1. Understand what makes your institution distinctive
Today’s prospective students have more options than ever -- from massive open online courses (MOOCs) toward high-quality accredited online education. And they’ve grown up being able to research all their options online. In order to persuade a rising senior that your institution is right for them, you’ve got to offer a coherent and compelling narrative that persuades them that your school could be the right fit.
2. Articulate your institution’s uniqueness -- be yourself
If your school has particular strengths in the performing and literary arts, craft your marketing language to fit that identity: communicate your strengths. In a world where students’ options are seemingly limitless, you want to show and tell what makes your institution different. Too many colleges and universities rely on generalities and clichés (“the college experience”), assuming erroneously that every student is looking for autumn leaves on a grassy quad and Saturday football games. Some are looking for outstanding literary journals and writing workshops.
Know who you are, and communicate who you are.
3. Understand who your prospective students are
Once your marketing team has a good sense of your college or university’s distinct institutional identity and ethos, you can begin to figure out who your ideal applicants are. Don’t just go with your hunches -- this requires some research. Reaching student recruitment goals requires that you know your market well. You need to know your prospective students’ questions, concerns, and what they’re looking for in a college or university. If your campus is situated in a city and your ideal student is looking for a career in nonprofit or immigration law, highlight how your institution is poised to help them prepare for just that.
4. Use specific language that reflects what your prospective students care about
“Our world-class faculty members care sincerely about each individual student in their classroom” is an example of the tired, meaningless language that successful admissions professionals will leave behind. A good rule of thumb? See if what you’re saying has a meaningful opposite. “Our mediocre and provincial faculty members don’t care much about the masses of students that pass through their doors” -- well, who would say that? If what you’re saying about your school has no meaningful opposite, maybe you shouldn’t be saying it.
5. Leave aside old methods of getting the word out there
When it comes to college marketing, traditional methods are going the way of the manual typewriter and snail mail: you can type a letter, put a stamp on it, and put it in the blue mailbox, but for the time, effort, and expense, it’s a losing proposition. Today’s students are clever enough to elude the old-style “wide net” approach of college marketing. Unsolicited direct mailings are less and less likely to give a good return on investment -- and more likely to be perceived as pushy and interruptive.
6. Attract and delight prospective students with valuable content
With a clear sense of what your institution offers and who your ideal prospective students are, you can begin to craft high quality content that’s worth their while and focused on the things they’re interested in. You don’t want your university’s website simply to be a 24/7 viewbook -- you need to have content that’s worth a click and a look (maybe even a share!) for the sheer delight of it. Well-written, unique stories about exciting work in the robotics lab and hopeful news about innovations in sustainable agriculture or literacy work in underserved areas is the kind of content marketing that reaches today’s students.
7. Optimize your content so that it can be seen
You’ve got great content that’s worthwhile and reflects both your institutional identity and your prospective students’ interests -- but your ROI will be nil without SEO! It’s not hard to learn best practices for search engine optimization, but it’s easy to get them wrong and miss out on valuable searches.
Additionally, student recruitment professionals need to keep in mind that people will be accessing their content on mobile devices. Optimizing for mobile is a must!
8. Engage your (online) visitor
So you’ve attracted a prospective student through your well-crafted and optimized content. Great! Now how do you keep them from bouncing away? By offering clear and compelling calls to action, suggesting further relevant links and stage-appropriate next steps, work toward engaging the prospective student you’ve managed to attract. This is where you’re aiming to be clear, concise, and action-oriented -- and to convert that visitor into a bona fide lead.
9. Be social
Today’s students spend a significant portion of their time online engaging with various social media platforms, where they can interact with faculty and students as well as admissions professionals. University admissions offices need to optimize their official social media profiles, using marketing automation platforms like HubSpot where appropriate, but also being responsive -- following up on specific queries with well-crafted, unique replies. Additionally, colleges and universities should work to foster across the institutional community a sense of loyalty and collaboration, so that students and faculty alike will be inclined to use social media in ways that help to accurately reflect the institution’s ethos and strengths.
10. Always be analyzing
To successfully use inbound marketing in student recruitment, you need to know the numbers. How many of your visitors convert into leads? Which call-to-action button is most effective? What kind of content draws, delights, and converts the right kinds of visitors, turning those prospectives into applicants? Analysis isn’t just one stage in the inbound process -- it should be part of everything you’re doing.
To sum up:
Older, interruptive marketing has become less effective. Colleges and universities need to adapt their strategy to reach today’s students, who have more options than ever and are able to access the information they want without directly speaking with an admissions professional. Institutions need to prioritize clear messaging, social media best practices, and clear calls to action to attract, engage with, and recruit prospective students.Learn how to beef up your college recruitment with our free Inbound Marketing checklist. [College Lecture, photo credit Sean MacEntee, Flickr Creative Commons]