Universities, Colleges and institutions of higher education are slow to catch on when it comes to considering using Inbound Marketing tactics as part of their advertising plans. Marketing is no longer the static, one-way approach of the 40s to the 80s, but most institutions are still mired in the past.
The Internet has changed the way businesses develop marketing plans. But why is it that most institutions still prefer the archaic direct mail approach? This report by Sappi (an European paper company) shows that 40% of direct mail isn’t even opened (p.47) and a whopping 80% of TV commercials aren’t watched on TV (p.27).
This blog is intended to show how universities, colleges and educational institutions can benefit from adding internet marketing as part of their marketing scheme. How? By using: Landing Pages, Call-to-actions and basic lead nurturing.
Why are universities lacking inbound marketing focus?
According to HubSpot, 60% of marketers are now using an inbound approach and yet universities and colleges seem to be unwilling to acknowledge its presence. Having recently completed an Advertising program, I can attest to the fact that such ideas were not mentioned in our classes on Digital Marketing / Advertising. So they certainly weren’t going to attempt to use it for the program’s benefit.
This methodology seemed backward to me. Why were they ignoring a key component to a student’s future success by overlooking such a valuable area as inbound internet marketing? Backwards or not, it can easily be remedied. Outbound methods are quickly becoming outdated methods, taken over by the already prevalent marketing tactics of the Internet-hungry public. So let’s get with it, you institutions of higher training!
Below, there are more practical questions and answers listed that I hope can convince educational institutions to look more closely at their current marketing tactics. How hard should it be for students to find the program they want? How secure should an institution be when ranked against its competition?
To remain competitive, I suggest the Marketing, Communications and PR experts at all educational/vocational institutes take the following issues.
Can inbound marketing account for link buying over link building?
In the early stages of developing a decent inbound marketing plan, it may be necessary to buy your access to a certain audience. Do it. If you need to invest in Pay-per-click advertising at first, this may be the best way to generate traffic immediately. Then, as you produce more useful content, this budget can be shaved down.
Remember, inbound internet marketing reveals that organic ranking is higher ranking in the minds of potential students.
But as you pay your way, also be certain to build links naturally by engaging with questions overheard on social media portals, any concerns sent directly to the site, and relating / responding to any other site that matches your own institution’s concerns and focus.
In other words, if you’re looking to attract new Journalism students, look at blogs and on-line articles that talk of the job market. What are the concerns of these students that make them unique to Journalism over say (advertising)?
Be part of the community and conversation. Participate in events that align with your brand. Consider sponsoring research that is relevant to your institution. Be part of and report on any news coming from legitimate press publications.
Don’t abandon video content for your website
Much like how it is said that we “eat with our eyes,” the same can be said for a visitor on your site. There is a concern that search engines prefer text over video. However, as Google evolves and develops its new methods of ranking, we may see that social media links are more important than content (to some degree).
What this means is that if a visitor “likes” your video, blog, webpage, that “like” can be translated into a higher ranking among that visitor’s circle of contacts. Google+ is engaging in social links as the new norm. In the long run, your institution’s engagement with your potential students will increase with each digital relationship.
Video is a key part of making this happen. Especially if the programs you are offering focus on visual over text. Programs such as Professional Writing, for example, might benefit more from the creation of infographics and white papers over Facebook posts. But a program such as interior design would benefit more from video and Pinterest-style content.
When I went to advertising school, the first thing I checked out on an ad company’s site was their video content: commercials, magazine ads, etc. Advertising is a more often considered a visual medium. Why is it that the institution to which I attended did not entice me with video and graphics of the work being done by their instructors and students?
So how was I able to judge this institution? I was forced to ask people their own personal experiences with regards to the program. While students will always get information from individuals in a one-on-one setting if they can find it, students are doing this on-line as well.
Tumblr / Twitter / Facebook change the marketing landscape
Add a Tumblr account. It is a cost-effective way of sharing and posting visual content. Most educational institutions simply have professionally shot (almost stock-like) pictures taken.
Tumblr offers an opportunity to students to create their own visual experience and share that with their peers. Being a social endeavour, can you use Tumblr to highlight the activities and accomplishments of your current students or alumni?
Visual representation of any area of an educational institution is a benefit. Even in a non-visually pertinent program such as nursing, perspective students will be examining the social conditions of your campus. Show students doing what possible students would want to be doing.
Consider using Tumblr to implement a career services initiative. Get students involved with job fairs, career days, etc. This will not only highlight the services available to future graduates, but also allow students to develop mentor-like relationships with the next generation.
Run a social media contest!
An event such as this will be able to be broadcast on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. Remember to continually post about it on these social portals. Also consider paying for sponsored stories, Facebook ads and promoted posts in order to ensure that your contest shows up in the newsfeed of your clientele. Just because they “liked” you on your site doesn’t necessarily mean they are receiving your newsfeed and events.
Keep connected to current students, graduates and prospective students via email. Inform them all about your social media contest and keep them informed until it runs its course.
Listen to Twitter. Using hash tags in your contest will enable you to ‘hear’ the chatter being sent in the Twitterverse. Respond to anything that appears relevant to your event. Keep the info flowing.
Your website should be your inbound marketing engine
If you have a slow site, visitors will click away. If you have a visitor looking for certain pieces of information and can’t find it, they will click away. If a page contains useless content, your visitors will click away.
Keep funneling your visitors deeper into the website experience. Your blogs should be read and responded to. Videos should be seen and commented upon. Visitors should be encouraged to sign up for newsletters and each department should have its own system of generating blogs / newsletters / eblasts. Each niche should be covered so a visitor isn’t saddled with useless information.
The option to sign up for a newsletter should be presented prominently within each niche area. You have only moments to create a bridge between your institution and a website visitor. If they have to search for it, odds are they won’t.
A website is an engine. The Internet isn’t just about distributing info and data. Now, an intuition has the option to convert visitors into tangible leads. Follow up all interest with targeted eBlasts. Get them signed up for a newsletter. Track how long visitors stay on certain pages. Perhaps a graphic design student needs more visual stimuli than does say a law student.
The object of the website is now to retain visitors over simply attracting them.
Students look at institutions sometimes 2-3 years before they apply to them. Your website has up to three years to consistently attract a lead.
Can you have testimonials of students currently working through a program? Can you create an engaging blog to detail the experience of a student through their 3-4 years at your school?
A prospective student might be eager to listen to the experience of a current student over the course of their studies. Even if this approach takes years, visitors will engage for years if they are receiving the sort of narrative that interests them.
Final Thoughts: Inbound marketing wrap-up
It’s time for all educational institutions to start using the tools available to them. Their students are already familiar with the social media platforms out there.
You can change the way a student thinks about your school. Students are mainly concerned with their possible experience. They may be scared by the size and seemingly faceless nature of a bureaucratic institution. Remember that young students are concerned with:
- Finding information on student loans
- Class sizes
- Parking facilities
- Eating locations
- On-campus living and safety concerns
- The graduation rate
- The post-graduate employment rate
- Dealing with counsellors
- Dealing with institutions in general
There are so many things that students have to deal with that it isn’t surprising that they either “tune out” of advertising, or fearfully get as much information as they can. Every student has a unique question that (when answered) will make him or her feel more relaxed about the education experience.
And an institution that can answer that question has gone beyond inbound marketing expectations. That institution has generated the most important tool in client / student engagement that no amount of direct mail or magazine ads can generate: The commodity of trust.