You’re a college or university offering the best in virtual learning programming but you just aren’t seeing the enrolment numbers you want (or need!) to keep the proverbial doors open and pay the bills. And let’s face it – you can’t offer cutting edge, high-tech, virtual anything if you don’t have consumers for your product.
So, the question becomes how do you capture the hearts and minds of students in this age of virtual everything and have them banging down the doors to your admissions office versus the thousands of other higher education institutions vying for the same audience?
The answer? Content marketing. You’re already doing it, you probably just didn’t realize it had a name. Every brochure, white paper, and leaflet that your potential students come in contact with represents “content.” You have created a Twitter handle and a website in order to “modernize” with the times. Unfortunately, research is showing more and more that these surface-level efforts are no longer enough to impact admissions. So what else is there?
The most successful higher education organizations have already jumped on the content marketing bandwagon, and it’s not hard to see why.
Content marketing drives enrolment, and increased enrolment allows for money to be invested in high quality, state-of-the-art educational technologies, which in turn attracts even more students …and so on.
But what successful schools are doing differs in one major way – these schools have created a brand. In order to capitalize on the successes that other higher ed institutions with thriving virtual learning programs are experiencing, you need to create a brand for your school – a story that makes your school shine like a glorious undiscovered diamond amidst a sea of other schools.
Build a Brand to Tell a Story
Because let’s face it – almost every higher ed institution today has a website, and more importantly, they are all starting to sound and look the same. You can’t afford to simply blend into the background, and creating a strong school brand, an online identity with a unique story, will help you shine.
One way to create your persona is to dig down and identify why students should choose your virtual learning program over others. Once you know what sets you apart from the competition, you need to determine your website’s unique selling proposition (or USP). Your USP is the key to your school website’s message, which should be “choose us because [insert Unique Selling Proposition here]”, not “I suppose you could come here … We’re pretty good, I think.” Students and would-be students want a story. They want to be able to connect with a narrative that resonates with them and that they, in turn, want to share with others.
Your story becomes the essence of your virtual learning program, and answers the questions: “who are we, and why should anyone care?”
Next, use web content to energize your unique brand. Educational content marketing can offer you endless possibilities that will make your website users’ experience fun, engaging, and informative. And because you are selling an educational experience, you have far more leeway to do some really awesome things with your content marketing.
Let’s look at 3 ways you can get creative with your content marketing and some stand-out higher education institutions who are nailing the strategy.
Great content marketing is built upon great blogs. If you haven’t added blogging to your repertoire of social media tools, do it ASAP.
The University of Chicago is one shining example of educational blogging at its finest. The university has integrated general interest topics with creative writing to bring their unique brand of blog – UChicago News – to the Internet.
With this blog, the school focuses on showcasing how the work done on campus is relevant to the wider world, which in turn creates a buzz among both prospective students and parents.
Summary: creating interesting, niche content and posting it continuously will drive more traffic to an institution’s website and allow it to remain relevant and valuable to potential students. Consider focusing time and investment on producing a blog (or “microsite”) that will allow you to do so.
Never underestimate the power of a celebrity endorsement to create buzz and interest around your higher ed institution.
The University of Tennessee has harnessed the celebrity of local resident and Queen of Country, Dolly Parton, by first curating and launching a course called ‘Dolly’s America’, which covers Appalachian history and then crafting the course content to appear through Dolly’s eyes. They then featured the class in the university’s magazine before sharing the news on Twitter and tagging the lovely Ms. Parton.
Summary: Influencers work! For instance, Dolly’s reply to UT’s tweet alone earned 4,047 likes and 725 retweets. If your institution has an influential alumnus, local resident or someone who is somehow affiliated with you, get in touch and earn their interest. Engagement and awareness are powerful proof and influencers do just that.
Want to drive traffic to your website? Why not curate relatable, short and sweet YouTube videos that showcase your faculty and staff discussing real issues in real-time and post them to your site like the Columbia School of Business has. The authenticity and production level quality of their snap-shot business-related videos shine and help the CSB capture new audiences.
The University of Leeds is also using video marketing to help increase mobile browsing on their website. Their “Student Life” video series available on its YouTube channel present like well-narrated, inspirational videos set to music and speaks the language of existing and prospective students.
Summary: Younger audiences crave and regularly consume video content because it is a popular, digestible content medium. To help you expand social reach and drive engagement in a significant way, communicate a message or promote a unique view of campus life by producing a video series. Or look at creating an explainer video that pulls together the elements that make your institution unique and desirable e.g. a recent award, well-known alumni or links to industry.
Educational marketing is continuing to evolve and accomplishing amazing things for the institutions who have jumped on board with strategies like the 3 discussed in this article. It is imperative that higher education institutions create responsive and engaging brands that capture the minds – and more importantly mobile devices – of today’s young media consumers, or risk being left in the dust of their more tech-savvy, innovative competitors. Take these 3 content marketing strategies for a spin and you are sure to both create a brand for your institution and drive audiences to it.