You aced your exams in undergrad, maybe flew through a few graduate courses and call yourself “master,” and now enjoy the leisurely life of academia. Or, perhaps not. Whether you’ve been in the academic landscape longer than the books in the library or you’ve just jumped onboard your favorite university’s internal team – marketing for a university can be one of the best, and often challenging, situations a marketer will face.
Depending on the tone and voice of your organization, you may need to steer toward the serious side, or perhaps you get to experiment with hip lingo and Generation Z speak. Regardless of your organization’s personality, your goal will most likely be the same thing: increase enrollment.
At BigWing, we’ve worked for large state schools and small private universities. We’re familiar with the challenges marketers often face in higher ed, but also with the incredible opportunities universities have to create stunning campaigns. Here are a few of the tips, tricks, and ideas we’ve had along the way.
Be Digitally Savvy. Your Enrollment Depends On It.
From the website structure to the content on each page, a cohesive online presence is critical to your success. Every year, more students are increasingly using digital information to make decisions. The Mobilizing Admissions: 2016 Social Admissions Report reported that more than 80% of students have accessed a college website on a mobile device, with nearly 60% of students accessing college websites via mobile once a week or more.
A few other stats you should know:
The short story? Your website is one of the major keys to your success in luring students to schedule a coveted campus visit or submit an application form. Before you start adding bells and whistles to your digital marketing campaign, make sure your website is user-friendly and optimized for ideal performance.
Ideas to Add Creativity to Your Higher Ed Campaigns
To be truly effective when telling your university’s story, the content ideas behind each campaign need to be convincing and true. The university’s voice and tone come alive through content.
If you’re struggling to think of creative ways to bring new life to your university’s marketing campaign, one of the simplest things you can do is take a walk around campus and ask students why they chose your university. Find out the questions that parents and students often have, and answer them. Identify the audiences you want to reach and target through university content.
Once you have content ideas, find a way to tell these stories. Here are a few of our favorite methods to take your digital marketing scene from barely passing to the top of the class.
1. Campus Listicles
The word ‘listicle’ can cause a few eye rolls, but they can be a fun and informative way to display information about your university. The true beauty of a listicle is that it’s typically easy to put together.
Ever wanted to know all the ins and outs of being an OSU Cowboy? This OSU-themed list perfectly sums up why you should apply to the university.
2. Behind-the-Scenes Stories
What planning goes into new student orientation? Who decorates the campus for homecoming? Most marketing materials show the finished product or highlight the completed event, but giving potential students a peek at the activity happening behind the scenes – especially for student-led events – will help them picture what extracurricular activities they might enjoy.
3. Interactive Quizzes
For high school students, digging through a university’s website trying to find the perfect major can be overwhelming. Make this process easier by creating an interactive quiz to help them narrow down their ideal choice for a major or minor. You’re not limited to academic ideas – nearly every campus topic can be turned into an interactive quiz.
4. Campus Spotlights
Let’s face it – some departments on campus might not get tons of love in terms of content. Sports and big campus events are great to share, but they’re not the only factors of a well-rounded college experience.
Highlight guest speakers at the engineering school or innovative graduate research projects. Shining a light on different campus departments allows prospective students to get a feel for your university’s academics.
5. “Humans of University”
We know it’s been done many times, but nothing showcases like culture and personality of your university like a “Humans of University” series. Interviewing students and faculty will, no pun intended, humanize an institution that may seem scary and intimidating to future students.
Northern Oklahoma College created a “Humans of NOC” campaign that really highlights the culture and community of the campus.
6. Audio/Video Event Coverage
Every school has its traditions, which often include school musicals, talent shows, and other performances. Use the pictures or videos you’ve taken at these events and turn them into slideshows and presentations. You can share these videos on Facebook, YouTube, or even LinkedIn’s SlideShare to reach new audiences.
Oklahoma Christian University has a long-standing tradition called “Spring Sing.” This video gives students and parents a peek into what goes into this production and why it’s important to the university.
7. Branch Out to New Platforms
You aren’t limited to Facebook and Twitter when promoting your brands. On large campuses, different parts of the student body gravitate to different social platforms. Some are glued to Snapchat, while others have dedicated Tumblr accounts. It’s important to know which students are on each platform and how they’re using them.
The tone you use on Facebook might be completely different than the one you use on Tumblr, but that isn’t a bad thing. You may be able to be more casual on different platforms. It’s about engaging with your student audience in a way that speaks to them.
