Do you know what people are saying about your school online? How do they feel about your main competitors? What are their general feelings about institutions like yours, the value of the qualifications you offer, or the industries and sectors your courses relate to?
To answer these kinds of questions, marketing professionals frequently employ a strategic approach known as ‘social listening’. The idea is to monitor several different kinds of interactions, conversations, and trends across a broad range of channels, and use this data to identify actionable improvements.
When done on either a small or large scale, social listening can lead schools to make significant changes to their student recruitment strategies, digital marketing tactics, and even occasionally their programs, courses, and support services.
Keep reading to learn more about how social listening works, and how you can get started.
What’s the Difference Between Social Listening and Social Media Monitoring?
The terms social listening and social monitoring are often confused or used interchangeably, but there is a distinction between the two. Social media monitoring for schools would typically involve tracking mentions of your institution, as well as responding to any comments or interactions from online users on top social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
All of these elements are part of social listening, too, but there is lot more to it than that. For a start, social listening can involve not only tracking your own online presence, but that of your competitors, as well as topics related to the education sector, or specific industries your courses relate to. For example, a hospitality school might keep an eye on the latest trends and developments in the tourism industry.
Example: Eton College, a tourism and hospitality school in Vancouver, regularly posts about new developments in the sector on Facebook. This kind of content is a good example of what social listening might bring to your attention.
Despite its name, social listening also often extends beyond social networks, with your email inbox, review sites, website comment sections, forums and other online spaces all possibly offering valuable information about the attitudes, wants, and needs of your target audience.
Perhaps most importantly, social listening is a far more proactive approach than social media monitoring. Rather than simply responding to online conversations, schools who practice social listening will analyze what they learn, and use that information to adjust their strategies, branding, and services.
Jenn Chen of Sprout Social summed up the difference between the two approaches in simple terms. “(Social) listening is not seeing a private message come in and responding to it. It’s noticing that three private messages from three different people about the same topic arrived. And then informing the best department about it.” By approaching things in this way, your school can gain far more lasting value from all the information you gather.
What to Look for in Social Listening for Schools
There are many reasons why social listening could be an interesting approach for your school to take. Whether you’re working for a university, college, language school, or any other kind of institution, the general online conversation can provide insights into your audience’s attitudes, the reputations of you and your competitors, and the general outlook of wider education sectors, industries, and even local economies.
Here are a few areas your school might want to focus on.
Public Perception of Your School
What is the general attitude of people online towards your school? Do they tend to speak about it positively or negatively? Is it well known, or does it seem like relatively few people have heard of it? Are there any misconceptions that you feel people might have?
When working inside an organization, it can be natural for your view of how you are seen by the outside world to be skewed somewhat. Monitoring mentions of your school on social media, reviews, and even press articles can all give you a flavour of your wider reputation, and help to adjust your messaging in such a way as to capitalize on any strategic advantages you may have in this regard, or correct any negative perceptions.
On a more practical level, you can evaluate what prospects, students, parents and graduates have to say about your online presence, admissions process, courses, and services, and use this feedback to drive positive change within your team.
Your Competitors’ Reputations
In addition to tracking your own school’s online presence, you should also pay attention to that of your competitors. Look at their visibility, the amount of engagement they generate, and what sort of reputation they appear to have.
This can be especially important in social listening for schools because education is something of a niche sector. Your school is unlikely to generate the same amount of interest, buzz, and advocacy of a celebrity, popular TV show, or Fortune 500 company, nor should you expect it to. By comparing yourself to your competitors, however, you can establish a baseline for success that your school can work towards.
For example, if you are working for a private K-12 school, and a nearby school of a similar size and resources seems to generate more positive feedback and conversation online, you can reasonably assume that your institution is lagging behind, and take steps to try and level the playing field.
General Sentiment Towards Education
You should also consider the general attitudes of people online towards the kinds of programs, courses, and qualifications you offer. MBA programs, for instance, generate a lot of conversation across various channels, with many prospective students discussing the value of the qualification, the best schools to attend, and how to maximize the benefits of the degree.
Example: Articles which discuss the value of MBA degrees are commonplace across many mainstream publications which cover business and finance matters, like Investopedia. These kinds of articles can be crucial in guiding the decision-making of prospective students, and business schools would be wise to pay close attention to this sort of coverage.
As mentioned before, social listening can also be very valuable in helping you to keep track of the latest trends and developments in the wider industries that relate to your programs. If your courses are designed to prepare students for specific careers, economic upturns and downturns might have an impact on the future prospects of your graduates, in turn affecting how likely prospective students are to consider pursuing their studies.
Similarly, new developments and trends in certain sectors might change how your school is perceived. A course related to social media marketing, for example, might be viewed as less relevant if the syllabus is out of date or doesn’t account for more recent developments in the sphere, such as the rise of the stories format.
By keeping your ear to the ground about what’s happening in the industries you serve, you are less likely to be caught off guard by game-changing shifts and developments.
Where Should Your School be Listening?
Opinions are everywhere online. Whether they are commenting on a story, posting about a topic in a discussion forum, sending a direct message to an organization, leaving a review, or simply liking a social media post, users are constantly communicating what they think about any number of things.
So, where do you find the information that is most relevant to your school? This will largely depend on the makeup of your target audience and wider community, as well your school’s overall size, visibility and reputation. However, here are a few suggestions of platforms you might consider actively monitoring, and what you can look for.
Twitter– Due to its focus on trending topics, Twitter is often seen as the gold standard for social listening. Your school can track trending hashtags and topics, mentions of your institution and its competitors, and even relevant influencers, as well as your own engagement metrics.
Example: Try searching relevant hashtags for your sector on Twitter from time to time, such as #StudyEnglish for language schools. The results can give you some interesting ideas.
Facebook– You can track reactions, comments, and mentions of your school and its competitors, and any other relevant topics across the platform, as well the content of any direct messages and reviews you receive.
Instagram– While it is a lot more visual than other platforms, Instagram is still a good place to monitor the sentiment of your audience. Through posts, comments, hashtags, and direct messages, many users of the site engage directly with brands.
Example: Instagram comments can offer a window into public perception of your school. Duke University can feel very positive about the comments on this post.
LinkedIn- For schools at a certain level, and particularly those who may be focused on trends in specific professions or industries, LinkedIn is definitely a good place to keep your finger on the pulse. Frequent users often share news and views from the cutting edge of their industry, much of which might be worth investigating.
Example: The ‘Today’s news and views’ section on LinkedIn often throws up interesting topical content that could be relevant to your school.
Reddit- Calling itself the ‘front page of the internet’, and viewed as the most efficient viral engine in the world, Reddit attracts 542 million monthly visitors to talk about anything and everything. While the forum’s users are notoriously negative towards marketing and branded content, this can actually be an advantage when it comes to social listening in education, as Reddit’s boards are trusted by many for the honest, unbiased natures of their opinions.
You will likely find numerous subreddit sections which are relevant to your institution type, subject area, location or other relevant topics from which you can glean some insight into your audience’s attitudes. If your school is large or well-known enough, there may even be subreddits dedicated to it.
Example: The unofficial subreddit of Georgetown University. These questions from incoming freshman are a good example of the valuable insights the platform can offer.
Tumblr- A different kind of discussion forum and a lighter alternative to Reddit, Tumblr can nonetheless provide some great insights you won’t find elsewhere. Your team can search relevant keywords around topics that matter to you, and even follow specific topics or individual bloggers.
Quora- Fast becoming a valuable marketing tool in its own right, what sets Quora apart is its unique Q&A style. Users pose open questions to the forum, and others provide in-depth answers, with the best upvoted by other readers so that they appear most prominently. Quora users tend to be well-educated and have well-informed opinions, so following some relevant topic areas and questions could be particularly eye-opening for your school.
Reviews- Possibly one of the most visible and important social listening sources available on the net, online reviews and recommendations from Google and Facebook, as well as dedicated sites like Yelp, will all offer very direct feedback from your school’s community. Monitoring and responding appropriately to both good and bad reviews can be crucial for schools.
Your school may not need to pay close attention to all of these sources, and much will depend on your specific goals and what you hope to achieve from social listening. However, each could help you to accumulate a wealth of valuable data to be put into action.
Social Monitoring and Listening Tools Your School Can Use
There are a number of tools you can use to engage in social listening, ranging from the simple to the complex. A good starting point is the native analytics tools of various social platforms. For instance, Facebook Insights will allow you to generally gauge the positive versus negative feedback that your posts are receiving. The Pages to Watch feature is also very useful for social listening, as it allows you to keep track of your closest competitors, and view data on the engagement they are receiving. Another great native social listening tool is Tweetdeck, which Twitter users can use to track specific trends, hashtags, and mentions of relevant topics.
Some CRM and marketing automation platforms also offer tools for social media monitoring and listening that can help you track activities across specific websites.
Example: Here at HEM, we use HubSpot to track hashtags related to digital marketing and education.
These will often vary in capability and integrations depending on your provider and specific package. Some platforms just offer more basic monitoring tools while others, like Salesforce, provide more sophisticated capabilities like sentiment analysis and customizable topic profile dashboards. Similar social listening features are also available in social media management platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social.
While some of the more advanced tools can be useful, they are arguably something of a luxury for most schools, and may not justify their cost in the value they provide. Taking a more simple, practical approach to social listening could be just as fruitful for your school, without having to make a huge dent in your budget.
Putting Social Listening into Action in Your Student Recruitment Efforts
What you do with the information your school gets from social listening will largely depend on what you learn.
Some information might be used to drive internal improvements. Monitoring your competitors’ social media presence might lead to you changing your posting strategy. Tracking discussions about your institution or sector might uncover surprising information about the demographics of your audience, and lead you to refine your personas or key messages. Evaluating your online feedback might even lead to a change in one of your school’s policies or a service you offer, should your school determine that you are not meeting the needs of your typical students.
In other cases, you may want to join the conversation, or to engage and respond with both satisfied and dissatisfied members of your audience. Whether this is appropriate will depend on what channel you are dealing with. Responding to negative reviews for instance, can create a very good impression of your school, showing your audience that you take their concerns seriously. Likewise, having one of your staff offer an expert opinion on Quora about a topic related to your sector can be well-received, provided it is unbiased, articulated well and not overtly promotional.
Example: University of Minnesota Professor William Beeman regularly takes time to offer advice to Quora users in the college and university admissions section of the forum.
On the other hand, certain online spaces may not welcome direct communications from brands, and you may be better off simply monitoring sentiment about your school on these sites, rather than actually trying to respond.
Insights you gain from tracking topics can also be used to generate content ideas for your school, such as interesting blogs posts or videos. By keeping your ear to the ground, you can ensure your institution comes across as a thought leader that is in the know about the latest cutting-edge developments.
However you choose to address your findings, the most important thing is that you are proactive in using social listening to drive improvements. This is what distinguishes social listening from more reactive social monitoring, and what makes it such a valuable tool for schools looking to enhance their reputation online.
Could your school’s online application process be more convenient? Do your forms factor in every aspect of enrolling at your school, including accommodation, exam fees, or other optional extras? Can prospects take care of every aspect of their application online, or do they need to complete certain things by post or in-person?
The ease at which prospective students can navigate your application process can often make a lot of difference. A smooth, intuitive system eliminates any potential problems or confusion that could lead them to fail to submit, while also creating a positive impression of your institution.
If your current application process has proved problematic in the past, here are a few things that you could consider doing to improve it.
