The Educated Marketer


Five Steps to Mastering the Art of Online Student Recruitment

by Leah Peters | Nov 17, 2015

 |  college recruitment, inbound marketing


Leveraging social media, creating great content, and staying in touch -- here’s what you need to be great at higher education marketing online.

There’s no question about it: online student recruitment is an art.

But it’s also true that it’s a science.


Yes, there’s a little bit of luck involved in what goes “viral” and what lands with a thud, but there’s a lot you can get wrong when it comes to online higher education marketing -- and therefore, a lot you can learn about how to do it right.

Step #1: Know Your Audience!

Knowing who you’re trying to reach begins with doing your research. Who are the students actually applying to and attending your institution? Who are the students you’re hoping to reach? What other important demographics do you need to communicate with -- parents, alumni, high school guidance counselors -- to reach your enrollment goals?

As HubSpot’s David Meerman Scott says, you might end up with a number of personas. And that’s just fine. What’s important is that as you run different campaigns, you adapt your approach to better meet the needs of each different persona.

For example, you’ll want to take a different approach in your communications with rising juniors than you do with rising seniors and transfer students. This 12 point marketing persona checklist can be a helpful guide.

Step #2: Create a compelling institutional identity

Everything you do in marketing should help support the values and identity that are key to your institution.

We’re not saying that if you’re straight-laced and serious, you can’t ever crack a joke. Instead, it’s important that the vast majority of your communications reflect your enduring values.

What do people say about your institution when they’re praising you? What do they say about you when they’re criticizing you? Both questions can be helpful in discerning how you tend to be perceived. They can also help you clarify how you wish to be perceived and communicate effectively toward that goal.

Check out this resource from the University of Chicago on institutional branding.

Step #3: Use social media effectively

It’s embarrassingly easy to get social media very, very wrong.

Anyone who uses it understands that.

The one friend who posts about his workout every day.
The other friend who posts mostly pictures of green smoothies.
And that person you barely know who’s constantly posting shrill political screeds.

We know. It drives us crazy, too.

Then there’s also the person who always seems to be asking for support of some kind: contribution of funds, praise, a vote, a pat on the head.

That’s tiring also.

Institutions get social media marketing all wrong when they mistake their Twitter platform for a megaphone and their Facebook page for a 24/7 billboard.

Every time you post anything online, whether it’s a tweet or a blog post or a video, you should ask yourself: how does this add value to the world -- and, specifically, to my target audience’s lives?

We’re all busy and distracted, and none of us has any shortage of things to look at or pay attention to. That’s why you need to make sure that you’re not out there cluttering up the Internet, plugging your message whether or not anyone is listening. Because chances are, unless you’re offering something of real value, they’re not listening.

Step #4: Make content that people love

Sure, it’s silly, but well over two million people have viewed this lip sync video featuring students and faculty at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Truly helpful, surprising, and interesting content goes viral all the time.

It’s not enough to use your social media channels to give soundbites of information about your institution. You need to be creating original, clickable, shareable content as well: videos, blog posts, Instagram photos, eBooks and presentations. It’ll form the backbone of your online presence and give structure to your marketing efforts, plus boost your website’s SEO and organic search results!

(Check out HubSpot’s post on writing great blog posts.)

Step #5: Persuade prospective students to stay in touch

In the world of marketing we call this a “call to action” -- it’s where you tell your prospective students (or their parents!) precisely what you want them to do.

Don’t ask them to “apply now!” when they’ve only read a blog post or two -- that’s like proposing marriage before the first date.

Rather, invite web visitors to convert themselves into leads by extending compelling offers -- an ebook or some other downloadable resource -- that they can opt into in exchange for their contact information.

Once they’ve done that, they’ve officially entered the top of the new admissions funnel and are ready to be nurtured into applicants and students.

To Sum Up:

Online student recruitment is an art, and relies a little bit on luck, but the truth is there’s a lot of tried and tested data underpinning inbound recruitment marketing. By knowing your audience, communicating your institutional identity effectively, using social media well and creating great, shareable content, you’ll be well on your way to converting web visitors into leads and nurturing leads into applicants.

Unsure of whether your marketing efforts are having any results?

Take our quiz & see how your marketing knowledge measures up!

Subscribe for Updates

Recent Posts