’s no other screen, no animations, no music. Just their hands and their eyes looking at what you’ve created. The often-dismissed marketing tactic is still the secret behemoth of the industry, purely because of one thing: it works. A 2015 report from the Direct Marketing Association actually found that direct mail outperforms all digital channels combined by nearly 600 percent. That’s a substantial boost, and one your school can’t afford to ignore.
These aren’t the boring, two-color postcards you’re thinking of, though – today’s direct mail is much more sophisticated. Take a cue from retailers, including Nivea which launched a print ad with a tear-away solar panel that allowed beachgoers to charge their phones while in the sun or Motorola, whose customized print ads were designed in such a way that readers could tap on a picture of a device and see it in a different color. For higher education direct mail, you might consider incorporating your collegiate sports team, your school’s alma mater, and more. With today’s print technology and a little creativity, the sky’s the limit.
Boosting your prospective student pipeline is most effectively done when you take every possible step in making your school is known to a wide audience, and developing a flattering, accurate brand personality. Be accessible, be enticing and demonstrate the value in what you offer potential students by providing quality content, making sure you’re easily found, and getting involved in students’ lives from the very start.