1. Allow Students to Create Unique Accounts When Applying to Your School
How often have you started filling out a complex form online, only to be interrupted? Or come across something halfway through that made you want more time to consider your decision? Or gotten almost all the way to the end of a form, only to find out you are missing a key piece of information or documentation?
This kind of thing happens all the time, particularly when it comes to school applications, which can be quite long and detailed. As a result, many institutions who track their online application completions will often see high numbers of users abandoning the process before they finish.
Using a system which allows them to create unique accounts and save their progress as they go along can help to mitigate this risk, while also saving prospects the headache of starting their applications from scratch again.
Example: HEM’s Application Portal requires students to create unique accounts.
Users can then save their application progress as they complete it.
2. Make it Possible to Create and Manage Multiple Applications
Account-based online application portals for schools can also be especially useful if you deal with education agents. Agents will often make applications on behalf of multiple students, and may even need to do so across different schools and campuses.
Allowing agents to create accounts enables them to manage all of their dealings with your school in one place. They can check the status of different applications, track any payments they may have made to your school, and save their progress on incomplete forms to better manage their workload. You can even enable agencies to create accounts with more than one agent, and still manage all of their applicants centrally.
This kind of functionality can also be put to use for parents, who may want to apply on behalf of more than one of their children, as well as employers if you are running professional development courses. By eliminating the need for these users to create account after account, you are making things a lot easier for some of your most valuable long-term target personas.
3. Include Accommodation and Other Extras in Your School’s Application Forms
If you are dealing with international students, or even just domestic students who are not from your local area, it’s possible that you may also arrange or provide accommodation for them as part of your intake process.
Rather than making these arrangements separately, your school can create fields in your application forms for prospects to select the accommodations they will need. This means that they can potentially book and pay for both their course and their accommodation in one sitting.
Example: Centre of English Studies’ online application form, which is powered by Class Systems, allows students to book both their course and accommodation in the same form.
You can factor in any other extra services you provide, too, such as airport pick ups and drop offs. If your school offers any excursions or activities for your students, they can all be included and booked as part of the application as well. You might even ask them to specify any dietary requirements, medical conditions, or other special needs they may have so that you can be fully prepared for their arrival. Provided you use an online application portal with flexible form building tools and field options, you can include whatever you need.
Example: HEM’s Application Portal has a simplified form builder so that you can easily create and customize the fields you include.
4. Let Applicants Customize Their Course and Program Options
In addition to accommodation and other optional extras, your forms should also allow prospects to be as specific as possible about their preferred course and program choices. For instance, you might offer multiple start dates or class schedules, or multiple course durations. Making sure students can choose the option they want at the point of application can help to eliminate any complications later on.
Depending on the nature of your programs and courses, you may also want to factor in any customizable course options. For example, if you offer optional modules or electives in your courses, your applicants might appreciate being able to state their preferences at an early stage.
Example: This application form, designed for a language school, offers multiple course and schedule options, start dates, and session durations.
Similarly, if your course has any additional components that are booked separately – such as a TOEFL or IETLS exam for language school students – including these options in your course applications can make it easier for prospects, and may even increase the amount of applicants who choose to avail of them.
Again, using a system with robust form building and pricing capabilities will help to ensure you can create comprehensive, all-inclusive forms that cover everything a new student could possibly need.
5. Supplement Your School’s Applications with Online Quotes to Improve Transparency
In addition to including course details and optional extras in your application forms, it might also be a good idea to supplement them with a free quote calculator that allows prospects to price out the total cost of attending your school.
Many universities, colleges, and other institutions are often guilty of being unclear about their fees and the costs students need to account for during their studies, and this can lead to problems as prospects progress through the enrollment journey only to be surprised by additional expenses they had not accounted for.
Offering free quotes before they apply will allow them to view a breakdown of your course fees, accommodation and any other extras, and better ascertain how feasible pursuing their studies is for them.
Example: International House Bristol use CoursePricer to provide free quotes for potential applicants.
Be sure to include the prices of any additional costs they will need to factor in, such as airport transfers and exam fees, in order to provide a detailed breakdown of everything involved in booking a place at your institution. If your school adjusts prices for high season, or offers other kinds of variable rates for your courses like group discounts, be sure to build those calculations into your quote, so that they won’t be misled or confused about the price.
Example: The free quote tool in HEM’s Application Portal allows schools to build in automatic price adjustments for high season.
The complete quotes can then be either emailed directly to leads, or presented on a web page with a prompt to proceed to making an application.
6. Integrate Popular Payment Gateways into Your School’s Application Process
If you’re prospects are applying online, it’s a fairly reasonable bet that they would prefer to pay online if possible, too. However, many school’s application portals are unable to process payments, requiring applicants to be redirected elsewhere, or even make transactions physically.
Being able to integrate your application portal with an online payment gateway can make the process much simpler. Paying through a well-known gateway such as Stripe or PayPal can also be reassuring for prospects who may be worried about paying online.
In addition, some payment gateways offer a range of beneficial features that can make the process more convenient for your school and its applicants. Flywire, for instance, offers tailored solutions for the education sector that include a range of specialized options, such as the ability to create automated payment plans for students. The service also allows international students to pay in their own currency, and secures wholesale exchange rates to negate any exposure to exchange rate fluctuations for both students and schools.
Integrating your payment processes within your application portal will also make it easier for your school to track payments from students, as they will be identified in your system as they come in, saving you having to trawl through your accounts to match payments to applicants.
7. Let Applicants Sign Online with E-signature Tools
Do your applications require signatures? Whether they have to agree to contractual terms or verify certain information, needing prospects to sign off on an application can be very awkward if you are trying to digitize your process. Some schools are forced to ask applicants to print off and sign a document and then re-upload it, or seek their signature out during a later meeting in order to fully complete their application.
Fortunately, e-signatures are becoming more and more common as a way to remedy this problem, and are now used by a variety of different organizations in various sectors.
E-signatures come in a few different formats, and can often involve asking a prospect to type their name along with some verifiable personal information (like part of a social security number). However, the most common format involves the user tracing their signature on the screen with a stylus, a mouse or their finger.
Example: HEM’s Application Portal includes an e-signature tool.
E-signatures are legally binding and acceptable in over 27 countries, including all member states of the EU, Canada, Australia, China, the United States, and Russia. Other countries which do not have official legislation in place will still often accept them as substitutes for physical signatures, too.
Adding this feature to your school’s online application forms can allow you to speed up your process, save on paper, and digitally store your signed agreements. While it’s only a small thing, it still adds up to a more intuitive, smooth experience for your applicants.
8. Enable Document Uploads for Applicants
Your applications will also possibly require some kind of supporting documents from students. This could include a copy of their passport or another form of ID, photos, grade or exam transcripts, or supporting letters of recommendation, among other things.
You can make it easier for applicants by allowing them to upload these files when they make their application, rather than asking them to physically mail them or bring them to your school in person. Uploading these files will also make it easier to track and store them, and help you save on paper.
Depending on the nature of what you are asking for, prospects may need to upload a number of different kinds of files, such PDFs, JPEGs, and Word documents, so you should be careful to ensure that your system supports each file type that you require.
Example: This application form asks applicants to upload a scanned copy of their passport and visa.
It’s possible that not all of these elements will apply to your school. You may not offer accommodation or other extras, for instance, and not really need to worry about including these details. Likewise, you may not need a facility for them to upload documents, or sign forms online.
Nonetheless, any improvements you can make to your forms could be well worth your while, and help to improve your conversion rate at the bottom of your funnel. Providing you have a system which offers plenty of customization options, you should be able to create the perfect forms for your institution’s unique needs.
Are your school’s email marketing initiatives all they could be? Email remains one of the most powerful tools that schools can use to inform, engage, and entice their communities online. It can be useful for everything from encouraging return visits to your website, to driving prospective students towards application, to keeping your current students, parents, and alumni informed.
To truly see its benefits, however, your email marketing strategy needs to have a certain amount of focus. Rather than simply sending email blasts to your entire contact list, your school should be aiming to engage specific groups with the right messages at the right time.
This is where the workflow creation capabilities of marketing automation systems can really shine. Going beyond the simpler tools offered by standard email service providers (ESPs), these systems allow you to create complex, sophisticated workflows that serve a variety of purposes.
Curious as to what this might look like? Here are a few examples of useful workflows your school might be able to build with marketing automation.
1. Lead Nurturing Workflows are the Cornerstone of Higher Education Email Marketing
While you can create numerous different workflows using marketing automation, the spine of you email marketing activities should be your main lead nurturing workflows. This is a sequence of mails with a logical flow, designed to gradually push a prospect down the funnel towards conversion.
What these workflows look like will largely depend on your school. Some institutions may opt for a single, simplified sequence of about 6-8 mails that will be sent to all their leads, with each focusing on specific aspects of the school, like the programs and courses they offer, student life, financing, or their application process.
Example: A typical lead nurturing workflow sequence of six mails timed over 3-4 weeks. Note that prospects are enrolled to receive a monthly newsletter once the workflow finishes, too.
Others may choose to segment leads based on the program they are interested in, their location, or other persona-specific attributes. This will allow you to create more personalized content that may be more likely to engage. A good marketing automation system can enable this kind of segmentation by allowing you to create enrollment triggers based on the fields in your lead capture forms.
Example: This form on the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management website asks leads to state their country of residence, what program they are interested in, and their intended start date. All of these fields could serve as the basis for lead nurturing workflow segmentation.
The lifecycle of your enrollment funnel can make a difference, too. For instance, prospects for shorter courses, like summer programs or professional development courses, might only spend a few weeks or months researching their options before applying to a school, so a short workflow may be all that’s needed.
Potential applicants for universities or business schools, however, can spend anywhere from 6 months to a couple of years researching different institutions before they reach a decision. This means that pushing them to apply just a few a weeks after they subscribe to your communications might not make a lot of sense.
In this situation, some schools will take a leaf out of the playbook of other businesses, implementing lead scoring or similar segmentation systems to help determine the readiness of potential applicants. Using this method, you can then create lighter initial workflows for ‘colder’ leads that promote your school and courses less directly, but gradually work to build their interest. Once a prospect has shown enough engagement through specific actions – website visits, email opens and clicks, downloads, etc. – your marketing automation system can be triggered to reclassify them as market-qualified leads (MQLs), and move them to new workflows that push them further towards application.
2. Build Workflows Around Your School’s Application Deadlines
While most lead nurturing workflows are triggered to start as soon as a contact meets their criteria, an alternate approach is to use your marketing automation system to build them around specific dates.
For instance, if your courses run throughout a standard academic year (from September to May), your deadline for applications might be in March or April, and it’s possible that most of your students apply in or around this time. However, many of them might begin their research and sign up to receive communications from your institution a number of months earlier.
To reignite their interest and ensure you are in their thoughts come crunch time, you could create an email workflow that is triggered to start in the weeks leading up to your application deadline. Marketing automation systems use smart enrollment criteria that will ensure that all the potential applicants you have gathered up to that point are included in your campaign.
Example: Excerpts from a HubSpot workflow which is centred around a specific date, and sends reminders to prospects that the application deadline is approaching.
This tactic can work well for those offering short or seasonal courses, too. It’s also ideal for universities or business schools with a long lead lifecycle, as they may have some prospects who begin researching their school years ahead of time. As shown in the earlier example from WHU, many institutions will include fields in their forms asking contacts to specify when their intended year of enrollment would be for this purpose.
