Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Higher Ed Marketers: Simmering Social Media Content Keeps Students Returning for Seconds

As a higher ed marketer, you’re constantly searching for better ways to reach and engage prospective students. No doubt that search has you redirecting more and more of your marketing efforts online, where the “digital natives” spend most of their time, and toward social media campaigns. As a graduate student of marketing at Northwestern University’s Medill School, I came across two articles that can help strengthen your social media content marketing strategy.

In Marketing Profs’ “A Seven-Item Checklist for Measurable Marketing in the Digital Age,” writer Grant A. Johnson argues that most of our digital marketing efforts are measurable. Among my favorites on his checklist: establish trust from the start (without trust, students won't take action and you won't have a lot to measure); harness the power of segmentation (all students are not the same; don't reach out to them as one mass audience); and test, adjust in real time and test again (copy tests, A/B split testing, landing page tests, etc.)

Johnson's remarks about establishing trust resonated with me most. Trust sets the stage for measurable marketing, and he points out that consumer skepticism online is a growing challenge for marketers. In the student recruitment world, we certainly know that's true. Prospective students won't click, view, open or share our content just because they can, or because our universities ask them to. The initial allure of a student flashmob video on YouTube or an artfully filtered Instagram of the campus Quad isn't going to be enough to sustain an ongoing conversation, because it does nothing to build trust. As Johnson notes, “clickthroughs rarely matter; it’s the conversions that count.” That's where compelling content comes in, focused around your audience’s needs and motivations. What is the most pressing problem your prospective students are facing, and how can you serve as a resource in helping them solve it? 

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In “How to Strengthen Your Social Media Content Marketing Strategy,” Small Business Trends’ writer William Johnson suggests a successful social media campaign is “not just about increasing fans, friends or follower counts. Instead, he says, you should be focused on finding mutual benefits for you and your social media followers to stimulate an ongoing conversation instead of a one-off response. Johnson suggests embracing your audience as active participants in your content creation process. When your social media followers become co-creators in the conversation, they naturally becomes invested in the conversation, and in the long-term, your brand.

Based on my own experience in higher education marketing and my review of these two articles, here are three recommendations you can use to jumpstart your own social media content strategy:

1. Show students this is about them, not you. Elevate the conversation beyond your university as their “perfect fit.” Zone in on their pain points, and show how your campus can help fix them. Build trust by connecting students to the resources they are seeking, including those not offered by your university, such as relevant content that you curate from third-party experts. Delivering a broader level of value goes a long way in demonstrating your credibility and inspiring students to take the next step in the enrollment funnel.

2. Focus on the student journey, and be the guide. The college admission process can be confusing, frustrating and incredibly stressful. Your university has the inside track to help students navigate through it. Why not use your position to develop high-quality, emotionally compelling content that empowers students? Host a weekly webinar on Twitter or Google Hangouts that give students practical, straight-forward tips for approaching the next stage in their college search, whether it’s explaining how financial aid works or how to make the most out of a college tour. Your students are your best ambassadors, but pairing them with an authoritative figure on the subject is another way to build trust (especially with counselors or parents or prospective students).

3. Give the admission process a note of levity on occasion. Humor, when used appropriately, can show that your university has a “top-ranked” personality to match its prestige and world-renowned academics. That could take the form of a BuzzFeed-type quiz that students can take to identify which college environment best matches their personality, or a countdown series of Instagram images showing the most unusual places on your college campus.

It’s important to think beyond capturing immediate buzz to how your ongoing social media content tells your university’s story and supports its business objective of nurturing prospective relationships and generating new leads. What is your social media strategy doing to drive prospective students beyond the click-through to the next step in your enrollment funnel?

Kristin Burns is a marketing communications professional with 16 years of experience, primarily in higher education marketing. She specializes in strategic communications, content marketing and youth marketing. Kristin is a pursuing a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University’s Medill School. Connect with her on Twitter (@aggiefan) and LinkedIn.


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