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Solve the Challenges Facing Higher Education with Inbound Marketing

Posted by Piper Donnelly on Mar 16, 2015 9:31:00 AM


So, you’re a marketing director for your university’s School of Architecture, and you’re losing the battle of recruiting the top quality students to your rival school. It’s not that your program is bad, it’s actually quite outstanding, but there’s just something about the other school that attracts students.

The Problem: You can’t reach or attract the students you want because you don’t stand out from other universities or colleges.
The Solution: Inbound marketing.

Maybe you’re the dean of a small private college and you have no problem recruiting the students you want, but your alumni relations and, therefore, support are nearly nonexistent. How do you go about engaging the most successful alumni to facilitate school pride and, in return, support for your college?

The Problem: You don’t know where to start with alumni engagement and support.
The Solution: Inbound marketing.

Still doesn’t apply to you? Maybe you’re in charge of student events at the College of Business, but no matter how much extra credit, free food and t-shirts you offer, you can’t seem to get the students excited about coming...or come at all.

The Problem: You can’t get current students involved.
The Solution: Inbound Marketing.

There are many challenges facing higher education -- regarding prospective students, current students and alumni -- and inbound marketing is the solution to them all.

Inbound marketing can help anyone, even higher ed, because it simply puts what your audience is looking for where they’re looking for it. Instead of bombarding them with loud advertisements they will certainly tune out, you draw students and alumni to you by providing the content they want where you know they’ll see it.

If you can create a personal connection through content your audience is looking for where they’re looking for it, that’s successful inbound marketing. And that will solve your problems.

Let’s dive into the specifics.

Create Buyer Personas

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal audience based on both market research and real data about your existing students and alumni. These personas consist of common behavior patterns, professional or personal challenges they often face, universal goals, and general demographic and biographic information. Personas help you determine where your target audience spends time on the internet, so you can put the content they’re looking for in those places.

This sounds fancy, but really all you need to do is look at your target audience and define them. Whether it’s for prospective students, current students, or alumni, figure out exactly who you’re targeting. What are their biggest problems? Where do they go for information online? Where do they spend the most time online? What are their interests?

With some research, you will be able to determine what your target students or alumni are looking for and where they’re looking for it, which will allow you to create content the right content in the right places.

Developing accurate, detailed buyer personas is vital to successful inbound marketing. The content you create and how you distribute that content all revolves around buyer personas. Plus, if you don’t spend time on this, you’ll be missing out on the connections with the students and alumni you want. Be sure to put some thought into this.

Utilize All Social Media Platforms

Social provides the opportunity to show your school or university personality and create that personal connection with students and alumni. Many successful brands and universities interact directly with their audience on social media. The more you put into social, the more you will get out. Connecting with students and alumni means interactions!

For example, I took my Toyota in to get an oil change and later tweeted about how happy I was with the service. Within minutes Toyota tweeted back at me thanking me for my loyalty and that they were thrilled to hear I was satisfied with their services. It made me feel like Toyota really cared about my experience, and my loyalty and satisfaction with them increased tremendously.

Be the university that does this! More specifically,

To connect with prospective students.
Share student success stories, feature exciting university happenings on social platforms, or interact directly with individuals you know are searching for schools.

To connect with current students.
Create a campaign on social media that encourages students to share a picture of something on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook which includes the hashtag. Or, simply respond to students when they Tweet or post about your school.

To connect with alumni.
Share and congratulate alumni achievements through LinkedIn -- facilitating pride toward their alma mater is most important.

According to your buyer personas, you will notice that the way alumni use social platforms differs from how prospective students use them. In fact, different groups of alumni use social in varying ways. For example, young alumni often use Twitter to interact with brands, network through hashtags, and keep up with the latest news, while older alumni tend to have a larger presence on Facebook for keeping up with their peers.

Be aware of what social platforms your intended audience is using and for what purposes. If you show individuals you care while sharing the content they’re looking for where they’re looking for it, you will have dedicated students and loyal alumni.

Send a Consistent and Audience-Specific Email Newsletter

Email newsletters are great for two reasons:

  1. They provide an opportunity to tailor your interactions to specific groups.

  2. They enable you as a school to collect contact information.

So, what’s the significance of this? Let’s start with #1.

Why they’re great for prospective students.
Again, making that personal connection is key. Send an email newsletter to prospective students updating them on the most exciting campus happenings and important information about your school. Consider including information and links for easily applying. If your school seems intriguing, you make it easy to apply AND they feel as if you’re reaching out to them personally, quality students will come.

Why they’re great for current students.
You already have all current students’ emails, so this one is easy. Send updates and information about events students can get involved with. Is your school putting on a career fair? Include it in the newsletter. An email newsletter is appropriate for any type of event you’d like to generate student involvement.

Why they’re great for alumni.
Again, generating school pride in alumni is vital for strengthening their loyalty and facilitating their support. People are extremely responsive to emotions, and nostalgia is a strong one. Include the most impressive achievements of students, faculty and fellow alumni. Additionally, simply keeping alumni in the loop and making them feel missed by their alma mater is powerful. Their time at your school was the best years of their life, so tap into that emotion and let them know they’re still appreciated.

As for collecting contact information, this is particularly important for prospective students and alumni. It helps you gather accurate information about your audiences so you can continue to perfect your buyer personas. This allows you to create content your students and alumni are looking for, where they’re looking for it. See, it all works together.

Is creating email newsletters for different audiences a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Keep a Blog

A blog is the perfect place for generating the content your audiences are searching for -- plus, this gives you more content to share on social media (again, it all works together). You can use blogs to land a higher place in search results through SEO, answer student and alumni questions or simply entertain. 

Benefits for prospective students.
A blog, particularly a student-run blog, gives prospective students a look into life at your school. They can relate to students more easily than if a professor or professional wrote the blog, so they can picture themselves in the current student’s shoes. Going off to a university or choosing the right graduate school is an intimidating, foreign thing for most people, so being able to relate to someone already there is comforting and appealing.

Benefits for current students. 
Similar to prospective students, blogs give current students the chance to find comfort in knowing that someone else is experiencing the same thing. Create blogs such as, "the 10 best things about this university," or "the most effective ways to study." Reminding students how awesome their school is and giving them helpful, relevant advice goes a long way.

Benefits for alumni.
Blogs for alumni function similarly to email newsletters. In fact, your email newsletter will probably include many of these blog posts. Again, tap into nostalgia and pride with posts about the significance of your school's traditions or how your college ranks in the top 50 nationwide.

Blogging is ideal for showing off your school’s personality and vital to an inbound marketing strategy.

Thanks for sticking with me, I know this is a lot of information...and this is only scratching the surface of how inbound marketing can help the challenges faced in higher education. If you’re ready to set your college or university apart from the others, inbound marketing is your answer. Want to dive deeper down the inbound path to success? Feel free to contact us for more information or check out some of our other resources.

University's Tool Kit for Launching a Remarkable Campaign


photo credit: MMG | Matsuda via photopin (license)

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