If you are creating this kind of workflow, it’s advisable to also include parameters that will prevent those who have already made an application from being included, and suppression criteria that will remove contacts when they apply. While it isn’t the end of the world if an applicant gets an email after they have submitted their application, it can still make your school look a bit disorganized or unprofessional, so it’s best avoided if possible.
3. Maximize the ROI of Your Marketing Efforts with Lead Magnet Follow-up Workflows
Complementary content offers and resources have long been an important part of digital marketing. Sometimes referred to as ‘lead magnets’, these incentives can come in many forms, including eBooks, whitepapers, videos, reports, or even quizzes, and serve to entice conversions by offering users additional value.
While not every school creates these kinds of offers, many are beginning to factor them into their student recruitment campaigns. For instance, it’s becoming more and more common for language schools to offer short online tests to help new prospects gauge their proficiency levels.
Example: Centre of English Studies offer this short English proficiency test on their website. Users need to submit their email details in order to receive their results.
Other schools offer similar tests, run contests, provide free quotes, or simply offer downloadable brochures, white papers, or videos as gated content offers.
If you are going to the trouble of developing this content, you need to capitalize on it. Lead magnet conversions are often indicative of serious interest on the part of prospects, while the offers themselves can serve to further convince them to consider your school.
With that in mind, creating higher education email marketing workflows that are triggered by these offers can be a smart move. Your school could send a series follow-up emails to prospects directing them to other content and information they may be interested in, encouraging them to make an application, or prompting them to arrange to speak to an advisor. By messaging leads at a point where are already highly engaged, your school can strike while the iron is hot.
4. Create Workflows for Your School’s Online and Offline Events
Another great way to offer added value to prospects is through events. Whether you are hosting something in the flesh, like a campus tour or open day, or in the digital space, like a webinar or online information session, an event represents the ideal opportunity to persuade leads that your school is the right choice, and attendants will often have a high overall application rate.
You can create automated workflows to drum up interest for your events, and create specific lists of leads who might be interested in attending. Typically, these will be short sequences, with an initial invitation, followed by a ‘last call’ mail closer to the event (as well as a reminder for those who registered to attend with any additional details they might need). You can then send follow-up mails to your attendees, thanking them for their interest and inviting further contact. You could also create mails for those who couldn’t make it, to fill them in on what they have missed, and possibly promote similar events you may be planning in the future.
Timing is especially important when creating event workflows, and the point at which you need to send each mail out will largely depend on the type of event involved and the audience you are serving. For instance, for a short online webinar, you may only need to send your first mail in or around 2 weeks prior to the event. Your second mails, meanwhile, are probably best sent between 24-48 hours beforehand, so that the webinar will be top of mind for prospects who sign up.
Example: An email workflow for a webinar.
A physical event, on the other hand, will likely need a longer lead time, as your audience may have to travel or make arrangements to free up their time. You may need to send your invitations a few months before the event, while your reminder and last call mails will likely need to go out at least a week before in order to have a real chance of attracting last-minute registrants.
When creating follow-up mails for events, it’s always best to offer as much value as possible. If it was a physical event, try to point attendants towards additional online resources that can support and expand upon some of the information they may have gotten. If it is an online event, it might be an idea to offer prospects a recording of the session, so that they can review it in their own time. This can also be great for those who have missed it, as they can watch the recording and still get some of the benefit.
5. Give Prospects a Taste of What to Expect with Free Email Course Campaigns
One novel way to utilize email marketing for higher education institutions might be to build a free email course campaign. These kinds of campaigns have become more common in recent years, although they are arguably more popular outside of the education sector than in it. They are particularly prevalent among B2B enterprises, who will often offer short ‘free courses’ in relation to certain aspects of their services as a means to attract leads. Given schools have the material and knowhow to deliver these kinds of mails well, it only stands to reason that they could see the same kind of success.
There are a number of possibilities for creating these kinds of campaigns for institutions across different sectors. For example, an ESL provider could create a short introductory email course providing some basic lessons in English, with CTAs to prompt users to book a full course.
A university or college, meanwhile, could focus on a simple, specific topic or subject in one of their programs, and build the campaign around that. The emails themselves do not have to be too elaborate, though they will likely have more depth than other workflow campaign content.
Example: An excerpt from a free email course in UX design offered by professional development course provider CareerFoundry.
Of course, the objective of these campaigns isn’t to give valuable course material away for free. The content should simply serve to provide a good foundational knowledge of certain aspects of your courses or programs, giving your prospects a better understanding of what they entail. From there, your school can use CTAs to prompt them to sign up or apply for full programs, and create a series of follow-up emails after your course campaign has finished to prompt them to take the next step.
6. Create Internal Notification Workflows for Student Inquiry Follow-up
While each of these ideas can help to attract and engage prospects, all of your efforts could be in vain if your admissions team aren’t following up with them properly. To ensure you don’t miss your chance, you should set up internal email notification workflows that will automatically trigger a mail to be sent to one of your team members when prospects take certain actions.
The most common internal notification workflow would probably be for lead assignment. When a new prospect first fills out a form, a mail with their details will be sent to one of your team members so that they know there is a new lead in the system and can follow up accordingly. You can set these workflows up to spread these assignments out to different members of your staff based on a round robin system, by location or program, or any other way that fits your organizational needs.
Example: A simple lead assignment workflow in Mautic which segments new leads by campus.
You might also want to set up notifications for other triggers that are important to your funnel, such as downloads of certain resources, event registrations, or even just page or video views. This is perhaps the simplest kind of email workflow you can create with marketing automation, but it could also be your most important.
7. Set Up Pre-Interview Workflows for Prospective Students
Are interviews a part of your recruitment process? If so, it might a good idea to create automated email workflows for those who are preparing for them. This would typically be a fairly short sequence, and might include preparation tips, as well as details of anything they might need to bring to the interview or know before they arrive. You could include a follow-up mail for after the interview has taken place, thanking prospects for coming in and encouraging them to come back to you with further questions.
Example: A pre-interview workflow designed for a business school. Note how each mail is accompanied by its own content offer to further engage leads.
This type of workflow could also be used for any other steps that might be involved in your application process, such as the submission of portfolios, or any kind of assessments you may need candidates to take. Prospects will appreciate being offered extra guidance and given the chance to fully prepare.
8. Use Higher Ed Email Marketing to Re-engage Lapsed Applicants
Another very valuable use of automated email marketing in higher education is as a means of re-engaging prospects whose interest in your school appears to have lapsed. Your team can create messages specifically targeted towards getting them to re-engage and resume the enrollment journey.
This might be especially useful in the case of prospects who have shown signs of serious interest before abandoning the process. For instance, if your school has an online application portal with a step by step process or account creation options, you may be able to track incomplete applications and trigger enrollment in a specialized workflow. Creating emails which work to overcome any final barriers to application and urge prospects to complete the process might help you to minimize the chances of these leads falling through the cracks.
9. Seal the Deal with Pre-Arrival Workflows for Accepted Students
Your email marketing efforts shouldn’t necessarily stop once a prospect’s application has been accepted. In the weeks or months leading up to their course start date, you can create pre-arrival workflows which serve to offer any helpful information or guidance they might need, and to get them excited about attending your school.
Example: An excerpt from a pre-arrival email created by a language school, which includes helpful info about what students need to bring, as well as what to expect on their first day.
This kind of workflow is great for student satisfaction, and can also lessen the chances of any accepted applicants changing their mind at the last minute and failing to enroll.
These are just a few examples of automated email workflows your school could potentially create, and you are likely to find that your team will have several more ideas for prospects, as well as enrolled students, graduates, their parents, and anyone else within your school community. With the range of capabilities that marketing automation offers, the possibilities are practically endless.
The business school market has always been one of the most unique and dynamic areas of the education sector. Serving a highly ambitious, intelligent, and hard-working base, these institutions provide students worldwide with prestigious qualifications that serve as a gateway to lucrative top-level career opportunities.
With its emphasis on relationship building, value, and informativeness over traditional ‘hard-selling’ tactics, digital marketing should be a natural fit for this space. Yet, while most business schools engage in some of form of online recruitment activities, there is an abiding sense across the sector that many could be making more of the potential of digital channels to maximize visibility and impact.
If you feel that your institution could be getting more from its digital marketing initiatives, there is no better time than now to re-examine your efforts.
Why do Business Schools Need Digital Marketing?
Competition among business schools has never been more intense. For a start, today’s professionals and aspiring professionals alike are increasingly mobile. Where once schools dealt with a narrow field of prospects and competitors in their region (with a small cohort of international applicants), they are now faced with a vast global marketplace.
This is reflected in recent application trends, with a 2018 Graduate Management Admissions Council survey showing more regional variation in application rates across different countries. Compounding this, the sheer amount of choice available is increasing all the time, with quality schools offering an increasingly diverse array of different course options to suit the needs of prospects.
It isn’t just other business schools that your institution has to compete against either, it’s other opportunities. In recent years, more and more young professionals have questioned the overall value of qualifications to further their careers, as graduates have found their job prospects more limited than they once were. As MBA graduate Daianna Karaian commented in an article for The Economist, “These days, questioning the value of a business degree is one of the few growth industries.”
While this skepticism about the value of education is by no means unique to business schools, it is becoming more and more of a challenge to convince prospects that pursuing a business degree is the best path to reaching their professional goals. Indeed, the aforementioned Graduate Management Admissions Council survey found that pursuing a new job opportunity was one of the leading alternatives prospects considered.
Shorter professional certifications, MOOCs, and corporate training programs are also gaining traction as alternate routes to success.
All of this means that business schools today face a more discerning audience than ever before. Simply put, students want a business education option that will perfectly fit their needs and will provide a dependable path towards helping them advance their careers, and they are willing and able to go further than ever before to get it.
Reaching such a demanding market is difficult, but digital marketing can provide avenues to making it happen. Through targeted and strategic initiatives across a range of channels, your school can position itself at the forefront of this busy marketplace, and engage prospects at every stage of the enrollment journey to convince them that your programs are the right choice for their needs.
Defining Personas for Your Business School
The first step to recruiting business school students online is ensuring you have developed well-researched, accurate personas. Depending on what your school is offering, you may need to develop more than one to cater to specific segments of your audience and their unique needs.
For example, your school might find the motivations and goals of international students are very different from your domestic student base. They may be concerned about the cost of living in your city, for instance, or want to know more about post-graduation visa regulations in your country.
On the other side of the coin, you may be specifically looking to target local students for a particular program. A part-time MBA with an evening or weekend schedule, for instance, might be best pitched towards professionals working in your city or region. Segmenting your personas will allow you to develop separate but complementary digital marketing initiatives that consider and speak to each group.
Example: An excerpt from a business school persona developed for local applicants.
Age differences, professional experience, and income levels are other examples of disparities within your target audiences that may create a need to segment them into separate personas. If you are offering a number of different programs, you also may find that the potential pool of applicants for each one is widely different.
Another persona which is arguably unique for business schools to cater to is employers. Many organizations will offer funding to employees to pursue high level qualifications like MBAs and business master’s degrees. Even if this isn’t the case, an employer may be offering a prospective student support in other ways, such as by providing them with time off to pursue their studies. Even if you never deal with inquiries directly from these organizations, your student recruitment campaigns still need to speak to their needs, and communicate how your students will use the skills and knowledge they gain from your courses in their day-to-day work, becoming more of an asset to their employers.
