If you walk on any campus today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a student that didn’t have a laptop or smart phone. In fact, 96 percent of young adults ages 18-29 use the internet – and those with a college education are more likely to use the internet than those who do not, according to a Pew Research Study. Your college can benefit from strengthening its online brand by reaching prospective students, current college attendees and alumni. The stronger the online brand, the more likely students and visitors will engage with a school.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways colleges can grow their online brands that ultimately lead to offline results:
1. Optimize Your Website
Your school’s website is likely the first thing visitors see before they even step foot on campus – so your website should be visually appealing as well as easy to navigate. Additionally, make sure to keep all of your target audiences in mind when it comes to content and website design. Not only does your website need to appeal to current and prospective students, their families, alumni and donors, it also needs to inform them. For example, if a prospective student is interested in your school, is it easy for them to find the information they need? What about a loyal sports fan? If your website is too complicated to navigate, it will lose visitor attention very quickly.
2. Provide Essential Information
Do students rely on your school’s website for information that they count on every day? While this might not be applicable for alumni, an interactive campus map, professor directory and updated event calendar can keep current students engaged on a daily basis.
3. Get Social
The great thing about college is the diversity of students. This presents both a unique opportunity and a challenge when it comes to social media because your target audience is so vast – each department and student group can pull in a different audience. Don’t try to control everything, but do give both departments and student groups guidelines when it comes to social media – what they publish online reflects your entire institution. Also, make sure you’re up-to-date with the people who manage the most influential social media presences at your school to quickly collaborate and spread the word about truly big news.
(Next page: Campus branding steps 4-7)
4. Be Discoverable
Your school may have a great web presence, but aside from Googling your school’s name, can people find your website? For example, if you have a great agricultural program, does your school show up through search terms like “agricultural research school on the East Coast?” Conduct keyword research and structure your on- and offsite efforts so your school is easy to find online. If you want to increase student engagement without waiting for your search engine rankings to naturally increase, then you should also consider spending money on paid search.
5. Give Free Classes
Giving course content away for free is a great way to grow your school’s brand, both online and off. Top universities, including MIT and Stanford, post free academic courses online. Not only does this establish your school as a trendsetter, it gives prospective students – and the world – a glimpse of your top quality curriculum and professors. And when your online fans decide they want to go back to school and get their advanced degrees, your school will be top of mind.
6. Retarget with Ads
There’s a good chance that if they don’t already have an existing connection, prospects may not connect with your school on their first visit to your website. Retargeting customized ads through other websites that people visit – not associated with your own – keeps your brand relevant to them. Once you have someone’s attention online, whether it be a prospective student or alumni, following them on the web with retargeted ads can easily convert them into an applicant or donor.
7. Integrate Online and Offline Efforts
Yes, students are glued to their smartphones and laptops more than ever, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see posters at the student union or pick up free t-shirts at student activity fairs. It’s important to utilize your offline marketing efforts to push your audience to connect with your school’s online presence.
As you grow your online brand, pay close attention to both your school’s online and social analytics. These metrics will show you how users are engaging with your school, ultimately providing the insights you need to improve your online presence and reach your overall marketing goals.