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Top 6 Higher Education Marketing Strategies and Trends

By: Brandon Woods — November 12, 2021

Prospective students are always seeking opportunities to find the best institution to further their education. With these higher education marketing strategies, learn how to stay engaged with the up-and-coming graduates to increase student enrollment.

By adhering to these strategies, you can stay focused on the issues that matter to your student audience while also learning where your prospective students spend their time online. If you want them to come to you, you’ll have to go to them first.

an image of a university library

Update Your Website 

A website is a students’ main resource when it comes to researching academic institutions. When it comes to effective higher education marketing strategies, making changes to your website is one of the most effective things you can do.

Make It Fast, Accessible, and Mobile-First

Anyone interested in your institution should be able to load your site quickly and on any device.

If your website takes longer than two seconds to load, you are susceptible to losing visitors before they even reach your page. Regularly auditing your site for speed-related issues will help make sure that all the traffic headed your way reaches you. It also contributes to search engine optimization (SEO), as Google’s algorithm rewards quick-loading sites with higher rankings.

In this largely digital world, it’s not just your physical campus that needs to be accessible. Your website ought to be, too. As part of one of your higher education marketing strategies, update your site according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). If you receive public funding, WCAG-compliance isn’t just good marketing—it’s the law. And yet, as of February 2021, 97.1% of homepages had accessibility errors.

Mobile-device users account for 52.2% of internet traffic. It’s no longer enough to be mobile-friendly or responsive. A mobile-first approach to your education website design adapts it to fit various browsing experiences.

Use SEO Best Practices

While many potential college students visit school websites directly, 49% of school website traffic comes from organic searches. In addition to improving user experience, technical SEO practices aimed at improving site responsiveness and speed will bolster organic traffic.

Research your high-performing content and phrases to get an idea of what matters to school students. You can then use Google’s Keyword Planner to find related queries and other terms to target and utilize on your site.

Add Interactive Features

Interactive features provide future students with a customized web experience and information specific to their interests.  Consider incorporating a chat feature or giving virtual campus tours.

In addition to giving prospects immediate answers to their most pressing questions, course catalogs and similar features offer them an opportunity to explore your school’s offerings and discover the specific topics that interest them.

Produce Video Content for YouTube and Instagram

While it’s important to know what social media platforms your students are on, it’s even more vital to know where they’re willing to engage with higher education advertisements. Niche, a review site for K-12 education, surveyed high school juniors to find out.

The answers? YouTube and Instagram.

That doesn’t mean that other social platforms don’t have their own communities and their own places in your higher education marketing strategies. However, YouTube has the single highest social media engagement rate and the second-highest college-content engagement rate with juniors. Instagram rates second and first, respectively.

Maintain a YouTube Channel

YouTube offers you a nearly infinite platform, so you can deploy any number of higher education marketing strategies. Plus, it’s one of the first stops for would-be students looking at schools.

You can produce videos on just about anything, but what sort of content performs well? Here are a few ideas to help you populate the channel:

  1. Answer FAQs about topics such as financial aid or course enrollment.
  2. Tell student stories or provide student testimonials.
  3. Offer a virtual tour of the campus or major buildings or attractions.
  4. Stream campus events such as speaking engagements, university traditions, town halls, or graduations.
  5. Host a virtual open day with taster lectures, student interviews, and university presentations.
  6. Spotlight student and faculty research.
  7. Present a roundup of campus news and announcements.

Spotlight Student Life for Instagram

Where YouTube is the best home for long-form, branded and informational videos, Instagram is the number one place for students looking for a behind-the-scenes experience.

There’s a true love affair between Instagram and higher education. Instagram comes in first with students who want to engage with higher education institutions on social media, and vice versa—higher education has the highest industry engagement rate on Instagram, measuring at 3.19%.

Instagram Reels are great for short videos. You can also utilize them to tease longer YouTube content. Instagram Stories gives you a chance to share less-polished content, offering prospective students glances into the day-to-day life at your school. Additionally, there’s no shortage of amazing pictures that you can post to your feed. Photograph groups of students, campus buildings, and the surrounding area. You can also show off different programs and departments.

Crowd-Source Authentic Social Media Content

No matter which higher education marketing strategy you use, your target audience demands authenticity. One of the pillars of effective marketing for educational institutions is crowdsourcing authentic content.

Let your community do the work for you. Students, faculty, alumni—all of these groups of people are often happy to contribute their experiences to your institution. This form of user-generated content improves trust and builds a stronger relationship with future and current students.

Develop Signature Hashtags

Hashtags are an easy way to round up content from the crowd. Drum up spirit and interest with hashtags of your school name or acronym, mascot names, and rallying cries. For example, members of the University of Virginia community unite around the hashtag #wahoowa.

screenshot of instagram hashtag wahoowa

Every aspect of your university, from campus events to dorm life to admissions, are opportunities to promote your school and bring together posts from across the community.

Set Up Contests

With the help of a curated hashtag, you can host a contest on your social media account for students to engage in. You can then either select your favorite from competing entries or choose a winner at random, depending on the contest.