While you should create as many different personas as you feel is relevant, it’s not necessary to go overboard in your segmentation. There is no need to have a dozen different personas just for the sake of it if there are only minor differences in each one. Instead, think carefully about how your persona creation will be put into practical use in your marketing efforts. For instance, will segmenting your personas help you target your paid advertising campaigns more accurately? Or better define your content marketing calendar? Or identify strategically important keywords?
These are the things that make persona development such an important building block for your business school digital marketing campaigns. With the detailed picture of your typical prospects that personas provide, you can develop key messaging for your school or specific programs that speak clearly to your target audience, and can then inform every aspect of your digital marketing initiatives.
Positioning Your Business School as a Thought Leader Through Content Marketing
Content development is one of the most important aspects of modern digital marketing. Across all sectors, consumers increasingly favour organizations who eschew traditional selling tactics, and instead focus on providing them with valuable, relevant expertise which helps to address their problems.
This shift in audience needs has caused many organizations to place more emphasis on building trust through well-researched, informative online content like blogs, videos, and infographics.
More than most, business schools are ideally placed to thrive in this environment. As Toby Roe of EFMD Global Network highlighted in a recent article, academic experts tend to be seen as highly trusted sources of information. This credibility, combined with the prestige and name recognition that a respected business school enjoys, could give institutions the opportunity to establish themselves as leading online authorities.
This, unfortunately, is where some business schools tend to fall down. While they publish content regularly, it tends to have more of a ‘news’ focus, with most posts being short articles offering quick updates from the school. As helpful as this kind of content can be for your school community, it doesn’t necessarily have the persuasive power that more in-depth, strategically thought out posts can have in generating engagement and convincing prospects that your school is the right choice. Long-form content also tends to be favoured by search engines, making it easier to rank in targeted searches.
Positioning your school as a thought leader can be done through a mixture of strategically targeted content marketing initiatives. For instance, content that highlights or discusses the latest trends and developments in the business sphere can be a great way to capture the attention of the kind of candidates that many business schools will be seeking to engage.
Example: Hult International Business School makes thought leadership a huge focus of its blog output. Posts which focus on topical subjects or new developments like the one below can help to capture the imagination of prospective students.
You can also draw on the talents of your faculty and alumni. Creating profiles, interviews, and soliciting guest blogs can all be excellent ways to elevate your content to the next level, while also showcasing the kind of expertise that your courses and programs will offer to prospects.
Example: WU Executive Academy often leverages its expert faculty to produce content. In this article, Professor Jonas Puck talks in great detail about the history and successes of its MBA in Energy Management program.
The key, as always, is for your school to remember who its audience is. Prospective business school candidates tend to be highly educated and intelligent, and will expect content that offers real depth and insight.
If you can accomplish that, your web presence will serve as evidence of the level of knowledge that your school can offer prospects access to, and help to convince them that a business education is the right avenue to take towards reaching their goals.
Driving Student Inquiries and Applications on Your Website
Producing quality content will help to drive traffic to your website, but it is equally important that your school is well-positioned to translate that traffic into inquiries and applications.
Simply put, all of the information that prospects might need before making an application should be readily available – and easy to find – on your website. Additionally, any pages you have that might serve as touchpoints for prospective students researching your courses and programs should also push them towards conversion through carefully placed inquiry forms, CTAs, links, and offers.
A good place to start is to look at your homepage. By and large, your homepage will be the primary landing page for a vast majority of your leads, and it needs to position your school and its programs in a way that will really grab your audience’s attention, communicating your school’s key messages and unique selling points in an immediate and arresting manner.
Example: The homepage of HEC Paris is very well-designed, immediately outlining the school’s USP and offering numerous CTAs for visitors to move forward. The nicest touch is perhaps the three options under the ‘Find the best program for you’ section, which offers a path for each of their main target personas: students, professionals, and employers.
Your homepage should also provide easy navigation to other important pages on your site. This could include your program pages, as well as pages related to financing, your application process, student life, facilities, and anything else that is likely to appeal to them. These pages also need to be rich in content and information, and include CTAs that prompt prospects naturally towards taking the next steps.
Example: The Rotman School of Management has a dedicated page on its website offering financing advice for potential MBA applicants. CTAs on the right-hand side of the page prompt prospects to move towards further inquiries and applications once they have the information they need.
In short, rather than simply offering different information scattered across various pages, your entire website should have a logical flow to it, which drives leads down the funnel towards conversion.
Finding Quality Business School Leads on Social Media
Social media can also offer various avenues through which to improve your visibility, amplify your web content and drive traffic to your site, and engage with prospects directly.
Of all the popular social networks, LinkedIn is perhaps the one which holds the most desirable return for business schools. The site hosts an enviable audience of young but experienced professionals across a diverse variety of industries. Even more promisingly, data from the Pew Research Centre indicates that 49% of LinkedIn users earn over USD$75,000 per year, meaning they have the financial means to pursue a high level business school qualification.
Another crucial advantage of promoting your school on LinkedIn is the mindset of users. Those who are frequent users of the site tend to be very highly motivated and ambitious, making them prime candidates for qualifications like MBAs. Furthermore, they tend to log on with a purpose, specifically seeking knowledge and insights to better themselves professionally, rather than to casually browse or connect with family and friends as they might on other social networks. This makes any efforts from your school to engage with them somewhat more likely to resonate.
There are many different tactics your school can use to generate engagement on LinkedIn. For instance, you could post links to blogs or articles on your website which are targeted towards those with a professional mindset, or share interesting studies or facts and figures from elsewhere. It’s also the ideal platform from which to highlight the successes of your alumni, many of whom may be very active on the site themselves.
Example: Rutgers University shared this success story about a business school graduate who went on to a successful career in marketing.
As effective as focusing some of your efforts on LinkedIn can be, that isn’t too say you should underestimate the value of other social media sites. Twitter, for instance, is an extremely active and vibrant forum that many young professionals frequent in order to keep up with the latest news and trends in their sector, and can be a great way for business schools to encourage conversation amongst its school community.
Example: The Rotterdam School of Management regularly shares topical content on Twitter.
Facebook and Instagram, on the other hand, arguably hold even more importance due to the sheer size of their audience. Both platforms can be a good place to deliver more informal, casual content, which can make your school more accessible and relatable to prospects. However, there is also room for more serious content that can drive visits to your website and conversions more effectively. The diversity of both sites’ audiences means there’s room for just about everything.
Supplementing Your School’s Organic Digital Marketing Efforts with Paid Advertising
While organic digital marketing efforts can gain your school some traction, having some budget set aside for paid advertising is essential in today’s online environment. This is especially true on social media, as the organic reach of many brands on networks like Facebook has been severely limited in recent years.
Social advertising also offers some advantages which makes it desirable as well as necessary. The targeting options on different networks allow you to accurately pinpoint audiences that are in line with your student personas, making it easier to ensure that you reach qualified, interested prospects. Although their targeting options vary, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all allow you to build audiences for your ad campaigns based on key attributes like their age, location, gender, education level, employment information, and interests.
LinkedIn has been particularly fruitful for many business schools around the world, and the company itself highlights numerous success stories in the sector on its website. For instance, Queen’s School of Business used Sponsored Updates and InMail to increase interest in its ‘thought leadership platform’ QSB Insights, as well as its webinars. The campaign achieved an incredible 300% increase in traffic to QSB Insights and a 60% increase in webinar attendance, resulting in an additional 450 leads for their executive MBA program.
Example: One of the ads Queen’s School of Business ran in their LinkedIn campaign.
The rise of stories across different social media channels over the past few years has been nothing short of remarkable. Between the various social networks that offer the format – including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and WhatsApp – there are now estimated to be close to 1.5 billion daily active users of stories worldwide.
The growth has been so impressive that Facebook executives have forecasted that it will soon replace news feed posts as the primary way in which social media users consume content.
However, that day has not arrived yet, and it is important for marketers to strike a balance between creating content for the new format and servicing those who still prefer to get their social fix by scrolling through the feed. Not only that, but certain types of content will naturally remain more well-suited to standalone posts than multimedia slideshow reels.
So, what type of content should your school post in stories, and what should be left for the news feed? Read on to find out.
Your School’s Social Media Stories Should Have a Clear Narrative
A social media story should be just that – a story. The format was designed to better enable content creators to construct a narrative, combining various different elements to bring together an overall sequence that entertains and engages from start to finish.
Keeping this in mind when creating social media stories for schools can be a good way to judge whether what you have in mind is right for the medium. Do you need multiple images or video clips to communicate your message? Does it progress in a logical narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and end? Is it interesting enough to hold a viewer’s attention? If your posts do not to meet these criteria, they may be better suited to your feed. News feed posts are more ‘static’ than stories, and better for communicating simple ideas.
For example, a ‘student takeover’ post in which a member of your student body takes your followers through a day or week in their life at your school could be ideal for the stories format, since it follows a logical narrative.
Example: This story from Liverpool University follows a student as she spends a day in the city.
Progressing through her day as viewers follow her to her favourite spots in town, the stories format makes an ideal vehicle for the content.
On the other hand, a more traditional ‘student testimonial’ in which a student gives a short account of their experiences at your school might be more effective as a feed post, since it is a standalone summary and doesn’t progress as a narrative.
Example: This post from Stanford University, in which a recent graduate talks about what they will miss about the school, works well as a news feed post.
The key is to let your content dictate its format, rather than the other way around. This will ensure that the posts you are creating are as engaging as possible, and don’t seem out of place or poorly thought out.
Keep Your School’s Stories Current, and Your Feed Posts Evergreen
While there are now features on some platforms – such as Instagram’s Highlights – which prolong the shelf-life of stories, the format is still generally considered to be a vehicle for more ephemeral content.
As a result, schools may be well-served by planning their stories with a view to capturing happenings on their campuses that will be engaging to prospects in the now, but not necessarily interesting for them in the future. For instance, you could create a story to promote an upcoming event.
Example: The London School of Economics created an Instagram story to encourage students to attend a careers event.
News feed posts, on the other hand, can need to be a bit more evergreen, in part due to the algorithmic models which social networks use to display them. They may not be seen by the majority of your audience until hours or even a few days after they are posted, and will also remain on your profile page for users to view for weeks and months to come. As a result, it can be best to focus on content that will not become dated, and will remain interesting to prospects regardless of when they find it.
Example: Language school The English Studio posted this album of pictures from a recent trip to Hyde Park. Posting photos from events that have already taken place can be a good option for your news feed, as prospects will still enjoy viewing them, particularly if they are recurring events that they may get the opportunity to experience in the future.
Take a More Flexible Approach to Social Media Stories for Schools
Because of its ephemeral nature, you can take a flexible approach to planning stories. Throughout your day, keep an eye out for interesting, funny, or unusual things to post about. You may be surprised by how much great content you will find.
This will probably mean that your stories are less polished and stylized than your other social media content, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The format’s authenticity was part of its original appeal when first debuted on Snapchat, and many brand’s stories have a more off-the-cuff, spontaneous feel to them.
Example: A few shots from a recent story from Stanford Engineering documenting an on-campus event. As you can see, the style is a little less polished than other kinds of social media posts tend to be.
Be More Professional in Your School’s News Feed Posts
In contrast, your news feed is the social face of your school, and posts need to be presented with care. This means taking more time, both to plan what you are posting and to ensure that it is of the highest possible standard. This is particularly true on Instagram, given the high emphasis the platform places on visuals and the heavily stylized nature of much of the content that users post.
