Higher Education Digital Marketing

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Innovative Higher Education Digital Marketing Strategies to Maximize ROI

Digital Marketing for Higher Education

Digital marketing strategies are an important aspect of many industries, including colleges and universities. Higher education digital marketing has several obstacles, ranging from the size of the university to the different target audiences.

Because of these obstacles, it can seem daunting to develop an effective digital marketing strategy. Here, we’ll consider the obstacles and unique opportunities with higher education marketing, as well as some creative strategies to inspire your next campaign.

The Value of Digital Marketing for Higher Education

Colleges and universities are becoming more competitive and can be lost without a digital marketing strategy for higher education.

Both prospective students and their parents are searching for information about universities, colleges, campus life, degree tracks, courses and other aspects of student life. A comprehensive digital marketing strategy with a strong social media presence can make this information easy to access.

Ideally, your college or university should have active accounts on the major social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, and use digital communication like emails, messenger bots and a wide array of blogs that cover different aspects of the college experience.

Instagram is particularly useful, and many high school students browse through college and university Instagram accounts daily. Instagram is a great way to use influencers, visuals and personal student stories to reach prospective students.
With all channels, the new demographic demands active accounts on multiple channels, consistent, engaging content and fast communication.

Obstacles in Higher Education Digital Marketing

Unfortunately, there are numerous obstacles to digital marketing strategies for colleges and universities. With the right planning, however, you can make your college or university an industry leader in a competitive market.

Target Audience Size

Identifying target audiences and client personas is an important part of any business’s marketing strategy. This involves identifying the ideal client and analyzing all the information available, such as demographic data, interests, hobbies, pain points and activities. The more information you can learn about the ideal prospective student, the more targeted your marketing strategy can be.
With higher education marketing, the challenge comes from the size of the audience. To be successful, you should target the following groups:

  • Prospective students and their parents.
  • Current students.
  • Alumni.
  • Potential donors.
  • Potential hires.

Institution Size

Many colleges and universities resemble a corporation, often having multiple departments, faculties and communities that interact. This can create challenges for digital marketing strategy.
Marketing activities should be aligned, but that can be difficult with so many target audiences and messages, but a solid, well-crafted strategy can satisfy these needs.
Also, all aspects of the organization need to be able to adjust the strategy to their individual audiences and needs. Not all of the audiences will interact with the same message the same way. For example, different marketing messages are needed for prospective students, current professors and potential hires.
In larger colleges and universities, aligning these strategies can be difficult with so many goals and individuals involved. Ideally, you’ll develop a streamlined and effective decision-making process long before developing a strategy. If everyone is empowered and aware of expectations, the process can be quick and painless.

Brand Reputation

Brand reputation is very important for digital marketing. The reputation of the college or university will likely be seen long before a marketing message, so any reputation issues should be addressed first.

Receiving negative feedback isn’t damning, but too much negative feedback should be handled in a positive and transparent way to make it less damaging to prospective students or hires. If the problems are handled professionally, it can even boost your online presence and establish a positive reputation.

Reviews rank high on the list of purchasing decisions for consumers. In fact, research has shown that even a negative review can still bolster the bottom line if the potential customer is unaware of the brand, as is the case with some colleges and universities. In those situations, a negative review can boost sales by making customers aware of the brand they may not have known about otherwise.

Good reviews are the goal, of course, but a poorly written good review that offers no value to the prospective student won’t attract any attention. With a negative review, however, it may highlight a key factor that mattered to the reviewer, like a sports program, that doesn’t matter to the prospective student. In such cases, it serves to boost awareness without deterring the prospective student.

On top of that, having only good reviews leads the audience to lose trust, so it’s better to have a few negative reviews that were approached in a helpful, professional manner by your institution. Ideally, a customer service representative will respond to the negative feedback in a timely and personalized manner, working as hard as possible to rectify the situation. It may build a loyal relationship with the reviewer, and it shows your audience that you’re committed to their satisfaction.
If the negative reviews are legitimate issues and not just internet “trolls” complaining for the sake of it, take it as an opportunity to learn from the situation and improve your institution.

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Creative Higher Education Digital Marketing Strategies

Now that we’ve covered the challenges, we can examine the activities and strategies that boost social media return on investment.

The end goal of a successful digital marketing strategy is to build a unique presence online and on each social media channel. Students and parents have virtually limitless choices for higher education, so it’s vital to separate yourself from the pack.

Lead Generation

The foundation for lead generation for inquiries and visits to colleges and universities is based on searches in Google, Bing and Yahoo. Paid search reaches prospects who are already searching universities and colleges by placing your institution at the top of the search engine results page. Remarketing allows you to send targeted marketing campaigns that encourage your previous website visitors to return to your site.

You can also do lead generation for undergraduate leads. They’re typically younger than the graduate school audience and unsure of what major they want to pursue. In these cases, social media should be a primary focus.

Facebook is the most popular social media channel for high school students and should serve as the foundation of a social media campaign, though it’s important to maintain a presence on Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and others.

Facebook gives you an opportunity to load an email list that provides a target audience for campaigns. This not only sends targeted campaigns to the ideal student, but it also serves as an alternate communications channel that many younger people prefer over email.

You could also promote lead generation for on-campus visits. Opportunities exist between on-campus visits and inquiries as the two primary conversion actions for lead generation. A visit to campus is a strong sign of interest and more valuable as a conversion.