8. Social Media Takeovers
Rule #1 of marketing to new students: understand that they know what you’re doing. Generation Z has grown up in a digital world, so don’t try to pull off subtle marketing stunts – they’ll see right through them.
The solution? Let the students do the talking for you. Hand over the keys to your Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter to a savvy student for a few hours and let them show potential students that no, it’s not scripted; your campus is really just that awesome.
The Oklahoma City University marketing team lets students take the reins periodically, and not only do these posts perform well, they give prospective students a real taste of student life.
9. Student Blogs
Similar to a social media takeover but with a little more control, hire students to write blogs for the university’s website. These blogs will show a real and authentic experience that conveys the school’s culture better than anyone else could. If you have a large international student population, blogs written by current international students may help ease any concerns incoming students have as they move to a new country.
Oklahoma Baptist University partners with a group of students every year to write content for the student blog, “Life on the Hill: Bison Blog.” This blog provides a candid and realistic look into the thoughts and experiences of college students.
10. Infographics Featuring University Data
Not only are infographics fun to read, but the amount of information you can draw attention to is limitless. From the admissions process to available majors, and even to the university’s culture – infographics allow you to get your message out quickly and clearly.
This infographic from Rose State walks students through the Admissions & Aid information they need to understand when applying in an easy-to-read format.
11. Let Your Mascot Market for You
If your school has a strong mascot presence on campus and in the community, let it do the marketing for you. The University of Texas recently created a helpful guide for students on where to take senior pictures, but here’s the thing: this article benefits potential students as well.
As high school juniors and seniors scope out where they want to spend the next four years, they’re looking for universities that know how to engage with their students and keep things fun. Keeping the school mascot front and center is the perfect way to do this.
12. Quirky, Campus-Specific Content
Know what sets your campus apart from other universities. Maybe your university has infamous squirrels or fun campus folklore. Prospective students are interested in the quirky traditions of their future school.
13. Student-Oriented Guides
If you have a lot of information to convey but an infographic just won’t cut it, consider making an extensive guide for potential students. When creating a guide, consider who is consuming the information: parents? Students? Athletes? International students? This may guide the direction your content will take. And of course, guides are an easy way to gather email addresses from interested parties.
Southwestern Oklahoma State University created this guide for freshman students that covers all of the questions they might have before orientation and helps alleviate any potential jitters.
14. Playlists for Campus Events
There’s nothing like connecting through music. Football games, spring break, and a new semester can inspire a campus-friendly playlist. Apps like Spotify make it easy to curate themed, digital playlists that are easily shareable among university fans. You can make the playlist a shared experience by using social platforms to ask for recommendations.
OU offers plenty of playlists on its branded Spotify account.
15. Drip Email Marketing Campaigns
Students will receive many, many emails from schools they are interested in, don’t let your emails add to the noise. Create drip email marketing campaigns to address the questions, needs, and concerns of potential students.
One idea is to start off your email campaign answering the most frequently asked questions, but as students get more familiar with the basics, add in information about the culture and community of your campus. Eventually, start sending out ideas of things to do in the surrounding community and guides to various aspects of college life. The moral of the story? Use email to answer questions, tell stories, and provide value.
16. Campus Beauty Shots
Never doubt the power of a campus beauty shot. Featuring a beloved building, a favorite study spot, or campus greenery is a simple way to created brand content for your social media channels. The University of Oklahoma does an excellent job letting potential students take a peek into what the campus looks like in all seasons.
17. University-Centric Pinterest Boards
Think you can’t use Pinterest in your university’s marketing? Wrong! The lifestyle inspiration site is a great way to showcase school spirit.
UCO’s Pinterest boards allow fans to add a bit of Broncho swagger to their lifestyle. From university-inspired fashion to campus events and history, the branded Pinterest page is a central area for all things UCO.
18. Create Custom Snap Filters for Events
So there’s a football game happening on Saturday, or maybe a campus visit weekend is coming up… whatever the event may be, now’s the time to consider using Snap (previously Snapchat) filters during the event to get potential students engaged with your brand. Not only that, all of their friends will see the filters and wonder, “How can I be a part of that?” Be sure to schedule ahead of time since only 3 filters per physical location.
19. User-Generated Content from Campus Events
Never overlook the possibilities of user-generated content. On any college campus, something is always happening. Encourage the use of branded hashtags for campus events. Students can tweet, Instagram, or Facebook their own photos and messages right to one place using your hashtag. The content opportunities don’t end at the event. You can curate user content later in a blog post or list article later.
Stuck with your university marketing strategy?
BigWing has experience helping universities of all shapes and sizes maximize their digital marketing efforts.