Example: A very artfully taken shot of the University of Pennsylvania library on Instagram. Schools will often take great care to capture unique and interesting visuals like this for their Instagram feeds.
This isn’t to say, of course, that there is no room for improvisation in your news feed. Allowing some flexibility and room for your team to capture specific moments when they present themselves can help give your social media presence a less rigid, more personal identity, regardless of what format you are using.
Social Media Stories for Schools can be More Experimental than Feed Posts
News feeds have been the standard social media format for well over a decade now. As such, there are generally accepted rules of thumb for post creation across different social networks, and you’ll find best practices guidelines for everything from length of copy, to hashtag use, to the tone and style of your content. What’s more, social media content creators have a very good idea of what kind of content usually generates engagement, and tend to stick to tried and tested formulas.
Stories, on the other hand, is still very much in its infancy, a state which leaves far more room for experimentation. This is compounded by the sheer range of features and effects that can be incorporated into your posts. There is an array of different filters, text overlays, and graphics in both Instagram and Facebook Stories for schools to play around with, with new ones being introduced all the time. Your team shouldn’t be afraid to try out new things in order to make your stories stand out.
Example: This story from Duke University celebrating the acceptance of new students features everything from fireworks to animated pizza slices!
Having said that, it’s worth remembering that this won’t always be the case. As time goes on and the format becomes more mature, it is bound to become more professional and more competitive. Facebook recently released a report that goes some way towards defining best practices for stories ads, many of which could be equally applied to ordinary stories posts, too. It is also well worth keeping an eye on what established and well-known brands are doing with the feature in order to ensure your school keeps pace as it continues to evolve.
Which Format is Better for Your School’s Videos?
If you are creating video content, one simple but crucial thing to consider when deciding which format to use is how important sound is to your clip. Most users watch their stories feed with the sound on, so if you think viewers really need to have the volume turned up to get the most out of your video, putting it in a story may be the best option. Conversely, most social media users scroll regular news feeds with the sound off, so if it is really essential to your video, posting it in your feed may result in less engagement.
Videos in stories also have the added benefit of allowing you to add graphics, filters, and all the other effects the format offers.
Example: Oxford University used Instagram Stories for this video tour from one of its students. Note how they use the format’s text overlays to spice up their visuals and invite questions from viewers.
However, one advantage news feed video posts have over stories is the potential length allowed. Stories video clips can be a maximum of 20 seconds long on Facebook and 15 seconds on Instagram, although multiple clips can be added to a single story. Videos in feeds, meanwhile, can be up to a minute long on Instagram and 45 minutes on Facebook, which can give you have much more room to manoeuvre when it comes to planning your content.
What’s Best for Driving Traffic to Your School’s Website?
One of the biggest pluses of Instagram Stories for schools is that you are allowed to place CTAs in them linking to web pages or your profile page, or to encourage direct messages from prospects. Ordinary posts on the platform do not include links of any kind unless they are promoted, making stories arguably much more effective in driving traffic to your website.
Example: The ‘See More’ CTA in this story from Dartmouth College takes users to the school’s website.
Of course, it should be noted that this is not the case on Facebook, where your school can still post links to its heart’s content. News feed posts will also include previews of the linked page, which arguably make it a much more versatile and useful format for this purpose.
Example: A Facebook post from EC English linking to one of the school’s blogs. The Facebook news feed is arguably a much better place for sharing links like this than stories.
Considering Your School’s Social Media Audience
Last but not least, one of the most important things to keep in mind when choosing the right format for your social content is who your audience is, and which medium will give you the best chance of reaching them.
As a general rule of thumb, stories is currently dominated by younger users, particularly those under 25. Older audiences are naturally slower to adopt new technologies, so if you are looking to attract mature students, focusing more on the news feed might be the best way to go.
Having said that, the continued growth of stories means that you can expect it to become more and more prominent among users of all ages, and establishing a presence on it now, even if you are only posting occasionally, could be very worthwhile.
Overall, you should be aiming to create content regularly in both formats, which means working to generate a steady stream of ideas that are suited to each. This will give you a robust social media presence which provides something for everyone.
If you are looking for an intelligent, engaged, and ambitious audience, LinkedIn certainly ticks all the boxes. A longstanding mainstay of the online ecosystem, the professional social network has carved out a very specific niche as a go-to site for focused, hard-working professionals seeking to share opinions and gain insights in order to remain at the cutting edge of their fields.
Bearing that in mind, it’s no surprise that many schools consider it as a potential channel for paid advertising campaigns. The LinkedIn Ads platform offers a variety of interesting formats, unique targeting options, and a captive audience of users actively looking to grow and develop.
Does this sound like a recipe for success for your school? Keep reading to learn more.
Benefits of Advertising on LinkedIn for Schools
In order to determine whether a LinkedIn Ads campaign is the right option for your school, it’s important to look carefully at the audience on the platform. Currently, there around 610 million registered LinkedIn users, with the user base split pretty evenly between male and female. Sprout Social created this useful infographic based on a 2018 Pew Research Center Report which provides a fairly comprehensive breakdown of their demographic makeup:
As you can see, it is an attractive market, with the majority of users based in or near urban centres and falling into a fairly high income bracket. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a readymade audience of eager prospective students for schools. With the majority of LinkedIn users aged between 30 and 64 and quite professionally established, any education opportunities they may be seeking will likely fall into particular niches. Business schools, institutions offering professional development courses, and those aiming specifically for mature students are among those likely to see the most joy from their efforts.
Example: William & Mary School of Business found success promoting their part-time Flex MBA on LinkedIn. In a case study featured on the site’s business platform, the school’s Marketing Account Manager Lendora Johnson said, “Leads from LinkedIn are ready to talk about enrollment. You rarely find anyone who won’t return a call or email.”
That isn’t to say, however, that those with younger student bases cannot find success on the platform. 18-29 year-olds make up a healthy 29% of LinkedIn’s audience, and these users are likely to be very focused, ambitious and hard-working – in short, they are exactly the kind of candidates most schools would consider ideal. The high income and advanced career levels of many of LinkedIn’s users could also make them a good audience for private k-12 schools looking to target parents.
You should also consider what countries most LinkedIn users come from when assessing its potential worth as an advertising channel. According to Statista, these are the current top ten countries with the most users on LinkedIn as of April 2019:
Unsurprisingly, the USA has by far the largest share of users, making the platform a good bet for American institutions. However, digging deeper into these figures also reveals a number of other countries that could have great potential. For instance, the relatively high LinkedIn usage in the UK and Canada, with 39 and 43% of their respective populations active on the network, is definitely good news for schools in those countries.
Those focused on international student recruitment will also no doubt note the presence of a number of important markets in the top ten, including India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico. And of course, the fact that China is the country with the second highest amount of active LinkedIn users should be music to the ears of those in this sector. LinkedIn is notable as one of the only major international social networks which is not banned under China’s strict internet laws. Advertising on the platform could be a valuable avenue for reaching Chinese prospects.
Not only is the audience you can reach on LinkedIn highly desirable, it is also very engaged. Because of the professional nature of the site, users who log on tend to do so when they are in ‘work mode’ rather than the more casual browsing common on other social networks like Facebook and Instagram. As a result, they are likely to be in the right mindset to consider ways in which they can advance themselves and achieve their goals.
Targeting Options in LinkedIn Ads for Schools
Once you’ve established that there is an audience for your school’s ads on LinkedIn, your next concern should be how to make sure you reach them.
Fortunately, the social network’s ad targeting capabilities are very robust, with plenty of room to narrow down your parameters and pinpoint the right recipients for your campaigns. Aside from basic demographics like age, gender, and location, the platform also offers a number of very specific targeting criteria which make use of the wealth of information it possesses about users’ professional and educational backgrounds. These options can be broken down into four broad categories:
One targeting feature which is unique to LinkedIn is the ability to build audiences based on the company they work for. You can target users by company industry or size, or even target a specific company by name. The Company Connections parameter also allows you to target 1st-degree connections of employees at specific companies.
These criteria could be ideal if you are developing LinkedIn Ads for schools offering courses for specific industries, like professional development opportunities. Business schools and other institutions offering qualifications for high level professionals may be keen on the idea of zeroing in on specific companies, too. Your school can also choose the Company Followers field to target followers of your own page for remarketing campaigns.
LinkedIn also allows you to dig a little deeper into your audience’s professional roles and target users based on their employment experience. You can target by Job Title or Job Function, which could be handy if the course you are running is designed for individuals in a very specific profession. You can also use Member Skills to zero in on specific knowledge prospects may need to have.
If you want to make sure that the prospects who are served your ad work at the right level, you can also target by seniority and years of experience. This could be very important for schools looking to promote prestigious qualifications that are only open to more experienced professionals, like Executive MBAs. It may also be useful at the other end of the scale, allowing your school to ensure it does not waste time and money serving its ads to users who are unlikely to need the qualifications you are offering.
Because LinkedIn profiles double as resumes, the information the platform has about each user’s education history is arguably more detailed and accurate than any other ad network. This can make targeting by education very fruitful for schools, as it ensures that the audience for their ads are sufficiently qualified for their courses.
You can target by Fields of Study, Degrees, or even Member Schools if you want to find graduates of a particular institution. This might be very useful for those looking to promote postgraduate opportunities in specific locations.
You can target users based on either their Member Interests or Member Groups. Member Interests are based on both the user’s specified interests and inferred from user activity and engagement on LinkedIn and in Bing searches. Interests are broken into 12 top-level categories, with hundreds of subcategories within each one:
– Arts and Entertainment
– Business and Management
– Finance and Economy
– Marketing and Advertising
– Politics and Law
– Sales and Retail
– Science and Environment
– Society and Culture
Targeting by Member Groups is also an interesting option. Groups are an important part of the LinkedIn ecosystem, and are frequented by many users to ask questions, share knowledge, network, and seek opportunities.
LinkedIn also offers Matched Audiences, which enable you to retarget website visitors or import your own contact lists, as well as Audience Expansion, which allows you to build lookalike audiences based on your existing campaigns.
While working within these parameters could potentially allow you to build a laser-focused campaign, it’s prudent to note that LinkedIn cautions users against hyper-targeting, and suggests keeping the audience relatively broad for best results. The company recommends an audience size of at least 50,000 for Sponsored Content and Text Ads, and over 15,000 for Sponsored InMail. They also advise limiting your targeting to no more than two or three criteria.
Choosing the Right Ad Format for Your School’s Campaigns
There is a range of diverse ad format options on LinkedIn for schools, each of which have their own specific advantages and disadvantages. Here is a breakdown of what to expect:
LinkedIn’s Sponsored Content ads appear in the platform’s newsfeed, and are very similar in format and structure to ads offered on other social networks, like Facebook and Instagram. Each ad contains a linked image or video, ad headline and URL, and introductory text.
Example: A Sponsored Content ad for the University of Victoria.
Sponsored Content ads can be used to promote and share your existing posts, or for targeted campaigns to generate leads for specific courses, events, or other offerings. As the format most similar to other social advertising options, it is arguably the best option for newcomers to the platform.
LinkedIn Text Ads are very similar in format to paid search ads, and appear either just below the top menu or on the right-hand side of the site’s homepage, profile pages, and Groups pages. They include a headline of 25 characters and description of 75 characters, as well as an optional thumbnail image.
