According to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment is down for the sixth straight year. What does this mean for your higher education institution? It means you should be dedicating time to your higher education marketing strategies and your brand.
Before you make any plans, you have to think of your students. Know your student body and more importantly, know what they want. Many student surveys show that the most important things to students when choosing a university are: high-quality teaching, scholarships, well ranked, welcoming to international students, and a prestigious brand.
When you think of a prestigious brand, many think of Harvard, and their reach is proof: Harvard is miles ahead of all higher education institutions on social media, with 5.3 million likes on Facebook, ~800k followers on Instagram, ~900k followers on Twitter, and almost 80% enrollment rate of students accepted.
However, building up a strong brand for your college or university that will lead to more interested students will take work. Consider some proven strategies to bring new life to your higher education marketing.
1. Shine with the expertise of your world class professors and resources
Despite popular belief, students actually want to know that they will learn something at your university. If their only peek into your school’s actual curriculum and classroom culture is Rate My Professor, maybe it’s time to take control of the narrative.
Produce some short form video or make a blog and let the expertise and passion of your faculty shine. Establish your institution as a source of up to date information and technology, not just for students, but for the community at large.
Marketing open online courses is an excellent way to achieve this. Many schools, including Emory University, understand the benefit of their professors reaching interested students outside of their campus community, that can potentially become students after taking a captivating course.
Emory has a partnership with the online course provider Coursera, and it’s been a global success. These popular courses provides potential students not only a peek into the vast variety of educational paths available at this school, but it also provides insight into its selection of knowledgeable and very in-demand faculty.
(Left: Emory University shared an article from their own news center about their Coursera courses, Right: potential students scrolling through Emory’s Coursera courses will see high ratings and great reviews)
2. Emphasize outreach campaigns
It’s nothing new for schools to focus on outreach campaigns for possible donors, but this can be used for prospective students to see what types of scholarships your school offers and your school’s future projects. The best way to do this? Be loud about your campaign.
Look at Northwestern University’s long running We Will campaign. They very clearly lay out the goals, priorities and projects for each area of study and the larger school community, using a dedicated site with great graphics, a well produced short film, and #NUWeWill social posts that reach far beyond potential donors. This gives potential applicants a chance to see that your school goes to great lengths to make sure their students can attend regardless of their financial background.
(Northwestern’s graphics on the dedicated website of their outreach campaign cleanly and clearly shows off its success)
3. Show off your successful alumni
Applicants want to feel secure in your school’s ability to lead to a successful post-graduate career. This is the place to let your alumni success stories shine. Take Wellesley College’s “This Is The Place” campaign. The campaign’s featured film includes notable alumni speaking on the personal impact of their great alma mater. The film features figures like Diane Sawyer and Hillary Clinton. If you can spotlight alumni that have had a large impact on the world, it can greatly affect the decision of prospective students.
(Wellesley College’s “This Is The Place” campaign video successfully highlights their current students and their pretty notable alumni)
4. Be authentic with diversity campaigns
It’s so easy to insert a few photos of students of different shades and backgrounds smiling under a tree wearing school merchandise. Showing your school’s [real] diversity is much better than telling. A recent example is #YouAreWelcomeHere, a campaign that colleges and universities around the country are participating in to support international students. With the reach of so many students across various universities, the campaign went viral. Not only does each school spread this campaign, the message rings clear for incoming and prospective students of each school:
5. Listen to students and alumni to strengthen brand awareness
Many college branding strategies blend into each other, and if you’re not listening to what the students who actually experience the school have to say, you won’t see what makes your school unique. When incoming students want to see what makes your school special, they don’t ask advisors or professors or parents–they ask current students and alumni friends and family. When they go on a college tour or stay with a student overnight, they want to see the students in their natural environments. Your marketing strategies should be no different.
Professionally shot, staged candids can be great for more official school campaigns, but what will really get the attention of interested students is seeing students on social media having fun, going to school sporting events, and participating in cool opportunities related to their studies. User generated content is a great opportunity for your school’s brand on social media, and you can curate that content from related hashtags. You can also host school giveaways or contests on Instagram (the platform has official guidelines to follow, however) that encourage UGC using specific hashtags in order to win.
University of Michigan’s slogan “Go Blue” works very well as a brand hashtag. #GoBlue overflows Instagram, with over 1.3 million posts using the tag, and much of it actually relates to the school or its sport teams. User generated content drives their alumni feed, and #GoBlue is part of how they can track them:
Longer, more complicated hashtags don’t spread as far and won’t be used as much beyond your own content. The goal with these more concise hashtags is to add to the amount of user generated content surrounding your brand. Start using your school slogan or a shortened version of it more often, and monitor how its used by current students and alumni, then plan strategies around that.
During graduation season, University of Miami did something similar, asking students to share their photos using #canegrad on Instagram and Facebook to be featured on their official page:
(In the days following their Instagram post, #canegrad was used in over 500 posts)
6. Use trending topics to boost your school’s reach
Larger schools may have an advantage when it comes to viral content through the star power of their alumni and their speakers, but that’s no reason you can’t jump on hot trends and become a force on social media. Use your own events as a source. If you have a speaker coming to campus that has quite a following, plan a good amount of content that will speak to your students as well as their audience. Plan video around them, go live when they’re on campus, be ready to catch fun moments.
Even if your school isn’t a big name, trending social media challenges are typically a great way to showcase campus fun and get your brand in front of a larger audience of social media users. UW Milwaukee did just that with the viral Justin Timberlake “Can’t Stop the Feeling” dance challenge, featuring graduating seniors. Their Youtube video was viewed almost 300,000 times and received a tweet from Justin Timberlake, who has over 66 million followers.
(A tweet from Justin Timberlake got UW Milwaukee’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” dance challenge almost 4,000 retweets)
Now take a look at your own school and what makes your school its own. Market that as much as you can. What are some of those things? What strategies do you plan to focus on? Let us know!