Community colleges around the world are facing the struggles of decreased enrollment, lower budgets, a bad stigma, low retention rates, and competing with four-year institutions. They’re also dealing with multiple audiences that behave very differently online; therefore, they must promote and engage with each audience with a different effort and focus. And to boot, oftentimes there is a lack of staff and/or help to overcome these challenges and achieve successful results. In fact, a survey conducted by Gallup found that “71% of presidents regard financial matters and 68% report enrollment management as major challenges for themselves.”
So, how can we market to prospective community college students with all these barricades in place? The answer is digital marketing. With digital marketing, you are able to take your goals, audience, budget, and all other factors into consideration to design a plan that is truly customized to your institution’s objectives. Below are five strategies that are instrumental in communicating with two-year community college prospects.
1. Online Display outreach
They can’t attend if they don’t know about you or your programs. Oftentimes community colleges have a local audience that may be more familiar with their school than a four-year institution. However, this isn’t to say that you should rule out Display marketing altogether. Display advertising is a great way to get in front of students and build awareness or serve as a reminder for students who may not have been considering your community college as an option. Branding is immensely impactful in the first stages of your marketing initiatives.
Additionally, community colleges offer unique programs that often attract adult learners or career changers, so it’s incredibly important to educate your market on your priority programs and offerings to ensure that you’re a viable consideration as they take the big step of going back to school. You may even be in their backyard, and we can all agree that convenience is compelling to an adult, especially considering some of these folks may be juggling full-time jobs, kids, and/or other responsibilities.
Retargeting, Retargeting, Retargeting, I can’t say it enough! It is so crucial for you to be Retargeting your audiences. Retargeting allows us to engage with prospective students who have shown an interest in your community college through some avenue. Whether they’ve clicked on an ad, visited your website, or watched a video, they’ve taken the time to learn more about your institution, and as marketers, that’s a great opportunity for us to share and educate them more on your school and programs and give them an option to take the next step.
Let’s not leave these students hanging! You can meet them where they are by segmenting your Retargeting based on what stage they’ve reached in the funnel. For example, if they are just in the beginning stages, you can provide them with more information through a “Learn More” call to action, where they can click to review more information about your school to ultimately benefit them as they move along their college search process. Or if they have visited an admission page on your website, you can serve up an “Apply Now” ad so they can easily take that next step and apply. Meeting them where they are is very important and convenient for them as well. (Again, you know we love convenience!)
3. Mobile Location Targeting/Mobile Footprints
As we look at reaching high school students, parents, current students, and adult learners, Mobile Location Targeting is a great option since it enables us to connect with them at school, home, and/or work—places where they are spending the majority of their time. With Mobile Location Targeting, we’re able to “geofence” feeder high schools so that we reach devices within that virtual perimeter to build awareness amongst our traditional audience. Or we can even geofence your own campus with a “Register Now” message for the upcoming semester in order to increase retention rates. Taking it a step further, Mobile Footprints allows us to “follow” that device home, connect to the home Wi-Fi, and ultimately IP Target (an online Display tactic) the entire household, serving ads that reach students and influencers or major stakeholders within the home. There’s a lot of reach through these tactics to make certain we’re staying top of mind.
4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In higher education, SEO is often forgotten about or not as highly regarded when schools are considering digital marketing tactics/campaigns. However, it could be the piece of the puzzle that you’re really missing! According to our partners at Google, “70% of prospective students rely on search to start their research,” and only a mere “30% of higher education institutions invest in SEO.”
Search Engine Optimization accomplishes the following key components to a student’s journey:
- It enables them to see your school (organically) as an option as they are searching for things that are relevant to your school and program. They are actively looking for answers; if you are the answer, you need to be accessible!
- It ensures that prospects are having a good user experience once they’ve gotten to your website. It’s so important to make sure the user is able to find the information they need and are seeking versus dealing with issues such as slow page load time, 404 page errors, redirects, non-mobile friendliness, and not being able to easily navigate and perform the action they came there to do.
As a community college that’s typically dealing with a fairly local audience, your local SEO is an important element to consider as well. That’s where Google My Business comes in. If you’re unfamiliar with GMB, it’s the listing that pops up alongside search results in Google as students are conducting their research and typing in your school’s name. You can optimize this listing by adding photos, information, and posts; setting up analytics; or even promoting upcoming events. This service is completely free to use, so it wouldn’t be a budget issue.
5. Social media advertising
Last but definitely not least, it is imperative to incorporate social media into your digital marketing campaigns, especially for community colleges that are dealing with multiple audiences. Social media permits us to reach all audiences and accomplish many different goals, including branding/awareness, increasing inquiries, event registration, increasing applications, etc. Today, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Snapchat have incredible targeting and advertising capabilities, from Retargeting and Behavioral Targeting to Look-Alike Targeting, List-Based Targeting, and more. So many of these audiences we’re trying to reach (undergraduate, parents, adult learners, and current students) are spending immense amounts of time surfing through these platforms, so having a presence socially is sure to be effective.
I hope you found this information useful as you are navigating the ever-changing digital landscape. If you have any questions or would like more information on how to increase community college enrollment, feel free to reach out!