Example: A Text Ad for a food safety course as it would appear in the right column of a LinkedIn page.
One thing to note about Text Ads is that they only appear on desktop pages. LinkedIn has previously reported that more than 50% of its traffic comes from mobile devices, meaning you could be limiting your audience by opting for this format.
Display ads are a premium advertising option that can be purchased through a programmatic advertising platform which offers more control and targeting options. Display ads can appear either on the LinkedIn site itself or elsewhere on the web through the site’s advertising network. The on-site placement of Display Ads is similar to text ads, but the ads themselves are much larger and more prominent.
Arguably LinkedIn’s most unique advertising option, Sponsored InMail allows you to send promotional messages directly to users through the platform’s messaging service. Personalization tokens can be used to speak directly to prospects, and CTAs, links, and ad banners can all be added to mails to drive conversions.
Example: A Sponsored InMail from IE Business School inviting participants to a workshop.
Sponsored InMail arguably has more in common with email marketing than other social advertising initiatives, and can be very effective if targeted correctly.
Another format that is somewhat unique to LinkedIn, Dynamic Ads are automatically personalized to a user’s profile. Typically, the ads will include the user’s name in a personalized message, together with their profile picture and your own logo or another thumbnail.
Example: A mock-up from LinkedIn of a Dynamic Ad.
Dynamic Ads appear in the right-hand side of the LinkedIn desktop page like Text Ads, and can be used to generate followers on the platform, or to drive conversion by directing users towards a specific landing page.
Each of these formats could potentially offer something for your school, depending on the objectives of your campaign, the audience you wish to reach, and the budget you have. Your team should take some time to carefully consider what kind of ads are right for its campaigns.
When Not to Advertise on LinkedIn
While advertising on LinkedIn offers some definite advantages for many schools, it’s important to be mindful that it may not always be the right choice for your campaigns. As with any niche site, there are certain inherent limitations to the platform in terms of who you can reach and how effectively you will be able to reach them.
For instance, one important thing to keep in mind is that while LinkedIn has a very large, diverse audience, the majority of users are not active on the platform as frequently as other social networks, as they tend to be more likely to log on when specifically looking for career or job opportunities. This can make it harder to reach the right audience.
Another potential stumbling block for education institutions is price. LinkedIn has far more limited ad space than networks like Facebook and Google, serving only two visual ads per page at a time. While this can result in less clutter and more attention for those running the ads, it can make them more expensive. That fact that the space is often primarily used by B2B advertisers, who can afford to spend more on their campaigns, also contributes to driving prices up. Thus, you must be prepared to pay a premium for your campaigns.
Nonetheless, in the right circumstances, LinkedIn Ads can be a profitable place to run social media ads for schools of all kinds. Next time you are planning an ad campaign, it could pay to make sure it’s part of the conversation.
Many of today’s students will do most of their shopping online. They buy products, order services, make appointments, and plan vacations all at the click of a few buttons. As ecommerce has become a bigger part of our everyday lives, businesses of all kinds have worked to make it easier for consumers to get whatever they need, whenever they need it.
So, when a prospect is looking to apply to a school online, they will naturally expect the same level of service they receive from other businesses. This means delivering a simple, transparent, and all-inclusive booking experience that allows them to move through the process quickly and easily, all from the comfort of their own home.
Unfortunately, this is one area where the education sector can somewhat lag behind other industries, with many schools still relying on outdated and offline methodologies to collect and process applications, supporting documents, and fee payments.
A tailor-made online application portal can make this process easier, quicker, and more satisfying for prospects. Keep reading to find out how.
Reviewing the Current Booking Experience Your School Provides
When considering whether you need to invest in an application portal, the best place to start is by reviewing what your website currently offers. This can include forms for those looking to make inquiries, schedule interviews or meetings, get quotes, and make applications.
Ideally, mechanisms to move forward at every point in the process should be fully available on your website and easy for prospects to access. It’s possible, of course, that there are certain parts of your application process that are not completed online. Your school may require prospects to send completed applications and supporting documents by post, for instance, or arrange fee payments independently through a financial institution.
If this is the case, investigate whether streamlining these processes through your website, either in whole or in part, is a possibility for your school. This will help to ensure that your site provides the best user experience possible, creating a frictionless and intuitive path towards conversion.
Building the Perfect Online Application Forms for Your School
Creating a good online application form can be especially challenging for schools, and there are a number of different components that you need to get right to make the experience as easy and intuitive as possible for your prospects.
Perhaps the most common problem that schools face is the length of the forms. As much as you might try to limit the information you ask for to the essentials, you will most likely need a lot of details from a prospect in order to process their application properly. This can result in forms which are fairly long and can be off-putting for applicants.
One way to make the process a little easier is to group information and questions into different sections and break the form down step by step. This makes it more logical for applicants to understand and navigate. If your onlineapplication system allows for it, you could also offer the option for users to create an account and save incomplete forms, so that they can return to their application later if they are unable to complete it in one sitting.
Example: HEM’s Application Portal presents applications in a step-by-step format, and offers the option for prospects to save their progress as they go along.
Aside from the content of your application forms, how they are designed and styled can also make a huge difference to how they are perceived. An aesthetically pleasing form that is branded with your school’s colours and logo will instantly appear more professional and impressive than a plain white design.
Example: Institutions can add their school colours and logo to their form design settings in HEM’s portal.
It’s also crucial to use a responsive design template. Mobile users often have trouble completing forms that are designed primarily for desktop, as it can result in fields that are hard to read, difficult to click on, or even completely unfillable from a mobile device. Ensuring a mobile-friendly design will lessen the likelihood of dropped applications.
Offering a One-Stop Online Application Process for Your Prospects
While basic forms can be built on a number of different platforms, there are some aspects of student application and booking processes which require more specialized tools. For instance, if you need any supporting materials from applicants, such as copies of qualifications, transcripts, or personal documents like passports, it might be worth considering investing in an online application portal which supports file uploads. In addition, incorporating an e-signature tool can be a valuable timesaver if you require students to sign off on their application.
Example: The e-signature option on HEM’s platform.
Additionally, if your process requires applicants to pay an application fee, or even to pay their course fees upon booking, it’s a huge advantage to be able to process the payment as they make the application, rather than having them do it through another avenue. Many application systems offer the option to integrate popular payment gateways like Stripe or PayPal, so that applicants can pay any fees required securely and easily.
Integrating features like this into your applications will allow prospects to do everything they need to do to book a place on one of your courses through a single online channel, making enrolling as convenient and stress-free as possible.
Providing Online Application Options for Different Audiences
It’s also important to ensure that your online application process caters to all of your school’s audiences. For instance, if you have a large number of international applicants, it may be worth considering making your forms available in different languages.
You may also want to customize your process if you deal with education agencies. Your agents may need the ability to create and manage applications for multiple students, or make applications to different campuses and locations.
Example: HEM’s Application Portal offers a specific login for agents, allowing them to create unique accounts and manage applications for multiple students.
Similarly, K-12 institutions and language schools offering programs for children may also want to make it possible for parents to make applications on behalf of more than one child. Professional development programs may also need to deal with group bookings from companies.
Making your process as audience-specific as possible will eliminate a lot of potential problems, while also demonstrating to your audience that your team has thought carefully about their needs and requirements.
Providing Quotes for Prospective Students on Your Website
For consumers, there are few things more frustrating than a website which is unclear about the costs of its products and services. Whether by making information about pricing hard to find, or by failing to make extra charges or fees clear, brands which do not provide users with a clear picture of what they will be paying can lose business quickly. Those that offer detailed, all-inclusive information, on the other hand, build trust with their audience, and cultivate an image of honesty, transparency, and excellent service.
With prospects across all areas of the education sector becoming increasingly mindful of the cost of financing their studies in recent years, having this kind of transparency can be a huge plus for schools. Many now add free quote generators to their website which allow prospects to get a full, all-inclusive price for their courses or programs, as well any sundry expenses that may need to be accounted for in their budget.
This kind of tool can be particularly important for schools that:
– Offer courses which vary in price depending on content or duration
– Charge different prices at certain times of year
– Provide additional services for students like accommodation or airport transfers
– Attract parents, agents, or companies who may want to price bookings for multiple students
The key to building a free quote tool effectively is to factor in every possible cost that would be payable to your school, and build in enough flexibility that users can get a quote for exactly the package they are looking for. For instance, a language school might offer airport pick-up, extra activities and excursions, accommodation, and even exams for additional fees, and would need to include all of these options in their quotes. You may also need to ensure that your prices are adjusted for high season if applicable.
When used well, this kind of feature can also function as a useful conversion tool, and many schools will prompt prospects to move to directly to booking when they deliver their final quote.
Example: HEM’s free quote tool can be customized to account for accommodation, transfer options, registration and materials fees, or any other additional expenses. The personalized quote breakdown can then be emailed to the prospect, or they can move directly to making an application.
Syncing Your Online Application System with Your CRM and Marketing Automation Software
To make it easier to manage and process your bookings, it’s also vital that your application portal is able to integrate with other existing systems your admissions department might be using, such as CRM and marketing automation software.
This will enable you to match data from applications to existing leads so that their stage can be changed in your CRM. You can even build workflows for applicants who have been accepted, and send them automated emails to welcome them to your school.
Integrating these systems will also ensure that any data you collect on application completion and success rates in your portal is harmonized with the data you are collecting in your CRM, ensuring more accurate reporting and measurement.
Example: Mautic CRM can be integrated with application portals, and allows schools to monitor applications from students and agents.
While it can often seem difficult for schools to find ways make their booking processes more straightforward, it is always possible to strive for improvement. By following the tips outlined here, and considering investing in a customized online application system for schools, you can come close to matching the ease and convenience offered by online vendors in other industries, and give your students the service they want and deserve.
Here’s a common situation that marketers across all industries face: you create the perfect social media ad campaign, with the right offer, a sufficient budget, and brilliant messaging and creative, only to be disappointed with your results.
This can happen for a number of reasons, but in Facebook Ads, the problem will often be targeting. The targeting options on the social media giant’s ad platform are so diverse and specific that it can be easy to make a wrong move, and end up serving your campaign to the wrong audience.
If your school has had difficulty finding the right audience for its Facebook ads, read on to find out how to get it right.
The Groundwork: Having a Clear Student Persona in Mind
Believe it or not, much of the foundations for a good Facebook Ads targeting strategy are laid before you even begin to look at your options on the platform. Simply put, you need to have a clearly defined target audience in mind for your campaigns before you start. Otherwise, you will likely find yourself browsing through a myriad of possible targeting parameters wondering which ones will likely get the best results for your school.
Instead, you should discuss and lay out your target persona’s characteristics with your team beforehand, so that it becomes a matter of simply matching your Facebook Ads audiences up with what you had in mind.
For best results, you should aim for as much detail as possible, going beyond simple demographic, geographic, and education related parameters to consider things like a prospect’s outside interests and hobbies, publications they might read online, and even their digital habits like device usage and browsing behaviour. These sorts of factors will enable you to get the most out of Facebook’s laser-focused audience parameters.
Demographic Targeting in Facebook Ads for Schools
Demographics are clearly defined, demonstrable categories of the population that a person can fall into. Facebook Ads demographic parameters begin with three basic settings:
These should be easy to set if you have clearly defined your target persona. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are planning to serve ads in a language other than your own, it would be wise to create a landing page in that language too. Prospects who click on an ad in their native language will expect the page they end up on to be in the same language, and may be less likely to convert if it isn’t.
