At the top of the list of challenges facing higher education in 2019 is Brexit. Universities are uncertain of the status of their continued participation in exchange programs like ERASMUS and are research funding is also likely to be affect – universities received £500 million every year in EU research funding from 2007 to 2013.
Add to this the possibility of variable student fees, global competition for student placements from universities in China, Canada and Australia, along with the need to invest in staff, infrastructure and student facilities. No doubt, higher education needs effective marketing strategies to survive the changing landscape.
Digital marketing has been punching above its weight for almost a decade now. The reason? There are few objections that can’t be achieved with digital marketing solutions. Using six digital marketing strategies, higher education can reach students, prospective students and potential funders where ever they happen to be, and engagement in a way that is truly meaningful.
1. Make sure website and ads are optimized for mobile
An increasing number of the people Higher Education Institutions (HEI) are trying to reach are accessing online content from mobile devices. The latest stats suggestion that individuals spend an average 177 minutes each day on their smartphones. Websites and online adverts and content that can be easily accessed, read and downloaded can significantly increase your click through rate.
2. Generate high-quality leads with PPC next-gen advertising
Online platforms, including search engines, that offer a pay-per-click (PPC) service, charge advertisers a fee each time a link in one of their adverts is clicked. This is an excellent way for HEIs to buy visits to their websites, instead of relying on organic visits only, which is usually much slower. Since PPC advertising allows the target audience to be narrowed down by age, interests and demographics, to name just a few, advertisers can generate many high-quality leads in a short period of time.
3. Make SEO your digital marketing BFF
Without clever search engine optimization (SEO), beautifully written, well thought-out content is doomed to obscurity. Think of SEO as your online publicist who, as soon as you publish content, works hard to bring you to the attention of prospective students and potential funders whose interests align with yours.
Three types of SEO to get familiar with are:
Link building – creating high-quality backlinks on your website.
On-page SEO – which includes content that is rich in (but not limited to) strategic keywords, title tags, meta descriptions, optimized header tags and internal links.
Technical SEO – Google prefers to gather information from websites that are technically sound. The more Google understands your site, the more your pages will be shown in Google search results. It pays to get a web developer to make sure that your site has no technical or 404 errors, duplicate or irrelevant content or missing and broken XML sitemaps.
4. Use live video because life’s exciting when it happens
Who wants to plough through pages-long FAQs when you can watch a life Q&A info session? Well, almost nobody. It’s so much easier for prospective students to ask questions and get answers in real-time, and it’s a lot more personal and caring.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating useful content with sessions hosted by a faculty member, a current student, alumni or dean. It also tells another story about your institution – which is: that you’re an HEI that is familiar with the latest technologies and that you’re willing to engage with students in a way that is meaningful and convenient for them. This is especially important to today’s switched-on generations.
5. Take your PR strategies online
Traditional PR isn’t dead – it’s just had a facelift. There are certain PR fundamentals that will never change. One of these is building relationships with professors, reporters and editors. Professors are your source of groundbreaking research and interesting quotes or storylines. Media personnel are your means to getting that research and those stories out to your target audience as news or editorial content – especially valuable when related to topics that are trending on the news.
Another traditional PR tactic to take online is strategic placement of advertising or content on sites that are most likely to be visited by the students or organisations you’d like to reach. You can get the best results by beginning with a brand awareness advert that simply introduces your brand, then following up with a retargeting campaign that shows new adverts to individuals who engaged with your previous advert.
6. Harness the power of influencer marketing
So you thought influencer marketing was only used to promote lipstick and shoes? Think again. Higher education is well-placed to benefit from an influencer marketing campaign. You’ll need to begin with some analysis – of your own social media channels and wherever your institution’s hashtags are appearing. Look at the individuals who are talking about your institution and analyze their reach and number of mentions. Not sure how to do this? Call in the professionals. It’s worth employing the services of a specialist digital agency to help you get it right. As part of a cohesive digital marketing plan, influencer marketing can be extremely effective for HEI’s.
In summary: creating a digital marketing strategy for your HEI
Begin with an awareness of the unique obstacles faced by higher education when setting up a digital marketing strategy – the large size of most educational organisations, with many departments and interest groups, and the diverse target audiences they must reach.
Base your digital marketing plan on the bigger picture – include a solid social media presence, and carry this through a number of strategically chosen communications methods, from email and messenger bots, to your institutional blogs and content for use by the media.
Get to know your ideal customer. For HEIs client personas include enrolled students, prospective students and their parents, alumni, possible donors and potential new employees. Personas should be detailed, using demographic data, hobbies, interests and aspirations, and where your persona is most likely to access his or her information.
Now to create content to use across your channels. This is still the best way to sustain your digital marketing strategies over time. Few organisations have the resources to produce an ongoing stream of content but students are a wellspring of usable content. Leverage your user generated content (UGC). You can find and reuse appropriate content by promoting use of your hashtag across social media channels.
Always keep in mind that one of the attractions of social media is that it allows for a high degree of engagement so make sure you instantly respond to their messages and interact wherever possible with individuals interested in your organisation.