marketing strategy

3 smart marketing strategies to boost student engagement and retention

Follow these strategies to engage today's tech-savvy, mission-focused target audience

2. Leverage the power of automation
“Defining my story? Writing faculty profiles?” These initiatives may seem like a lot of work, but they don’t have to be. When spreading your story and engaging students, leverage the power of automation. Many institutions are not incorporating automation into their marketing strategies, putting them at a disadvantage.

Technology has made society less patient, and that applies to prospective students as well. Speed to lead, or prioritizing quick contact with new prospects, isn’t just for retail businesses; it is also an important higher ed enrollment tactic. Prospective students want all the information at their fingertips, and if they have questions, they don’t want to wait for answers.

How quickly are you able to answer prospective students’ inquiries about the institution and specific programs? If you don’t provide answers almost instantaneously, you could be losing out on high-quality candidates who make fast-paced decisions. Using Facebook chatbots or other automated technologies to respond instantly to prospective students’ questions and to nurture leads before they explore your competition is important to keeping them engaged during the recruiting process.

Is your institution relying heavily on making outbound phone calls for marketing? This approach simply isn’t effective anymore. Prospective students aren’t picking up the phone. In fact, the majority of homes in the United States no longer have landlines. Even if you can get cell phone numbers, the chances that prospects will answer a call from an unknown caller are low. Prospective students have migrated to the digital landscape, and employing automation and other alternative communication methods can help give you a competitive advantage. It’ll also save your department on overhead costs, and you can better use those funds elsewhere.

Be sure that you are approaching students in the right way. With the changing demographics in higher education institutions, it’s important to adapt. Enrollment and engagement marketing strategies that used to work, such as making dozens of daily phone calls to prospective students, just won’t yield results in today’s tech-savvy climate.

3. Build credibility and increase visibility through digital public relations (PR)
One of your strongest—and least expensive—marketing tools is your PR. Using digital media to produce your PR is equally important. By leveraging PR in your digital marketing efforts, you can build credibility and increase visibility for a fraction of the cost. What’s most exciting about digital PR is you’ll also build highly valuable backlinks, which will increase your search engine visibility on Google and other major search engines. This will enable you to generate high-quality website traffic and do so cost-effectively.

The good news is that you don’t have to rely on media outlets in order to facilitate a successful digital PR campaign. A great digital PR campaign is as simple as getting your faculty members involved. After all, their efforts form the foundation of the product that students are buying. Involve the faculty in every step of your marketing efforts, particularly in the early stages. This not only allows students to take a peek into the minds of faculty members, but it also puts faces to your expertise areas and adds a personal touch.

When Tulane University recently launched its online Master of Social Work (MSW), we involved the dean and key faculty members in the brand positioning exercises, as well as our initial outreach campaigns. In doing so, we were able to more effectively tell the story of the program, understand how to position it in a highly competitive online MSW market, and leverage the expertise of the MSW program’s world-renowned faculty in order to help the program increase its search engine visibility and generate national brand exposure.

Faculty involvement shouldn’t stop after a student enrolls. Your faculty is the lifeblood of your institution, and you need to continuously highlight its successes. Sharing faculty achievements with prospective students helps build credibility, and sharing them with current students provides an additional touch point to build relationships.

It’s important to remember that prospective students, and consumers in general, are exposed to thousands of advertising messages per day, so to stand out, institutions must think like any other major brand vying for a target audience’s attention. Today’s consumers are buying stories, not products. By sharing faculty success stories with your prospective and matriculated students, you are deepening the relationship and fostering a sense of loyalty that can lead to increased engagement and retention rates.

Shrinking budgets, increasing competition, and enrollment and retention challenges are nothing new in higher ed—and they are certainly not going away. What are you doing to address these issues? Bringing your marketing strategies up to speed to accommodate a tech-savvy, mission-focused target audience is one way to start.

eSchool Media Contributors