As a higher education marketer, you’re tasked with a complicated mission. Your work attracts new students, speaks directly to parents, engages current students, and delights alumni and donors. If you feel like your team and your partners are rushing around with a giant umbrella trying to make sure everyone is covered, you’re not alone!
Luckily, you’re probably already employing marketing tactics first developed in the for-profit sphere to solve this exact problem. While their missions and priorities are different, large, for-profit organizations have developed highly effective means of reaching a wide-ranging audience and are very nimble at responding to changes. The techniques they’re using can be repurposed and adjusted to best suit the parents, students, alumni, donors, and community stakeholders who you regularly address. The trick is staying on top of the latest trends. Here are three high-impact areas to start.
1. Use Social Media as Your Heavy Lifter
you already have a social media strategy! The challenge is to evolve your strategy to keep pace with the brands who are doing an outstanding job attracting devoted online followings. The stakes are high, especially for recruiting new students.
Social media is used by 81% of teenagers
50% of teen applicants use five or more social platforms in their college search
2/3 of teens use social media to inform their college decision
To get started, audit your social media accounts. Which platforms are you using? Are you seeing particularly strong engagement or following in certain areas? Facebook and Twitter may be more important tools for alumni and parents than current students. But don’t neglect your Gen-Z audience on Instagram or Snapchat. You content strategies and engagement plans should be different for each platform to account for the different audiences.
Pro tip: Current students can be a tremendous asset for communicating with their peers and younger audiences. Consider the perspective of student workers as you develop social media content strategies and arrange “social media takeovers” to help students speak directly to their peers.
2. Update Your Website
Institution websites carry a heavy load. They’ve got to have answers for prospective students, parents, current students, staff, faculty, job-seekers, community, donors, and alumni—just to name a few. Your audience is used to navigating in polished online spaces. It’s never been more important to get your institution’s web design right—your reputation depends on it.
53% of mobile viewers will abandon a site if they have a poor mobile experience
65% of institutions require online donors to click 3 or more times to make a gift
40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load
Too many websites are designed to meet the needs of the organization and not the target audience. When it’s the right time for a redesign, your top priority should be to design a website that furthers your institution’s mission while meeting the needs of the diverse audience.
Pro tip: To get there, focus on what brings people to your site and what you want them to be able to do or take away. Make sure your site is easy to navigate and includes responsive design. To help meet your own goals, include calls to action to guide your audience to the next step.
3. Personalize Marketing Interactions
Direct marketers are using big data and smart segmentation to deliver personalized advertising to their customers. This strategy can work for higher education too.
For prospective students: beyond the generic brochure, use what you know about them to send them targeted information earlier in the college decision process. Make sure the student who’s interested in physics gets the information about the cutting-edge new science building. For the violinist, send along information about your music program. As it gets closer to visit time, connect them with likeminded students and staff.
For alumni and donors: Annual giving teams already know the power of segmentation. The challenge is to do it better with the resources you have. First, use algorithm-based prioritization to segment your constituents based on who is most likely to give. Getting an accurate read on who is both willing and able to donate to your institution is the most important step. Once you’re able to do that, sub-segment your most likely donors into different personas and use these unique perspectives to influence your messaging, timing, and channel approaches.
Pro tip: Personalization depends on being able to collect and access basic information about each audience member. You won’t be able to do this manually; you'll need a suite of tools ranging from a CRM to a marketing automation platform in order to maximize the power of personalized messaging.
Deciding Where to Act
In an ideal world, you’d be making strides to personalize your marketing interactions, enhance your social media experience, and fine-tune your website all at the same time. However, it’s a rare team that has the budget and the bandwidth to do it all at once. Start out by prioritizing which marketing improvement will have the greatest impact on your goals. Don’t be afraid to explore solutions to help you succeed in the complicated higher education marketing landscape.