When more than 150 higher education social media marketing professionals convene in one room for two days in New York, you know you’ll leave with a bunch of new Twitter and LinkedIn connections and a notebook filled with ideas, inspired to take your digital campaigns to the next level.
As both an attendee and panelist at this year’s Higher Education Social Media Strategies Summit, I noticed three major themes that bubbled to the top of almost every presentation I attended and conversation I had, all of which are noteworthy to share.
What you’re communicating about your institution online through social media, your website, and digital advertising should reflect what students can expect to experience in real life when they enroll at your college or university.
It’s easy to get caught up in the need to just get information out into the digital space so you can build brand awareness and grow a new pipeline of prospects, but this can quickly yield a disconnect between expectations and reality for a prospective student as they move through the enrollment journey and get more invested in your institution and programs. You need to be able to define your authentic personality and communicate that information to build a connection with your audience from the very start of any outreach.
2. We are not our target audience
As much as I like to pretend that I graduated with my undergraduate degree in the last decade, I didn’t. And how I use social media is very different from a 16-, 17-, or even 22-year-old. What we think our audiences want to learn about on these digital platforms may not align with reality; don’t make assumptions and only serve up the type of content you think these prospects are looking for.
It’s important to continue to test different types of messages in various formats, such as a video ad on LinkedIn discussing career outcomes for a master’s in Business Analytics program or a Spotify audio ad encouraging students to sign up for an upcoming open house. From there, you’re able to use your social media advertising data, website analytics, and other advanced technology to uncover insights into what content your prospects care about. It may not make sense to you, but that’s okay! Repeat after me: we are not our target audience.
3. Pay-to-play is here to stay
I feel like a broken record when I bring this up, but anyone that manages a social media presence for an institution or brand knows that organic reach has been on the decline for some time. if you haven’t started to allocate your marketing dollars toward paid social media yet, it’s time to finally jump on this bandwagon.
The panel I spoke on covered best practices in harnessing social media to boost recruitment efforts. My fellow panelists from the University of Iowa, Stevens Institute of Technology, and West Virginia University have all felt the same frustrations we hear from a lot of our clients: they know students are active on social media, but they’re struggling to engage with them organically. That’s where paid campaigns can make an impact.
Each social platform offers extensive targeting capabilities across a wide range of tactics that will help your institution move the needle in the right direction toward meeting your lead generation and recruitment goals. Students today are savvy—they know they’re going to be served ads in their social feeds, but they expect to be served ads that matter to them, like their unique interests, the types of degrees that will help them advance their intended career paths, and even content related to where they are in the marketing funnel, whether that’s with “learn more” ads or “submit your deposit” messaging. If you try to jump into paid advertising and are only running “apply now” ads to an audience that has never heard of your institution, you might as well throw those advertising dollars right out the window.
If you have questions about reaching your prospective students using digital marketing, let us know. We’re here to help!