How higher ed institutions are boosting enrollment with social media

Schools are filling seats by reaching students online. Here’s what they do.

Higher ed marketing

Colleges are struggling to fill classes.

A vast majority of admissions officers—88%—at private institutions offering bachelor’s degrees said they’re very or moderately concerned about filling classes, according to an admissions survey by Inside Higher Ed.

Marketers at higher education facilities are turning to social media to meet their enrollment goals.

Although the common view holds that college-age students prefer Instagram or Snapchat, LinkedIn research in partnership with Carnegie Dartlet shows that many potential applicants research schools and engage with school staff through LinkedIn. After the phone and email, LinkedIn is their favorite medium for interacting with admissions staff. Graduate school prospects especially prefer the network for admissions conversations.

How to engage potential applicants

LinkedIn Senior Account Executive Timothy McCarthy offers these recommendations for marketing to prospective applicants:

  • Make sure your messages align with what the admissions team shares with prospective students. Likewise, align organic marketing communications and paid advertising.
  • Understand and allay concerns of prospective applicants in your messaging. LinkedIn’s research indicates that their top concerns are:
  • It won’t help my career
  • I don’t have time
  • It’s too expensive.
  • Nurture leads. If you don’t, you’ll miss out: Seventy percent of un-nurtured leads enroll elsewhere. Specifically, promote open houses, student testimonials, webinars, information sessions and application deadlines.
  • Keep headline copy short—fewer than 150 characters—and offer a clear value proposition. Make sure the landing page fulfills the message’s proposition.

A combination of channels

Most college admissions decision makers would undoubtedly agree that relying exclusively on LinkedIn to attract students would be doomed to failure. Savvy higher education marketers employ a combination of channels, including their websites, blogs, email, various social media networks and paid advertising.

Particularly valuable are the schools’ websites, blogs and email. Websites provide information to potential students researching schools. Blogs keep potential students updated on school news and publicize its value, and email maintains contact with leads.

In the rush to social media, some marketers underestimate the value of older communications channels, such as email, web content and print collateral, according to the white paper, Myth busting Admissions: Where Prospects and Professionals Agree, and Disagree, on Enrollment Marketing, Messages, and Channels.

The SNHU example

Aggressive multichannel marketing, backed by a substantial budget, can grow enrollment and transform the image of an educational institution. Southern New Hampshire University has used innovations in its programs and marketing to grow its online enrollment from 3,000 students in 2003 to around 132,000 students today.

In an Inside Higher Education article, SNHU President Paul LeBlanc credited extensive cable television advertising, which emphasized affordable education and the university’s nonprofit status, and extraordinary “speed to lead” times. The university typically returns 98% of new lead calls in under three minutes. The school targets nontraditional students: working adults, including mothers and active duty military personnel.

A large budget helps. SNHU spent more than $130 million on advertising and marketing in 2017, more than any other private, nonprofit college in the country, according a recent report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Word-of-mouth recommendations, social media and workforce partnerships also help SNHU recruit students while controlling marketing costs. To boost word-of-mouth recommendations, the school aims to provide outstanding customer service, not a traditional forte of higher education. For instance, it delivers student transcripts for free within a couple of days.

“I think marketing is seen in higher ed as this crass thing, and the more you spend on it, the poorer quality you must be. That feels like such a failure to recognize the reality of how we compete and how we get in front of people,” LeBlanc told Inside Higher Education. “If you want to build a national footprint and serve as many people as possible, tell me how else to get our name in front of everyone?”

Media monitoring for data-based marketing

A media monitoring and measurement service can help determine the best channels and marketing strategies. A social media monitoring and measurement service can help schools understand what students want in schools and tailor their messages to students interested in enrolling. It can also help a school identify the “pain points” or concerns prospective students may have about the school.

“One of the great things about social platforms is the ability to analyze the impact of each post easily,” states the Digital Marketing Institute. “So, ensure your institution tracks and monitors what is successful in terms of key metrics e.g. website impressions, leads generated, etc., and refine as you go.”

In addition to monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other networks, educational institutions can track student forums, review sites and other online sources. The information gathered from these channels can help colleges identify major concerns among students—about colleges in general or about a particular university.

In addition to gathering data, social media listening enables schools to engage with potential students and build relationships during their decision-making process.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog.

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