Seven seconds.  That is about all the time you have to make (or not) a connection with your online content. It is in this very fast-paced, online and visual world of digital marketing that colleges and universities have to focus, optimize and personalize their efforts to convert prospective, in to matriculated, students.

 

Understanding the Digital Landscape
As stated it in a recent article on SearchEngine Journal, we live in a world where the Internet knows more about you than a coworker on the other side of the cubicle wall.  Based on your online location, browsing and purchasing habits the Internet (thinks it) knows your favorite food, books, music, charities, restaurants, movies, recreational activities and more.  It is the center of today’s digital marketing universe as 91 percent of Americans keep their mobile device in reach at all times according to Hanover Research.  For many of us it is a whole new world, but for Generation Z (born beginning mid-1990s), it’s the only world they have ever known.

Key digital marketing trends expected to further evolve in 2016:

  • Mobile will supersede desktop.
  • App usage will increase and be the main driver of brand content.
  • Personalization of the user experience.
  • New optimization strategies.
  • Video ads to increase.
  • Virtual reality will further enhance visual content.

Make it Personal
“Content management systems are . . . digital experience platforms that empower teams to create unique destinations,” states Andy Hoang, chief marketing officer at Long Beach State University, in an eCampus article about 2016 higher education perspectives and predictions. “For a majority of prospective students, their first experience with a university is no longer a physical one. It’s digital. More universities will create homepages with content that will bring their campuses to life, making it feel like a travel destination, connecting visitors with human experiences and the culture of the university.”

A more personalized approach from inbound marketing, the website and finally the campus visit, not only promotes consistent branding online to offline; it enhances the user experience and allows your institution to connect more quickly because it is unique to each prospective student.  By building on the personalization with each visit, communications can be targeted and enhance the prospective student’s overall journey to matriculation. This could result in fewer, but more interested, prospective students.

From a social perspective, higher education marketers need to keep in mind that Facebook is not only the number one social media platform overall, but for teenagers age 13 – 17 according to Pew Research. The best use of Facebook in higher education digital marketing is to:

  • Build digital communities through groups.
  • Show campus culture.
  • Promote upcoming events.
  • Encourage athletic teams.
  • Keep students informed with campus news/announcements.

Doing so gets prospective students connected before they ever come to campus, and enables them to build on those relationships throughout their college journey.

Go Mobile
It wasn’t that long ago that the primary discussion related to mobile was ensuring your web content was optimized for mobile with the rise of tablets and greater use of cell phones.  Well that is so 2013.

According to Hanover Research’s 2016 update on trends in higher education marketing:

  • Half of Internet users worldwide primarily use a mobile device for surfing the web.
  • 43% of college-aged students report using a mobile device for “all of their web browsing.”
  • 68% report looking at a college website on a mobile device.
  • Two-thirds of students would be willing to receive a text message from a prospective college.

As Karine Joly stated in University Business, back in January 2013, “The digitalization of marketing is happening. This is where you can reach your constituents.”  Knowing this is important for not only how prospective students are accessing information about your institution, but in shaping the character of that content. Remember the seven second rule? It needs to be fast and easy, but also rewarding.

So, content has to not only be optimized, but organized so prospective students can find exactly what they want, when they want, while browsing on their phone.  If ever higher education marketers needed an argument that students, not faculty, are the primary target audience of their website, this is it.  A prospective student’s online experience—fast, slow, error-free, easily readable/skimmable—is going to impact their perspective of your college or university overall, determining whether or not they take the next step on your digital pathway.

Don’t forget to be social.  Generation Z is driving social media’s evolution.  They have always used social media, are early adopters, and what they expect from social media has influenced how the generations before them use it as well.  While studies differ, a prospective student may be more likely to engage with you through social media than they are to ever open an email from you.

And there should be benefits to “membership.”  Cultivate your prospects by offering them some exclusive benefit from visiting a site or joining an online chat.  Social rewards are a way to increase word-of-mouth, brand awareness, and in the case prospective students, institutional affinity.

Be Visual
We know from the old Viewfinder days that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Fast forward to 2016 and the cardboard Google Googles are giving us flashbacks, but with a focus on virtual video using your phone.

Video marketing has exploded over the past year with video streaming and video advertising leading the way (think how-to recipes popping up in your Facebook newsfeed). As Paige Frances, the CIO of Fairfield University, pointed out in her predictions to eCampus:

I see virtual reality rearing a significant head in the technology landscape. It’s already a strong buzzword; yet I believe it will gain momentum in higher education in 2016 specifically within the areas of recruiting and marketing and feasibly through academics. The ability to communicate a felt experience from a distance, creating a tangible response to a virtual immersion, may very well leapfrog in-person visits and face-to-face interactions during the attraction process.

Your institution may not yet be ready to launch its own 3D immersion campus tour, but video should play a greater role in your digital playbook going forward, as Generation Z isn’t going to wait for a campus visit to rate the institutional experience.

But let’s not forget other visual mediums.  Going back to being social, Instagram, offers colleges and universities the opportunity to connect by offering unique perspectives to campus life. The University of Florida has been singled out as a “doing it right” user of Instagram by sharing behind the scenes perspectives that help foster a greater sense of community. With nearly 80,000 followers, they are indeed doing something right.   Ideas for emulating their success include:

Highlight campus life & activities.

  • Promote events, sporting or otherwise.
  • Foster a campus community & culture.
  • Provide sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes content.
  • Showcase model students, groups, faculty, and more.

Your Digital Marketing Plan Going Forward
Now you are ready to take your student recruitment to the next level by enhancing and maximizing your digital marketing efforts.  You know you’ll need to develop a personalized experience for the mobile environment that lets prospective students see what campus life is about, not simply read about it.  Millennium is here to help you restructure and better integrate digital into your recruitment marketing plans.  Let’s connect:  Lfanaras@mill-im.com or 1-877-873-7445.