Social Media Stories

Social media stories are a growing trend among social media users. The growth and adoption of this feature could be valuable for higher education digital marketing in the upcoming year.
Stories originated on Snapchat, which made it popular among young users. As more and more networks began adopting and adjusting the feature for their own channels, however, its usage has grown among channels and age groups. If stories become the primary way users consume content, it’s important to get ahead of the trend and begin experimenting with ads in the stories feature.

YouTube’s version of stories, called Reels, is a little different than other channels and may prove valuable to higher education institutions. Unlike conventional stories that disappear after 24 hours, Reels last for 7 days. They’re also displayed to subscribers and nonsubscribers, giving them more potential reach, and users can ask questions and post comments that could provide valuable feedback. Users favor full-length videos as well, which is much more suitable to YouTube than some other channels.

User-Generated Content

The idea that students are an essential asset isn’t just a slogan. Current students are not only within the target demographic, but they’re also just as familiar to the digital world. In all likelihood, your current students are already creating valuable content you could leverage for your digital marketing.

To access this content, promote a branded hashtag. It must be unique and used on every Instagram photo, tweet or Facebook post. It could be as simple as your university or college name, slogan or another unique hashtag that immediately connects your institution in the minds of viewers.

Even if you’re new to analytics, hashtags are easy to track across social media channels. You can use social media monitoring tools to track the hashtag mentions and find posts from students you can use, or you can track positive and negative feedback.

Aesthetic Appeal and Visuals

Visual appeal is more important to buyers than ever, especially with social media. In a flooded newsfeed, a beautiful photo catches way more attention than text alone.

For colleges and universities, that means presenting the campus in an aesthetic way. You can use sunrise or sunset photos, unique architectural photos, attractive landscaping photos, art projects or simple photos of students enjoying their day. You could also implore your students to submit their own campus photos with the hashtag to be featured on the official account.

Informative Posts

Social media is helpful in drawing in prospective students with positive campus life, but your current students are looking for something else. They already know what college life is like, so they’re in need of information.

This is an opportunity to advertise special lectures or presentations, events, campus news, educational events in the larger community, deadlines and more. This not only provides value to your current students, but it also builds your online presence and hashtag even more.

Reputation Management

Your institution’s reputation is not only important to current staff and students and prospective students and parents, but it also matters to your stakeholders. Social media is often the first place you’ll find negative feedback, so monitoring your accounts helps you stay ahead of any damaging comments.

You can track your hashtag or keywords related to your institution or general terms related to higher education. You can then examine the social media reach, number of mentions and the potential influence of the mention, and then address it to spin your institution in a good light.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing gained popularity for highly visual brands, but higher education can benefit from the power of an influencer marketing campaign.

The key to an effective influencer marketing campaign for higher education is research. It’s possible you may even discover an influencer is already discussing and promoting your college or university.
Influencer marketing also provides a more natural form of marketing. Influencers are willing to push a product or service to a group of followers who are subscribed to their content as a whole, so it’s less “salesy” in its approach.

Before choosing an influencer, it’s important to examine the following:

  • Social media reach.
  • Rates for sponsored blog posts, Facebook posts, branded tweets and more.
  • Audience segment.

Ideally, you’ll want an influencer with an extensive reach, the appropriate audience and a rate that aligns with your budget.
Another element of influencer marketing is a mutually beneficial relationship. If your college or university is the only party benefiting, the partnership won’t last long. Most influencers prefer cash compensation for fair and honest reviews and promotions, but you can also offer discounts or commissions. Influencers prefer creative freedom and clients who appreciate their interests and values, which is why aligning with the right influencer for your brand is so important to crafting a resonant message.

Social Media Reach

Whenever you launch any marketing campaign, it’s important to track and analyze the results to learn what’s working and what’s not. One of the key metrics to track is the social media reach, which is an estimate of how many people will potentially see your content.
Ideally, you want to reach as many people as possible. If you notice that your social media reach isn’t expanding, it’s time to adjust your approach. Consider:

  • Looking into a different social media channel.
  • Adjusting the type of content, such as adding new types of content.
  • Adjusting your message.

Putting time and financial investment into social media can help you boost your brand awareness and establish a positive reputation.

Innovative Campaign Ideas for Higher Education

Once the foundation is set for your digital marketing campaign, you can think creatively and leverage the unique strengths of your college or university to reach your audience.
Here are some creative approaches to marketing campaigns:

  • Launch a hashtag and video campaign with “snapshots” of things happening around campus. This a likable and accessible way to show school spirit and promote your institution as a friendly brand.
  • Encourage students and staff to submit nature photographs of their outdoor lives on campus with a specific hashtag. Choose the best ones for social media and create a cheerful, student-influenced campaign.
  • Diversity and inclusion are important. Create a campaign that showcases the diversity of your programs and students.
  • Interview students about why they chose their major and their aspirations for the future, showing that your institution can make dreams happen. Include a compelling tagline.
  • Look for creative opportunities to weave your institution’s symbols, such as a mascot, into a larger message that will resonate with your students.

Looking to the Future of Higher Education Marketing

As more and more colleges and universities compete for the attention of international applicants, the demands on digital marketing strategies will increase. Higher education institutions need to understand their market and target precisely defined groups to stay ahead and prepare for upcoming changes.

If you want to ramp up your higher education digital marketing strategy, M16 Marketing can help. Since 2013, our strategic group of web designers, digital marketing strategists, content creators and search engine optimization consultants have helped organizations across multiple industry verticals drive digital growth through customized, targeted campaigns. Contact us today to see how we can help you succeed!

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