After all, prospective students are choosing more than just a place to go to class. Cost, reputation, size, location, student life, transfer rate, graduation rate, and athletics are just a few of the factors that can dictate this monumental decision. Universities must also understand that once a prospective student chooses their school, you must continue to engage them, providing the resources and guidance to help them develop into future young professionals.
It becomes the university's responsibility to help mold them into productive members of society through gradual independence, learning and socialization. Effective engagement will also foster school pride and in turn, brand advocacy.
However, marketing within higher education presents a unique challenge in that every prospective “customer” is a tech-savvy digital native. This forces colleges and universities to be at the forefront of technological trends, while other industries can sit back and wait to see how new trends affect their target consumer. Prospective and current college students are often early adopters, which means universities have to hop on board quickly when it comes to tech trends.
They have to be hip organically, adapting their marketing and communications strategies to fit the constantly evolving digital landscape using prospective students as their compass. Once those prospective students become full-time undergraduates, the challenge shifts to continually engaging with them in a meaningful way.
There are 4,726 higher education institutions in the United States, so here are a few tips to stand out from the crowd and reach these digital natives:
Your student body holds a wealth of information that can be translated to develop an effective digital strategy. Students are often a vocal population, not fearful of highlighting what it is they think the administration is doing well, and areas in which they can improve. Use brutal honesty and constructive feedback to guide your content and strategy, and prioritize business functions.
Check out websites such as Niche, which offers unbiased student reviews, to get a better understanding of how students perceive your school. Pay particular attention to first-year students fresh off of the application process as they can provide a lot of the most valuable, timely feedback. Also, don’t forget: incentives can be more reasonable when your demographic has less disposable income. A free lunch is a small price to pay for useful feedback!
1 in 5 millennials access the Internet exclusively through mobile devices, and overall, Americans spend 60 percent of their digital media time using their smartphones and tablets. When designing your website, make sure you’re paying equal attention to the desktop and mobile customer journeys.
The goal should be to retain as much of the desktop experience on mobile as UX and UI will allow. It’s also important to recognize that prospective students’ parents oftentimes play a significant role in the decision process, and they’re more likely to access your website via desktop.
“College websites are the first place 97 percent of students turn to for reliable information when researching schools.” Think of your website as your first interaction with a prospective student. When they visit your website, they’re actively seeking more information on your school. You need to answer all of the criteria we touched on in the beginning of this post and then some, including courses offered, reputation, majors, cost, student life, etc.
Don’t make them go digging for this information, but don’t sugarcoat or put on a facade just to win them over. Create a resources or FAQ page that’s easily accessible, or better yet, create a microsite experience specific to the journey of choosing a school. Refine and concentrate your content to focus on what they care about most.
Every college has a diverse and multicultural student body. With this comes the challenge of nurturing a cohesive and inclusive culture. College is a place where many people find their stride, discover themselves, and begin to identify future career paths. Appealing to everyone who is going through this process is difficult, yet necessary. This diversity leads to the need for specialization as it relates to your digital strategy.
You’ll have foreign students, different ethnicities, members of the LGBT community, athletes, fraternity members, techies, musicians and more, all with their own stories. Demonstrate your school’s inclusivity by creating digital content that speaks to each individual group. Social media is a great way to communicate with an eclectic mix of both prospective and current students.
With all of this talk about prospective students, you might think we forgot about graduating seniors! Nope, we thought of them, too. After all, it’s important to be cognizant of the challenges they’ll face upon graduation. Although for the first time in a decade this number declined, “65.9 percent of people who had graduated from high school the previous spring had enrolled in college.” As more people receive college degrees, extracurricular activities, internships, and practical experience become more important in hiring decisions.
Make sure you’re educating current students on these trends, and providing them with the resources to find beneficial opportunities. Whether that’s a job portal, a dedicated social account for posting local openings, or educational content highlighting clubs and organizations, colleges and universities should be helping current students get ahead. Oh and remember our tips to engage students on social and design with mobile in mind? “53% of 18- to 29-year-olds have used a smartphone as part of a search for employment and 35% have used social media to look for or research a job.”
The digital landscape is changing, and your audience is, too. Education is no exception to technological trends, with young people often driving adoption and innovation. Effectively communicating with prospective and current students is a full-time, constantly evolving job. But when you’re successful, you can create effective touch points across a variety of digital mediums that can drive enrollment and student engagement, while fostering school spirit and camaraderie within the student body.