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Professional Opinion

Recruit today’s college students with these digital strategies

Multi-platform marketing must evolve along with market demand and new technology
University Business, December 2016
Shani Lenore-Jenkins is associate vice president of enrollment at Maryville University.
Shani Lenore-Jenkins is associate vice president of enrollment at Maryville University.

Many higher education organizations still employ the same cookie-cutter recruitment strategies, but as college enrollment declines, it’s increasingly important to embrace technology.

Traditional marketing methods such as mailings, phone calls and old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground visits are no longer the best ways to reach today’s tech-savvy students, who find the information they need online.

While its primary focus is to educate students, a university is still a business with customers. Here are some examples of innovative recruitment strategies you can use to stand out in today’s marketplace:

Reach out earlier

The whole college evaluation process is starting earlier for many high school students, with some beginning to build their lists during freshman year. It’s crucial to reach out to them earlier—in their sophomore year at the very latest.

That said, it’s also important to evolve the messaging as they progress through high school. For example, a sophomore will respond best to a fun message about the college lifestyle, but studies show juniors and seniors are looking for hard facts on tuition costs and student outcomes.

Build a cohesive brand

Universities need to have a solid, cohesive brand with a voice and message that resonate with students. 

To build this brand, one of the first places students engage with a university is on its website. The navigation of an institution’s website is crucial, yet many websites require numerous clicks to get information on financial aid or to apply to the school. And be sure your site is mobile-friendly, as the majority of students access the web on mobile devices.

Get social

Meet students on the social media platforms they’re on now—not what they were on 10 years ago. It’s also important to segment messages depending on the social media platform—knowing when to use text, photo or video content. The content should be relevant to the users of the channel and the action you want them to take.

If you’re going to be social, you need someone to manage your efforts. This not only includes staying up-to-date on trends sweeping social channels, but also maintaining engagement with readers across those channels.

As social media platforms and trends develop, look for opportunities to stand out. For example, several colleges recently harnessed the phenomenon of “Pokémon Go” to highlight their campuses among game players.

Aim at the target

Consider geotargeting, IP targeting or other digital lead-generation campaigns. These tactics can reach students and parents with consistent, tailored messaging based on a student’s stage in the recruitment funnel.

Adding digital components to your new student search campaign updates your communications for the 21st century and ensures entire households are receiving your early brand messaging in digital form. You can then change the messaging as students move from one enrollment phase to the next.

Some universities have taken this tactic further, sending ads to specific websites so they can best reach the target audience.

Follow the leader

Unlike traditional marketing strategies, digital marketing strategies should be dynamic and evolve with the needs and demands of the market. And to keep up with this evolution, look to successful marketing leaders outside of higher education for innovative strategies.

Recruitment is highly competitive, and to keep a competitive advantage you must communicate with students where they live and breathe: online.

By embracing these digital innovations, institutions can make marketing more effective and efficient—a crucial step for countering shrinking budgets and rising above the competition.

Shani Lenore-Jenkins is associate vice president of enrollment at Maryville University. Jessica Shasserre is the director of higher education marketing at MediaCross.

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