The following content first appeared in NAGAP’s Spring Perspectives member magazine. As a partner of NAGAP, Carnegie Dartlet is committed to providing innovative marketing strategies to graduate enrollment professionals.
One of the biggest challenges in Graduate Enrollment Management (GEM) is that graduate students come in many different shapes and sizes. As a GEM professional, you could have an MBA program that enrolls recent graduates with a median age of 24 while also offering an accelerated nursing program geared toward career changers in their late 30s and early 40s. Managing such vastly different programs requires us to be experts in many different markets. To top it off, Google estimates that we check our phones 150 times per day for a total of 177 minutes—which means each session, on average, is just over one minute. That is not a lot of time to inform your audience, build a rapport, and get them to convert on your website.
Over the past 17 years, Kittie Pain, Director of Graduate Enrollment Management at McDaniel College, has become familiar with these challenges and the changing landscape of GEM. She started at McDaniel in October 2016 and within a month was faced with the prospect of finding a new vendor for digital marketing. The company the College had been using (we’ll call it ABC Company) was local to the Baltimore area, well known for big-name marketing campaigns, not versed at all in the intricacies of higher education, and was four months into a six-month campaign already. The results were negative in terms of traction, and the number of applications had yet to increase. It was obvious that a change had to be made. Kittie, who knew Carnegie Dartlet well through our partnership with NAGAP and, quite honestly, has become a good friend of Carnegie, approached us with these challenges. With over 30 years of higher education experience in reaching many different student audiences, combined with our innovative approach to digital marketing, the partnership was a great fit. It didn’t hurt that I personally grew up a few miles from McDaniel (then Western Maryland College) and knew that market incredibly well!
Goal: Enhance Website Content
McDaniel’s first goal, which surely sounds familiar to all of Kittie’s GEM colleagues: the website. More specifically, working to enhance the user experience on the website and build out captivating content to grab prospects’ attention in that crucial micro-moment. This was a project that was frequently pushed off in the past but something McDaniel and Carnegie agreed was pivotal for the campaign to be successful. Carnegie ran a site audit and determined which pieces to tackle now and what to tackle later. One of the larger projects was developing dynamic site content that was both relevant and up to date with accurate program information. This new content has helped McDaniel with other marketing pieces as well, in an effort to provide a consistent experience for prospects.
According to Kittie, “We saw dramatic improvements in our search results and website engagement after Carnegie’s work on SEO and content was implemented.”
Goal: Increase Facebook Presence and Engagement
Forty-three percent of mobile users between the ages of 25–34 say they spend over three hours a day on social media. It was obvious that McDaniel’s audience was present on Facebook, so we settled on a series of ads including sponsored posts, lead generation ads, and retargeting ads for six priority programs. Over the months that followed, Carnegie monitored the campaign and sent reports showing activity. McDaniel saw growth in their Facebook presence immediately. From July 4, 2016, through January 30, 2017, under ABC Company, they had been stagnant with page views, barely climbing out of double digits until December 1, 2016. Even then, they barely climbed above zero most days. The contract between McDaniel College and Carnegie was signed in March 2017 and went live at the beginning of May. Traffic to Facebook and the College website increased within days, providing them with more leads and ultimately more applications.
According to Kittie, “At the height of advertising with ABC Company, we went from 258 Facebook followers to 266 (a 3.1% increase). Between May and December 2017, the height of advertising with Carnegie, we went from 322 Facebook followers to 469 (a 45% increase).” Though McDaniel elected to end the Facebook ads in December, Kittie reported that this gave her a solid foundation on which to build, including an audience to send out holiday greetings and other timely content pieces.
Goal: Gain More of a Presence in Priority Markets
Throughout this entire process, McDaniel College wanted to be very conscious of budget since they were starting this project in the middle of the fiscal year. Because of this, we were very intentional in targeting their priority markets. We focused heavily on specific counties in Maryland where they have seen the most success over the years. This enabled us to manage costs effectively, but we were also able to gear their messaging to a local audience.
The one strategy where we did not limit our geography was retargeting, which allows us to serve display advertising to those who visit McDaniel’s website. Our thought behind this was if a prospect is interested in their programs, we certainly want to stay in front of them with their message, regardless of where they are. This tactic gave us insight into other markets within New Jersey and New York that could be targeted in the future.
Moving into 2018, McDaniel College is looking to launch a few new programs, so we’ve already had some conversations on how to best reach these new audiences. We recommended they pursue more A/B testing in the Facebook platform to see what targeting parameters perform best and which messaging resonates with different audiences. They are also looking to broaden their market, so they decided to add in the Graduate Colleges & Universities Platform (GC&U), which gets their brand in front of prospects at all four-year colleges and universities. We expect this will help with organic site traffic and brand recognition as McDaniel diversifies their market.
While the tactics we are pursuing are continuing to prove their value, we both agree that the real beauty of this partnership is the collaboration that happens between the McDaniel and Carnegie team. Whether it be campaign performance, changes happening on campus, or simply new ideas, the continuous flow of information has armed us both to be able to navigate the constantly changing landscape of GEM. We are looking forward to seeing what 2018 has to bring both for McDaniel College and GEM as a whole!
Originally published in NAGAP Perspectives Spring 2018 Issue.