By Barry Eitel
Even as the importance of receiving a college degree increases as each generation finishes high school, a survey released last year found that only 34 percent of colleges met new enrollment targets, according to responses from nearly 500 institutions. This number had dropped 3 percent compared to 2016 and 8 percent from 2015.
As with any organization seeking customers in their late teenage years, it is crucial that colleges become expert social media marketers.
Student acquisition is undeniably a continuously evolving and difficult task—it requires an innate understanding of the top ad techniques, expert knowledge of a growing list of platforms, and a sense of economics. For higher ed marketers, not just any “consumer” will do—the ideal target has to be highly qualified and fit into the student body at large.
One way to set an institution apart in the eyes of potential students is to release high-value content that goes beyond explaining various programs and departments. Some of the best responses, for example, have been garnered by posts from colleges that provide job-seeking tips.
“Help your prospective students by offering valuable career development insights,” writes education marketing expert Ira Amilhussin. “This will differentiate your programs and institution from the competition and establish your credibility as a source for career growth—something your prospective students yearn for.”
Also, institutions need to understand that different platforms need to be used in different ways. A few years ago, the University of Nevada, Reno launched a very Facebook-specific campaign. The team created detailed profiles for two students from the early 1900s, giving a sense of the historical gravitas of the school.
The campaign received worldwide press for the school, easily moving beyond the reach of basic campaigns that post student photos, for instance.
The University of Michigan had great success in 2014 with a very different channel—Snapchat. Many wondered how a prestigious university would utilize a platform mostly known for a teenaged userbase.
With creativity and a sense of experimentation, U of M showed how to take on uncharted social media waters. It created engaging hashtags that were, at varying times, playful and helpful for new students.
“As we made the strategic decision to dip our toes in, many wondered how a university had any business leveraging the ephemeral photo sharing app,” the university said in a case study. “Following seasoned brands like Mashable and Taco Bell for inspiration and meticulously recording each of our followers into an Excel spreadsheet, we were excited to break new ground and measure impact in the space. Since that time, we have moved from being risk takers to thought leaders in the ‘Snapchat-for-brands’ arena.”
It has never been more important to attain the skills required for owning the digital higher ed marketing world. Those professionals would be wise to attend LeadsCon Connect to Convert this October in Boston. One awesome session will be “EDU Lead Gen: Your Marketing Stack Is Upside Down,” which will feature John Nuclo, president of digital ad firm DoublePositive, and Howard Mandel, general manager of Zeta Global.
“Over the past year of working with DoublePositive, we have seen significant gains in our affiliate marketing channel with a more balanced portfolio among our core programs as well as campus distribution,” said the marketing team of the Midwest Technical Institute.
Nuclo and Mandel will reveal how marketers can better leverage the channels they are familiar with and how to engage and acquire the ideal students for their institution. Additionally, the whole session will focus on how to increase the efficiency of every acquisition dollar spent.