Example: A Portuguese landing page created by CES schools.
Beyond these basic categories, there are also a number of different demographic characteristics that might help you pinpoint your audience on Facebook Ads.
The most obviously pertinent for schools would include education level and field of study, but others may also be useful. Work-related fields such as job title and industry, for example, might be useful for schools who are targeting working students, such as business schools or those running professional development courses. K-12 schools, meanwhile, should definitely look at the possible targeting options in the parents field, which allow you to specifically target parents of children in different age groups.
Targeting the Right Locations for Your School
One area of your targeting that you absolutely need to get right is location. Facebook’s location-based targeting runs the gamut from larger catchment areas like cities, countries, and even continents, to more precise targeting by postcode or even the radius of a specific address. Additionally, you can opt to target everyone currently in that location, people who live there, people who are visiting it, or people who were there recently.
This wealth of options can be both a blessing and a curse when creating Facebook Ads for schools. Institutions of all kinds will often make the mistake of setting their parameters either far too wide or too narrow, or even just simply make a small mistake that leads to their ad being served to the wrong market.
For instance, a business school might set their ads to target a particular country, but see them being shown in rural areas where users are unlikely to be considering this kind of education. A better approach for this sector would be to target specific cities.
Example: An audience created in Facebook Ads centred around 5 major European cities with a potential reach of 7.7 million people. Note how you can set the targeting radius within a certain number of kilometres of each location.
In general, the more specific you can be about your location the better. Targeting a number of specific cities, or even areas of a country, that are likely to contain interested leads will give you a much better chance of converting than targeting a country or an entire continent. While it may feel like you are limiting your potential reach, you are actually increasing your chances of success.
Getting Your School’s Interest-Based Targeting Right
Interest-based targeting is where the level of detail which you have gone to in defining your personas really begins to pay off. You can target people who have shown interest in the particular fields your programs or courses cover, related industries and areas, or other hobbies or preferences that may be typical of your target persona.
Example: These beauty related interest-based targeting options could be very useful for a beauty school.
One important caveat to this is that these will only be things that users have shown a demonstrable interest in on Facebook itself. The criteria the platform uses to define interests are based on a user’s stated likes and interests, apps they have used, and pages they have interacted with, among other things.
This can arguably limit its effectiveness for schools, as a prospect who is interested in your course or field of study may not necessarily express that on a social network. For example, a prospective student for a language school may not have specifically liked a page related to learning English, or stated ESL as an interest. Nonetheless, adding a few interest-based fields can definitely be helpful in guiding your school Facebook ads towards some potentially valuable prospects.
How Valuable is Facebook’s Behaviour-Based Targeting for Schools?
Behaviour-based targeting parameters are much more purpose-specific, and many of the possible fields may be a little redundant in Facebook Ads for education. Options like consumer classification, purchase behaviours, and anniversary occurrence are more tailored towards e-commerce advertisers, and will likely not be relevant to your institution.
However, there may still be a few parameters which do come into play, depending on your school’s particular courses and goals. For instance, the ex-pat field, which allows you to target ex-pats who have moved to a country from elsewhere, could be very useful for a language school creating a campaign targeting local prospects.
Likewise, device usage can be particularly important to consider when creating a campaign, as it will help you match your audience with where on the Facebook network you are planning to place your ads.
The Importance of Placement in Facebook Ads Targeting
Speaking of which, placement can be one of the most important targeting parameters to define in your ad campaigns. For a start, being familiar with your audience’s digital browsing habits can be seriously advantageous when creating campaigns. You should consider whether they are likely to use mobile devices, tablets, laptops, desktops, or all four.
Moreover, as the Facebook Ads network has expanded to includes the company’s other platforms like Instagram and Messenger, ensuring that you choose the platforms your prospects are likely to be active on will be crucial to your success.
It’s also important to consider what features and areas of these platforms your prospects are likely to visit and use. For instance, the Stories format has become increasingly popular on all of Facebook’s platforms, but the majority of users are younger, with older audiences naturally slower to adopt the new feature. If your school is recruiting more mature students, it might not be the best place to reach them.
You should also look at other, more niche areas of the network your ad might be served on like Facebook Marketplace, or Facebook Watch if you are considering video ads. Do some research to see if your target audience are likely to use these features.
Example: A Facebook Ad for Language Systems International as it would appear on Marketplace Desktop, Marketplace Mobile, and Facebook Stories.
Using Custom Audiences for Your School’s Facebook Ads
If you are looking to create remarketing campaigns to target prospects who have shown previous interest in your school, Facebook Ads Custom Audiences will offer you plenty of options. A good starting point might be to look at users who have previously interacted with your school on the network, whether by visiting your page, liking or commenting on a post, sending you a message, or clicking through on a link you posted.
You can also move outside of Facebook and create a Custom Audience based on traffic to your website. This can be a great way to find prospective students who been researching your school online but have not found it on the social network yet.
If you have a strong database of leads in your CRM system, another option might be to create Custom Audiences based on lists. Your school can simply upload a CSV or text file with your leads’ details, and Facebook will attempt to match them to the correct profile on their network. The identifiers the site allows include email address, phone number, first and last name, city, location, age, and date of birth, so you should stand a good chance of finding the right matches provided you have gathered enough details in your CRM.
Use Lookalike Audiences to Find More Prospective Students
If you want to attract more leads similar to those you already have, Lookalike Audiences can be a great option for you. You can create a Lookalike Audience using any existing audience you have. Facebook will then define a new list made up of users with similar demographic characteristics, interests and behaviours to your existing leads.
Lookalike Audiences are created in specific locations, and you can modify them by selecting a percentage of that location’s users (from 1 to 10%) to target. 1% will give you an audience that is most similar to the audience you are modeling on, while increasing the percentage will broaden the size and scope of the audience. This can be a great way to expand your reach in a market you have already been successful in.
Example: A Lookalike Audience created in Canada, with the targeting narrowed to 1% of the population.
Narrowing Down Your School’s Audiences
While all of these parameters can hold a lot of potential for your campaigns, it’s important to ensure that your target audience remains as specific as possible, while not getting too small.
One way that Facebook Ads allows you to narrow your audience down is by refining your detailed targeting options to make the criteria leads must meet more specific. For instance, here you can see a campaign which has been set up so that users must be both university graduates and work in the business and finance sector to be included:
This targeting could be ideal for a business school promoting an MBA program. Doing this will allow you to distinguish which characteristics are essential, and which ones are simply desirable.
Additionally, if you find your audience too large, you might look at excluding certain groups from it. This can be a great way to ensure that your ad isn’t shown to users who are unlikely to find it relevant.
Considering your targeting in the areas defined here should help you create far more precise, suitable audiences for your campaigns. However, there can still be a fair amount of trial and error involved, and you probably won’t get a clear sense of how successful you have been until you begin running your ads. Nonetheless, by keeping a close eye on your results, refining your audiences where necessary, and managing your campaigns actively at every level, you should soon find yourself getting the hang of the platform.
It’s no surprise that more and more schools are investing in marketing automation software. A multifunctional solution that can help you scale your operations, improve personalization, and track engagement, these versatile platforms can completely transform your student recruitment activities.
But with many possible options on the market, how do you choose the right one for your needs? While the basic functionality of most marketing automation platforms is broadly similar, there are a number of key differences in different software and packages that will make some choices more suited for your school than others. Keep reading to find out what they are.
What are the Main Education Marketing Automation Providers?
The first difficulty you’re likely to encounter when choosing a marketing automation solution for your school is the sheer range of different options out there. As one of the fastest growing software markets in the world, the marketing automation space is home to a number of innovative companies offering their own take on the concept.
Here are a few of the most commonly used in the education sector:
Salesforce Marketing Cloud- A versatile and robust CRM that is popular across a number of industries, and can integrate with Salesforce’s popular CRM platform.
Marketo- One of the world’s most popular marketing automation platforms. Marketo offers a wide range of bundles which are suitable for the education sector.
Example: Marketo’s website features a case study from Algonquin College, who were able to increase lead generation 71% year over year with marketing automation.
HubSpot- A very intuitive and user-friendly option, which is quite versatile and includes a wide range of features. Depending on your needs, the platform can also be integrated with the company’s CRM, sales, and customer service software.
Mautic- Mautic is an open-source marketing automation project which allows users to contribute their own code. This means that their basic platform can be completely customized to your needs. HEM has developed its own version which is tailored to the education sector and factors CRM integration into the setup.
It isn’t necessarily the case that any of these solutions are better than the others, and each of these platforms has its own particular advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the right choice for your school will depend on your unique needs.
Finding the Right Marketing Automation Solution for Your School’s Budget
Of course, one of the main influencing factors in your decision will be your budgetary constraints. Marketing automation software can vary in price from very cheap – or in many cases free – solutions to more elaborate setups which could be quite expensive for some schools.
Prices for a particular software suite will also vary quite a bit depending on the package you choose. Many marketing automation providers will provide a basic version of their software at a low price, but charge a premium for some of their more advanced features.
Example: The pricing for HubSpot’s Marketing Hub Starter package, which is priced at USD$50 per month. The package includes a number of very useful features, such as email marketing, form creation, and contact management. However, users will need to switch to the platform’s Professional and Enterprise packages if they want more advanced capabilities like A/B testing or landing page creation.
Providers will also often impose limits and restrictions for certain services depending on your subscription level. For instance, you may be limited to having a certain amount of contacts in your database, or only able to send a certain amount of emails per month. This means that larger schools expecting to engage in high levels of activity will need to be prepared to pay for a premium package.
The good news, however, is that in many cases the cheaper options will still offer a good range of services for schools who can work within those restrictions. In most cases, you’ll probably find that the education marketing automation solution that matches your size, activity, and ambition is usually priced accordingly, and will fall more or less within your budget.
Factoring Usability into Your Marketing Automation Search
Once you’ve settled on a budget and found out what options are in your price range, you can start evaluating which of these best suits your particular needs. A good place to begin this process is by considering the people who will actually be using the software: your team.
First of all, you should consider their level of experience with dealing with this sort of system. Will they need a lot of training? Could they find it complicated or confusing? How easily will they be able to incorporate it into their daily routines?
If your team has very little experience with marketing automation, it’s best to make user-friendliness your first consideration. A platform which is intuitive and easy for them to understand and translate to their day-to-day work is more likely to be adopted quickly. It will also require less time and effort to train your team to use it, meaning you can get up and running and see the return on your investment more quickly.
Example: HubSpot’s Marketing Hub platform is designed to be very easy for beginners to get to grips with. It even includes a readymade HubSpot Setup project which guides users through every task they need to complete to get started.
You should also ask your staff what kind of functionality they would like from the system. Marketing automation software can include a diverse array of tools, and some will be more essential than others. While you will likely have your own ideas about what your school needs from the system, your colleagues may still suggest something you have missed, particularly if your team members have very different duties and responsibilities.
Communication Tools in Marketing Automation for Schools
The potential for improving communication with prospects is one of the biggest selling points of marketing automation for schools. Your team can create automated messages to be sent to different segments of your lead base, enabling you to scale your follow-up activities while still allowing for a certain level of personalization.
This is most commonly done through email marketing, which is a standard feature of most platforms. A typical suite will allow you to send emails to groups, schedule them for different times of day (often by time zone), and may even provide readymade email design templates.
Example: HubSpot offers a range of free and paid email template options.