Offer prizes such as small gift certificates to the university bookstore or a school sweatshirt.

Need an idea for an Instagram contest? Try one of these themes:

  • Favorite study spot
  • Most spirited
  • Highest stack of textbooks
  • Creative uses of recycled essays or exam materials

Or take it a step further with an Instagram scavenger hunt. Set up a series of challenges that take students through a variety of school experiences. Have them tag the school, the scavenger hunt, and the specific challenge.

Stage Student Social Media Takeovers

You can also have individual students take over social media accounts for a day, authentically sharing their stories. Look for students who excel within their programs or who can share unique experiences or insights.

Before the day of the takeover, meet with the students to discuss guidelines, prohibited topics, and to brainstorm about content. Don’t try to script anything, but think through the posting opportunities their schedule will afford.

Remember to promote the takeover on all of your social media channels, not just the one that hosts it.

An image of a collection of social media platforms

Emphasize Career Outcomes

Students are more practical and employment-focused than ever. Both current and prospective student audiences need a combination of inspiration and reassurance from their school.

One of the main reasons that people decide to pursue higher education is their hope that it will result in better job prospects post-graduation. That career focus also helps keep them in school and progressing toward their degrees.

Gallup recently surveyed a mixture of both enrolled students and un-enrolled students. Un-enrolled students are those with some course credits but no declared degree. 49% of enrolled students cited career fulfillment as a major motivating factor in their initial decision. That’s a substantially higher number than the 39% of un-enrolled students.

Make your students believe that their futures matter to you, and give them confidence in your ability and intention to help them succeed in their chosen direction.

Profile Success Stories 

Show, don’t tell. Prove to your students, both current and future, that you are the institution they can entrust with their futures. Feature successful alumni and link their present situations to their academic journeys.

A few tips for crafting strong profiles:

  • Showcase a variety of professions, emphasizing security and satisfaction rather than income.
  • Experiment with different digital marketing channels and find a format that works for you. It could be an Instagram Reel, a detailed documentary, a blog series, etc.
  • Include both students following traditional career trajectories and students finding innovative uses for their education and degree.

In addition to individual anecdotes, use student data. What percentage of your students leave school with a job already secured?

Advise 

One reason students don’t get more out of their relationships with their advisors is that they don’t know what questions to ask. Give general pointers or advertise school-specific resources.

Introduce faculty members and talk to them about how students should navigate their departments. How should students balance course loads, internships, networking, etc. to set themselves up for success?

Enlist your profiled alumni to pass along advice by live-streaming an interview or setting up a forum for a Q&A session.

Target Adult Learners

Aspiring adult learners—individuals between the ages of 25 and 44 who are considering further school but have yet to pursue it—are a promising market for higher education. In one of many post-pandemic paradoxes, they are less confident that additional education will help them find a better career but are more likely to enroll.

Use LinkedIn as part of your marketing campaigns. This networking site is a great place to promote degree programs as well as to engage aspiring learners. You can even use the platform’s conversation ads to reach out to potential students within their professional network. Connect with famous alumni and stay involved in students’ success after graduation.

Engage Influencers 

Influencer marketing may sound like an odd item to include in a list of higher education marketing strategies. However, there are two types of influencer marketing that educational institutions should consider. For one thing, schools should look at their student bodies to discover and interact with the high-profile members of their communities.

In addition, you might reach out to industry professionals. Influencers with expertise related to departments or programs offered by your institution will likely have followers with potential interest in your institution.

Don’t Forget About the Parents

According to one 2020 survey, 86% of high school seniors claimed that their parents played a role in their college planning. They may have brought up practical concerns, facilitated campus visits, or helped with research and the application process.

In other words, parents are the high-impact micro-influencers in their children’s lives. Their voices will be heard, so communicate with them directly.

You might use one of your channels to distribute parent-directed content. Any of the following could inspire a single installment or a whole series of posts:

  • FAQ for the parents of applicants. How can they best prepare their children for success?
  • Financial aid resources. What are the available sources and when are the deadlines to apply for them?
  • Student safety. What are the phone numbers their children should have on hand? What resources should they know about? What are the best tips to help them avoid common campus dangers?
  • Student life. If their children aren’t calling home often enough, what fun experiences might they be having?
  • Empty nest syndrome. What advice can current student parents offer the parents of incoming students?
  • Life-skills checklists. What skills might they want to cover with their children before they go away?

Email is a great channel for parent marketing, but you might also consider Facebook. It may be less popular with your target market than Instagram, but Facebook is the most popular platform with other demographics such as your alumni and student families.

Grow Your Student Body Through These University Marketing Strategies

These six higher education marketing strategies shared above will help you see better engagement with your students, both current and future. They rely on tried and true digital marketing channels as well as traditional aspects of the college experience.

Through this marketing process, make sure to stay true to your school. Develop material that fits your brand. For the most part, these higher education marketing trends are areas of focus. Use them to create campaigns that showcase your school’s personality as well as its resources.

Don’t be shy of experimenting with different tones and formats. The best marketing taps into your audience’s needs, emotions, or senses of humor. Tap into those veins for truly compelling content.


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