It’s crazy to think we’re already two-thirds of the way through the summer. You can just about close the books on the Class of 2017 and turn your attention toward rising seniors, this year’s junior class, and all the other audiences you’re trying to reach for future enrollment terms. The good news is there’s still plenty of time (well, some time) to plan for the upcoming recruitment cycle. So, my question to you is: do you have a plan?
Whether you are on pace to meet your enrollment goals for this fall or if you missed the mark, there is always room for improvement in what I think is the most important piece of the recruitment puzzle: the communications flow. With that in mind, here are four things to keep in mind as you’re putting together your communications plan for this cycle.
1. Set goals
Maybe you want to find a way to improve the open rate on your student search e-mails to juniors. Maybe it’s click-through rate. Maybe you want to set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to get a better sense of the path prospective students are taking on your website. Or maybe on the macro level, you want to improve inquiry-to-applicant conversion or yield. Whatever it is, now is the time to look back at your data from last cycle and establish benchmarks for success and improvement this year. And whatever your pain points are, wherever you need to move the needle, set goals and let those goals guide your strategy and tactical approach moving forward.
It’s amazing how much variance there is in communications planning across higher education. Some schools have very detailed, segmented plans in place and well-established markers for success. Others have a single communications stream with little or no segmentation. Bottom line: segmentation works. Students respond and engage at a higher rate when you deliver a personalized experience. So, when making plans for this year, identify a new segmentation, one that aligns with and supports your goals, and design a few new points of personalization for that group. One thing to keep in mind as you do this is that segmenting can become paralyzing if you try to get too granular. It has to be scalable. So, be mindful of that as you choose which audiences you’re going to target.
3. Plan across mediums
The most effective communications plans hit from all angles and rely on different mediums and platforms to support each other as students progress through their college search process. What you’re doing in print should be coordinated in look, feel, and timing with your e-mail campaigns and social media (paid and organic) and digital advertising. And it should all mesh with the timing of what’s happening in person. Ask yourself how your prospective students are experiencing and interacting with your brand at different times of year. Does it make sense? Are you providing a positive experience, one that keeps them engaged and coming back for more? Often time and budget constraints limit what schools are able to do in terms of presenting a united front across all mediums. If you don’t have the resources to build this out for your whole communications flow, do it for one audience this cycle. Design and execute a comprehensive campaign for that group and use it as a case study to help you secure resources in the future that will allow you to expand that approach across the board.
4. Test and optimize
Of course, it’s important to keep learning, to use your communications flow as a tool to glean information that will make your plan smarter in the future. And the best time to set that up is now. Identify areas within your plan where you can test. Try different e-mail subject lines, formats, images, and text. Vary the timing of your messages to see what elicits a higher rate of response. Split audiences and pilot a digital advertising campaign as an A/B test. As you do this, keep in mind that for a true A/B test, you want to alter a single variable at a time so you can be sure that is what accounts for any change in performance. The great thing about this business is it’s a long cycle with plenty of opportunity to learn. Take advantage of that and make sure you—and your plan—are smarter this time next year.
Need help with your communications flow? Carnegie offers a consultative service to evaluate what you have in place and enhance your plan moving forward. Contact us for more information.