Are we pretty safe in assuming that at one point or another, you’ve shared something you read or watched on the internet?
Come on, you know you have. Perhaps you’ve emailed an interesting article to a friend or colleague (the digital version of clipping a newspaper article and mailing it in an envelope!), shared a moving or inspiring image or blog post to your Facebook wall, tweeted an irresistible offer for a free or discounted ebook—or maybe you’ve even shared one of those ubiquitous videos of animals doing something cute. (No judgment here—after all, who can resist cute baby animals?!)
Most of the time, when we’re drawn to something online—and especially when we’re drawn to sharing something we’ve found online—no one has to coerce us to do it. We read the article or watch the video, and then pass it on willingly and freely, simply because we find it valuable and worthwhile.
The noted blogger Maria Popova, who runs the enormously popular website Brain Pickings, is credited with coining the term "interestingness" to describe the quality that characterizes the content she curates and shares. While difficult to pin down, "interestingness" is the attribute that defines the most shareable content—content that draws you in by virtue of its innate worthiness. That is: valuable content. Stuff worth paying attention to.
And that’s the heartbeat of inbound marketing: it relies on creating stuff worth paying attention to. It relies on interestingness.
Top bloggers, writers, content curators and creators agree: to capture the imagination and attention of a wide audience, you have to put their interests and needs ahead of your own. Audience first, audience first, audience first is the mantra of the most successful bloggers and social media users.
You’re a marketer, so what you need is to market what you’re paid to market—or so you might think. Sure, you know your institution backward and forward and you can give an elevator speech about its unique benefits and qualities in your sleep, and you probably do that on a regular basis! You have a message about your school that you’re always ready, willing, and enthusiastic to share.
But it’s precisely this point of view that gives rise to outbound marketing. For inbound marketing to work well, higher education marketers have to understand their institution, yes—but they have to understand their prospective students (and their parents!) just as well.
That’s because inbound marketing works, as we’ve said, by drawing your audience in. And you can’t very well capture the attention of your audience without knowing what kind of things are already capturing their attention: what kinds of resources do they find most valuable? What kinds of words do they use in their online searches? How and when do they prefer to consume online content?
To know the answers to these questions, you’ve got to be able answer the crucial question:
Who are my prospective students?
How you’ll answer this question, of course, depends upon many things, including the specific marketing campaign you’re launching at a given moment. Are you looking to recruit more students from outside your geographical region—or from within it? Are you aiming to bring in more students for a particular major or college within your university? Perhaps you are looking to diversify your student body by recruiting students from underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds. Whatever your goals, it’s important to be as detailed as possible in drawing up personas to represent the students you’re seeking to reach—don’t go off hunches: do research.
You need to be able answer questions such as these:
What makes my prospective students tick?
What are my prospective students looking for in a college or university?
What are my prospective students fearful of and what are they enthusiastic about?
How are my prospective students spending their time online—what are their go-to websites, apps, and social media platforms?
How and when do my prospective students prefer to conduct research and consume content?
If you’re not able to answer these questions, you’ll never be able to create the kind of content that will draw in the right students at the right time. If you can’t answer these questions, you won’t be able to generate organic search results. If you can’t answer these questions, you won’t be able to do inbound.Unsure of whether your marketing efforts are having any results?