With Generation Z officially on the hunt for colleges and universities, digital marketing strategies for higher education play a bigger role in recruitment than ever before. Today’s young adults have used technology all their lives, and the things that impressed previous generations are basic expectations for today’s high school and college students.
For example, simply having a social media presence and website is no longer enough. Today’s prospective students expect those tools to be helpful, beautiful, transparent, and authentic—and that’s just the beginning. If your college or university is vying for the attention of the next generation, read on to discover five essential digital marketing strategies that can foster engagement and increase your enrollment in a digital age.
Challenges that Colleges and Universities Face
If you’re at all familiar with best practices for digital marketing, you already know the importance of customer research and buyer personas. Before you can engage your audience, you have to understand who that audience is, what problems they’re facing, and what questions they’re asking.
With colleges and universities, that customer research and buyer persona development takes on an added level of complexity, simply because there are so many important audiences to target. While the average company may focus on understanding and speaking to their customers, higher education institutions must consider and target:
- Prospective students
- Current students
- Parents of prospective and current students
- Potential donors
- Potential faculty
Each of those audiences comes with a specific set of needs, expectations, and questions. Successful digital marketing strategies for higher education must consider this diverse audience and plan strategic content to connect with each group.
You can recruit help from a variety of people in your organization, each equipped to understand and target a different audience. But as you invite more contributors, be careful to maintain consistent branding and messaging across your platforms.
For example, contributors may include faculty from various colleges and departments, students and alumni of different ages and interests, and more. To provide a consistent, high-quality experience online, it’s important to establish your voice and messaging first. Then, create a system to communicate those guidelines to the various contributors with access to your platforms.
Digital Marketing Strategies to Increase Engagement and Boost Enrollment
While it’s true that higher education faces unique challenges, proven digital marketing strategies empower schools to increase engagement and boost enrollment with their online presence.
Digital Marketing Strategy #1: Get Specific
We’ve already acknowledged that you have many different audiences to target and engage as a college or university. To organize what you know about those audiences, start by creating user personas. These are semi-fictional representations of your different audiences that content creators can reference as they create targeted, applicable content for each group.
Once you develop your user personas, you may be tempted to market to all your audiences at once, but that will only produce generic content that doesn’t engage anyone. Instead, create opportunities to target each audience specifically on your website and social platforms.
First, ensure your website is well organized, and each audience can identify and navigate to the page relevant to them. Next, create unique social accounts for different areas of your university, so people can follow and engage with the content designed for them.
Digital Marketing Strategy #2: Beautiful and Functional Website
With so many different audiences searching your website for information that answers their questions, it’s critical that your website is well organized and easy to navigate. Chat bots are a great tool for engaging website visitors, identifying their questions, and guiding them to the appropriate page.
In addition to being functional, your website should also be visually appealing and optimized for SEO. This helps a tech-savvy generation find your website and recognize it as relevant and helpful. Because many website visitors will also find you via digital and print materials, make sure your branding and messaging is consistent across all your marketing efforts for a smoother experience that reflects well on your school.
Digital Marketing Strategy #3: User-generated Content
As you’re planning content for multiple audiences across various platforms, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content you need. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Instead of creating all the content yourself, let your audience do some of the work for you. User-generated content from your students, faculty, and alumni is a great way to gather content that engages different audiences. Plus, prospective students appreciate the “behind-the-scenes” look current students can provide as they consider a future at your school.
To generate this content, use and promote university hashtags, then look for high-quality content you can repost on your profiles. Student projects, study abroad snapshots, and sunsets over your beautiful campus all make for engaging user-generated content.
You can also invite students, faculty, and alumni to write guest posts on your blog or take over a social media platform for the day. This makes prospects feel like they’re meeting and engaging with real people at your university.
Digital Marketing Strategy #4: Go Live
While the millennial generation preferred highly-curated content (think pristine Instagram feeds and ambitious Pinterest boards), Gen Z is pushing back and prioritizing authenticity online. Going live is a fantastic way to offer that authenticity and promote transparency in higher education.
Prospective students love that live videos “pull back the curtains” to show what university life is really like. With live video features on both Instagram and Facebook, you can host a live Q&A, show a day in the life of a student-athlete, give a tour of your dorms, highlight a fun student event, and more.
Live videos also provide another opportunity to invite students, faculty, and alumni to take over and show your school through their eyes.
Digital Marketing Strategy #5: Manage Your Reputation
So far, we’ve talked a lot about the content your college or university creates, but equally as important is the content other users are creating to talk about you. There are many moving parts within higher education, which means there are opportunities every day for people to have both fantastic and frustrating experiences with your school.
People typically take to social media when they’re either impressed or irate, which makes social listening a critical part of digital marketing strategies for higher education. Monitor mentions and comments for negative feedback that could harm your school’s reputation. Then, create a plan for how to respond to those negative comments in a positive and helpful manner.
Social listening can help you avoid or at least manage viral posts that cast your school in a bad light. Plus, your responses show followers that you’re engaged and listening, and that you care about every member of your community.
Bringing It All Together
Just like the millennial generation before them, Generation Z is influencing effective digital marketing strategies for higher education. Audiences and technologies evolve constantly, which is why growth driven design is so important.
With growth driven design, tools like Google Analytics and Hotjar heatmaps can help you understand what is and isn’t working across your digital marketing strategies. This, in turn, can help you identify new trends early on and inform marketing decisions that will increase engagement and boost enrollment.