The VPM Blog

4 Things Hurting Your Higher Ed Marketing

Posted by Don Crow on Mar 26, 2018 4:00:00 AM

In the Summer of 2018, Verge Pipe Media will pass another milestone: eight years examining, analyzing and publishing about Higher Ed Marketing. So much has changed over the past eight years: (a) the Windows and Blackberry smart phones no longer exist, (b) Instagram arrived, (c) Snapchat arrived (and may be failing), and (d) Facebook pages are now, for lack of a better term, pay-to-play. Unfortunately, there are a few things which have NOT changed in the past eight years, so I'm going to highlight the 4 things hurting your higher ed marketing based on our experience as a Higher Ed Inbound and Growth Agency.

4 things hurting your higher ed marketing

1. No one is watching the control desk on Email. That's right, your development officers are emailing alumni, your alumni association is emailing, your school and college communicators are emailing, your Dean / University President (their offices) are emailing, Athletics is emailing, and no doubt at least portions of your email list are in the hands of well meaning offices and centers on campus who've stumbled upon the ease of fire and forget email because let's face it, "if our alumni knew we existed, they would support us!"

Enough already. There was a time, 20 years ago when those of us who received email read them from top to bottom every single time. We also knew every single person who was emailing us - and if we didn't, it's because someone we wanted to reconnect with found our email address and reached out. We're now in 2018 where email notifications send our mobile devices into stun mode if we don't turn them off. The last thing any of your alumni needs is another email without regard to day of week, time of day, interest and intent.

Ask yourself, "Why are we sending this email, and is it coordinated with all the other offices on campus who have access to this list?" If you cannot definitively answer, (a) the why, and (b) the coordination points, then just stop until you can answer that simple (but no doubt coordination filled) question.

2. Ignoring Inbound Marketing to Double Down on Outbound. Inbound marketing hasn't been around nearly as long as outbound. There was at least one very popular TV show about outbound (Mad Men) and none to date about inbound (hey Netflix or Amazon Prime, slide into my DMs if you'd like to change that!). Chances are, your communications and marketing leaders across campus cut their teeth on copy writing for magazines and newspapers. You may even have former documentary filmmakers trying to produce short form video for YouTube.

Take a deep breath and stop partying like it's 1999. In case you haven't noticed, no one over the age of 50 watches TV commercials anymore (outside of the Super Bowl) and as a nation we're now famously no longer reading print anything. Heck, we're struggling to read three sentence captions on social media posts.

Inbound marketing will help bring people to you in the places they spend time online as well as the devices they are most comfortable with (phone / tablet / laptop). When executed correctly, inbound marketing can influence prospective students, alumni and even industry professionals. Further more, inbound can help retain key relationships and delight them once they're back into your loop. Did I mention that inbound typically costs at least 60% less than outbound?

3. Missing the Forest for all the Trees (no strategy). It's easy to fall prey to the daily firefighter syndrome. After all, the Dean wants this email sent now (see #1), your event coordination just dropped an A-list guest speaker on you last minute, the team printer isn't working and you have five intern interviews this week. Did I forget to mention all the emails in your inbox from sales people promising better reach on Facebook, software to put your life on automation easy street and the opportunity to have your ad seen by over 250k readers in the upcoming summer magazine (but hurry, time is running out!)?

Step back, take control of your calendar and admit your limitations. I know you'd love to be the person who's making the calls and directing the efforts of a robust team of content creators, social media customer service reps, videographers and webmasters, but resource constraints and reality say otherwise.

This is arguably the biggest failure I have seen in my 10 years connected to Higher Ed Marketing. Either the campus communicator and marketers don't have the skills and preparation to be strategic, or they are so resource strapped the day-to-day of their role simply overrules any effort at taking a more strategic approach. There's not much you can do here without making some wholesale changes. One change would be to get time on your Dean's (or appropriate leadership) calendar and asking for help mapping their strategic priorities to your role as their external communicator. Another would be employ an external resource such as an agency or consulting firm. A third might be to reorganize your day, week, month and quarter (or semester) so that you dedicate time on your calendar to discuss and review strategy. If you take this third option, it's important to commit to a disciplined, written strategic plan with an accompanying editorial and content calendar. Failure to plan it planning to fail....

4. Treating Social Media Like Your New Outbound Marketing Tool. Arguably, this happens as a result of lack of staff expertise and resistance to change (#2) and no overall strategy (#3). However, social media is such an important part of everyone's business today, being bad at social makes all the others on the list seem insignificant by comparison. Social media has evolved, and continues to evolve. Think about how many changes Facebook has undergone just since Instagram was released (2010) or Snapchat dropped (2012). Compare that with how many changes magazines or newspapers or direct mail have undergone in the same time span, much less in the past 50 years. It would be easy to revert back to what you were trained to do in outbound (spray and pray) and apply that to social media.

Just stop already? Your feeble attempt at memes, dark twitter and and Snap stories isn't fooling anyone. You're producing for you, because someone told you to and no one is listening or responding. If you're on campus, and your audience is students, maybe you actually go out among them and observe them in their natural habitat. Don't worry, they're glued to their smart phones and won't even notice you're there.

Take a look through your social media insights, understand the makeup of your platform audiences (age, male/female, location) and tailor your social media posts accordingly. Still lost? There are countless classes and resources available to help you understand and improve your social media approach, output and yes, results. Remember this, you can measure social far better than you ever could with outbound, so there's a ton of room to test and learn. It's actually so much fun, we created a podcast around the idea.

To be fair, there are some campus communications and marketing professionals who are crushing it! My observation of the folks who are doing it well is they have a, (1) strategy, (2) content plan, (3) awesome automation tools, and (4) close collaboration with other content creators and decision makers across campus.

If you're looking for help with 1, 2 or 3 in my quick list of those doing it well, we'd love to help! To that end, tap the FREE download button below for our checklist on getting started with an inbound marketing campaign.

creating successful marketing campaigns

Topics: higher ed marketing

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