A frequent comment heard from Higher Education marketing professionals is they are, (a) understaffed, and (b) under-resourced. The reasons range from lack of money to lack of executive support and the inability to add headcount falling somewhere between the two. However, the demands placed on Higher Ed marketers hasn't gone away and as the battle for top notch, well funded college students grows, the demand list may in fact, be growing. Add to those demands and expectations are the increasing need to reconnect and reestablish a nostalgic relationship with alumni and you see multiple marketing paths and branches that need to be in your strategic plan. As someone who toils in the boutique independent agency world, we are no stranger to squeezing the maximum amount of top notch results out of every resource (people, process and technology. So - I've put together this list of online tools every higher ed marketer should be using to help alleviate some of the pressure.
Another subtopic we hear from Higher Ed Marketers is that it's virtually impossible to control the, "brand" when professors, other departments and even students are sending School/College/University correspondence to external (and internal) audiences without regard to style guides. It can be confusing to know what's the online color palette versus print safe if you're not, "in the business."
Enter Frontify - the online brand management software that allows you a lot of collaboration and other tools to help you regain consistency and control over your brand. They offer fairly easy to use tools that help you create:
- Style guide and brand manuals
- A brand portal - easily shareable with external resources (such as a Higher Ed Inbound Marketing Agency)
- Pattern and media libraries
- Workspace - which is a standard now for online tools
Part of the good news with all this awesomeness is that you can find a solution for your shop for prices between $50 and $200 per month.
If you're just looking for a way to create a brand-friendly set of images for social media, online ads and even offline collateral, you'd be hard pressed to beat Canva. This tool continues to improve and is a favorite of the VPM team. It doesn't require graphic design skills, but you'll want to brush up on your basics so you don't run afoul of any internet trolls who will critique your every offering. The paid version of Canva will allow you to create a brand guide, templates and even create teams to help collaborate and share. You can expect to pay $120 per year and then another $10 per user per month as well as paying for stock images available through the tool. NOTE: Canva is also a strongly recommended option for your Content Creation needs (see below).
Another thing consistent with Higher Ed is large websites with tons of pages which results in some URLs which are notoriously.....long. It's a pain to include URLs on print and other offline material, so take advantage of a service like ReBrandly and shorten your links to provide the viewer a branded URL to click, remember, copy down and USE. ReBrandly operates on the "freemium" model meaning they have a free plan that will work for some and $30 to $100 per month plans that should cover just about anyone who is reading this.
Let's face it, even the most seasoned marcomm writer makes the occasional grammar or spelling gaffe when captioning a social media post. Because so many of these social platforms rely on your browser, there are mistakes that will slip through the cracks. I'd like to introduce to you Grammarly - a service which checks your status updates, headlines and captions in real time. You can install the Chrome extension for free and there are add-ons for Microsoft Office and Windows which carry your personal proofreader across almost all of your needed platforms. There are premium paid versions that cater to teams $10 per person (per month) and individuals at around $12 per month (paid annually).
Gifs (no matter how you pronounce it) make a world of difference on platforms like Twitter. And no, it's not just Millennials and Gen Y who respond to them - they're becoming universally liked and definitely generate more engagement than static images. My favorite tool to help navigate the latest greatest is, Giphy. Again using a Google Chrome extension, Giphy allows you to search and use 1000s of gifs on both Twitter and Facebook.
Another thing Higher Ed has is a ton of data. From research reports and papers to admissions and alumni data, there's a veritable treasure chest full of data. If only there was a way to take that data and tell a story that easily caught peoples' attention....enter Easelly - a tool that provides templates and three steps to publishing infographics that help turn typically boring data points into the story you want to share. If "free" isn't your style, there is an Easel.ly plan that unlocks a lot more features for only $4 per month.
Video continues to attract more attention, both literally and figuratively. If you've paid attention on Instagram and Facebook lately, you've no doubt seen more short, animated videos that mix still images, videos and text to convey a simple (or complex) message to viewers without the need for narration. Our favorite here at VPM for internal and client use is Animoto. There are no free options, but for around $22 per month, you will be creating videos that will be the envy of your peers in no time!
When you're in the business of keeping many plates spinning and have lots of calendars, tasks and content to manage, you would appreciate Samepage.io. We've tried a lot of different project management software over the past eight years, but none of them quite did everything we needed at a price we could afford. Samepage.io has a free and a $7/user/month plan that will help teams of virtually any size.
For communication and updates, email isn't really effective anymore. In fact, most of us find ourselves constantly trying to trim our inbox, not add to it. Try adding Slack to your online toolbox and integrate applications such as your calendar and other tools for a single view (desktop and mobile) of quick updates and other communication best moved out of your email inbox. The Slack free plan will cover almost all of your needs, which is another big bonus!
Marketing Automation / Email Marketing
In full disclosure, VPM is a HubSpot partner agency and has been since 2012. With that out of the way, there's really no other marketing automation, content strategy (topic clusters), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool, blogging, social media publishing and monitoring and reporting platform out there we would recommend. There are other platforms, sure. Salesforce has made a big push in recent years on college campuses, but HubSpot beats their marketing offering as well as their price and ease of use.
While HubSpot speaks to their work online in terms of helping the admissions process, we have used their software to help with everything from Giving Day campaigns to Alumni engagement to patient recruitment for clinics and teaching hospitals.
Another handy feature is the online content calendar and projects tool. You aren't limited by licenses or seats, rather HubSpot charges by the number of contacts in your email database. Depending upon the size of your School or College, the HubSpot professional package is just under $10,000 per year and almost all of the training can be done online at your own pace. If you decide you need to leverage a HubSpot partner agency to help with content strategy and creation, as well as lead nurturing and database management, we just happen to know of one (HINT: Verge Pipe Media). As part of your HubSpot subscription, you will have access to other potential partner agencies to help too.
If you have a particularly useful tool you'd like to add to the list, feel free to comment below!
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