You can also create autoresponders and automated workflows that are triggered by specific events, such as a lead filling out a form or downloading a PDF brochure.
Example: A simple autoresponder workflow for a language school in Mautic. Upon completing a lead capture form, prospects are sent different emails depending on what program they are interested in.
You should also look at what the software offers in terms of other communication tools you might use. Many platforms now enable users to send and receive SMS messages, for instance, with the same level of targeting and scale as email campaigns.
Some also integrate popular instant messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, which are becoming increasingly important when it comes to reaching out to today’s prospective students. Chatbots are also included in certain platforms like HubSpot.
When selecting marketing automation software for your institution, it’s important to look closely at what they provide in this area, and ensure you are getting a comprehensive set of tools and features that will enable you to build the campaigns you want. As mentioned before, you should also be mindful of any limits certain packages might have that could impact your activities.
Tools for Creating Marketing Content and Assets for Your School
Marketing automation software may also give you the facility to create web content and various marketing assets. For instance, most will include tools to help you build CTAs, as well as lead capture forms for your website and other marketing channels. You should look carefully at the design tools and features available for these components, as well as how easy to use the interface and building tools will be for your team.
Example: Mautic’s form builder offers a range of different fields for schools, and is very simple and intuitive.
It might also be possible for you to build and publish landing pages, blogs, and other content. The advantage of this is that interactions and performance data will be trackable within the platform, making it easier for your school to measure the success of particular pages.
Some platforms, like Mautic and Marketo, also have dynamic content creation features. Dynamic content is content that changes depending on the profile of the user visiting a web page. For instance, you might create a pop-up prompting prospects to subscribe to your newsletter, but only want to show it to those who have not subscribed yet. Prospects who have already subscribed could be served with a different offer. While this is a more advanced feature of marketing automation, it does hold some intriguing possibilities for schools.
Depending on the capabilities of your software, your specific package, and the integration the provider offers with different platforms, marketing automation can also be a fantastic tool for managing social media and advertising.
On the social media side, you may be able to use the platform to create and publish posts across different social networks, monitor your conversations, and even track popular hashtags or mentions of your school across sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Example: HubSpot’s social monitoring tools allow you to track retweets of your posts on Twitter centrally.
HubSpot, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and others also offer similar capabilities for advertising, combined with the ability to sync your audiences from your contacts list in order to create lookalike or remarketing campaigns.
Again, the extent to which these features will be beneficial for your school will depend on your goals and budget, as well as what other systems you may already have in place to manage these areas.
Integration with Your School’s Other Digital Platforms
On that subject, it’s important to evaluate what integration with other digital platforms a marketing automation system offers before you invest in it. Some providers, for instance, may not offer integration with certain social networks or ad platforms.
Additionally, some marketing automation options like HubSpot and HEM’s Mautic platform come equipped with built-in CRM functionality, making it easier to manage your marketing and lead follow-up activities from one centralized source. If you are already using a standalone CRM, however, you may want to make sure that the software you are using can be linked to it.
Your team may also need to integrate it with other platforms you use, such as your student information system, application portal, or website CMS. Ensuring that these integrations will not be a problem will save your school a lot of headaches.
Does Your School Need Lead Scoring?
Another desirable feature of marketing automation for many schools is lead scoring capabilities. Lead scoring allows you to assign numeric values to prospects based on their suitability for your school and perceived level of interest.
A lead scoring system will usually involve a contact being assigned a base score based on any information they provide when they first make an inquiry, such as their age or location, and how well it fits with your target persona. Their score will then be changed as they interact with your school online, with points applied to actions like email opens, website visits, and downloads. This can be very valuable if you receive a large number of inquiries and need to prioritize your follow-up efforts.
Reporting in Marketing Automation for Education
Marketing automation reports are often among the most detailed and insightful in the digital marketing sphere. By automating certain activities within this kind of centralized system, it is also easier to make them trackable, and schools can gain a number of insights into ads, social media, email engagement, and countless other elements of their student recruitment campaigns. What’s more, much of this data can be tracked by individual lead, by campaign, by location, or any other parameter which is relevant to your efforts.
As a general rule, the more features your marketing automation system has, the better your reporting capabilities will be. This is because reporting is very much dependant on what your software has the ability to measure. For instance, if your platform allows you to send SMS, you will have the option to track any reads or replies your messages get.
Likewise, if you have social monitoring tools, you can potentially collect a lot of data on engagements and interactions across different networks. The more centralized your marketing activities are, the more actionable data and insights you can collect.
Example: A typical HubSpot marketing dashboard contains reports on emails, landing pages, and general website visits.
When considering the reporting features of marketing automation for education, it’s also important to keep your team’s level of experience and expertise in this area in mind. If they are not used to dealing with digital reports or analytics, you will need to ensure that the reporting interface is as simple and user-friendly as possible. This way, they can get to grips with the system quickly, and start seeing its benefits in their daily work right away.
Studying abroad is a big decision which cannot be taken lightly. Prospects will do extensive research to find the right course, school, and location, and carefully consider how well it fits with their needs and goals.
Most of this will revolve around the ‘big picture’. They will consider the quality of education they will receive, the value of the qualification they will obtain, and the career and further study opportunities they can look forward to after attending. In many cases, however, smaller details can also have a huge influence on their decision.
Some of these might be practical, like the cost and quality of accommodation, access to transit, or the amenities available. Others are more about personal and cultural preferences, like food, lifestyle, and entertainment.
For this reason, schools looking to target international prospects often need to support their basic USPs with secondary messaging that addresses some of these crucial factors.
If you’re attempting to reach students overseas, here are a few things that you may not be paying much attention to in your digital marketing efforts right now, but that could make a huge difference.
Affordable, Quality Accommodation is Important to International Students
As demand in many popular study destinations has climbed ever higher, the cost and quality of accommodation available to international students has become crucial to their decision-making process in recent years. Despite increased investment worldwide, many cities have notable shortages of student housing, and rental prices can be very steep for those on a student budget.
With that in mind, it’s crucial that schools looking to attract international prospects can reassure them that they will have access to affordable accommodation. Clearly and simply laying out all the options available to them on a dedicated web page can be a great start.
Example: Centre of English Studies has very detailed accommodation pages, which clearly list all of the options students can choose from, and provide an extensive gallery of photos. The school has a unique page for each of its locations so that any differences in what is available are clear to prospects.
It’s important to break down the facilities and amenities students have available to them in your accommodation clearly, too. Many schools will do this using charts or visual breakdowns that make it easy for readers to compare their options.
Example: The visual breakdowns of the features and amenities of various accommodation types on Liden & Denz’s website are very helpful for comparison.
You can go further than that, however, by developing content around this subject. For instance, if your school organizes homestay accommodation, you could create a blog promoting the benefits of this option, such as the reduced cost, cultural integration, and meals and other extras students can enjoy.
Example: Westfield Secondary School created this blog comparing living off-campus to homestay accommodation.
Video can also be a great medium to showcase your accommodation, as it allows prospects to get a much clearer view of what they can expect. Many schools which have their own student housing will often post video tours on their website and social media accounts. You could also try to solicit testimonials from current or past students about your accommodation for use across your digital channels. This will reassure new prospects that you deliver everything you promise.
While you should emphasize the positives of your accommodation, it is important to be honest in what you present. If your housing doesn’t have laundry or ensuite bathrooms, make sure this clear in your materials. If housing is not particularly close to your campus or to the town centre, advise students they will need to commute. Students most likely won’t find these kinds of things too problematic if they are aware of them, but may be disappointed if they aren’t.
Of course, it may be that your school doesn’t offer any of its own accommodation, or organize it for students. If that is the case, you should still try to offer advice for prospects about where they need to look to find it, how much it will cost, and what they can expect. You could also provide links to the accommodation providers in your city on your website, and even make your admissions staff available to offer advice and suggestions.
Example: Regent College in Vancouver does not offer housing of its own for students, but maintains a database on its website so that prospects can find rental properties easily. The school also offers information and advice about the different accommodation options available, as well as typical prices for each one.
Not only will taking these steps help ease their path to enrollment, it will also ensure that your international students are able to get good accommodation at a fair price in your location, and don’t get taken advantage of or make bad choices because they are unfamiliar with the market.
Local and Global Transit Links at Your School
An important tie-in to accommodation is access to transit, both on a local and global level. In short, prospects will want to know that both your school and where they are staying is going to be easy to get to and from. Providing details about transit links, as well as general information about getting around in your location, will make it that much easier for them to get a sense of what they can expect.
Example: The International Student Services department of McGill University includes a guide to getting around in Montreal in the Pre-Arrival Information section on its website.
Global transit links can also be important. International students need to be able to plan their initial journey to your school, and may also want to know how easy it might be to return home should they be faced with an emergency or other unexpected issue. Mapping their route to your school will give them a clear idea of what to expect. Outlining any particular visa requirements or other things they need to arrange will also make advance planning easier.
On a less practical level, prospects may also be keen to know about how easy it is for them to get to other places in your country or region. For instance, an international student studying in Europe may be keen to take advantage of cheap flight and train options to explore other countries on the continent, so promoting this possibility in your marketing efforts could be very advantageous.
They may also want to know how to reach popular tourist attractions and destinations near you. Your school could create content offering some guidelines, while also highlighting just how much here is to do and see in your area.
Again, it’s always best to as honest as possible about where you are in relation to other places in this situation. If your school is a couple of hours’ bus ride from a major city, for example, you can promote that it is nearby, but not you are in that city. A prospect who is aware of exactly what they can expect will be less likely to be disappointed by their experience, and more likely to give your school positive online feedback and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Safety First in International Student Recruitment
Coming to an unfamiliar country can be a daunting prospect for international students, particularly as many will be relatively young, and may be living away from home for the first time. As a result, safety tends to figure highly on their list of priorities. The Know Your Neighborhood Fall 2017 Report conducted by Intead and FPP EDU Media revealed that 50% of international prospects rated campus safety as important in selecting a university:
This is likely to become even more of a factor at the K-12 level, as parents will naturally have misgivings about the safety of particular locations, and the level of supervision their children are going to have.
So how do you convince prospects and parents that your school and location is safe? For a start, you can develop content that emphasizes any safety, security, and supervision measures your school takes, underlining how seriously you take this issue and how proactively it is addressed. Developing guides that offer advice about staying safe in your town could also be a good idea.
Example: The University of Edinburgh created this page for incoming students offering advice on staying safe in the city. The page includes tips about laws international students may not be familiar with, as well as helpful links to emergency services, external safety guides, and other resources.
On a wider scale, you should look to present any statistics or evidence you have of the general safety of the area in which you are situated, your city, and country as a whole.
Example: Morehead State University in Kentucky created this blog after the city was named as one of the safest in the state.
This can be especially useful if you are located somewhere which might be perceived as being more dangerous then it actually is. For instance, many major cities are assumed to have high rates of crime and violence, even if in reality these instances are very rare.
Of course, the most effective way to address these concerns is talking directly to prospects and parents about it. Hearing from a real person who lives in the area will reassure them that they are in good hands.
How Much Does Food Matter to International Prospects?
While some of these factors are likely already being taken into account by many schools looking to recruit international students, there is one particular aspect of life studying abroad that often gets overlooked: food. In a 2016 article, ICEF Monitor highlighted a Canadian study on ‘food insecurity’ issues among international university students which illustrated a clear need for schools to take this into account.
There are a few reasons why food can be important. At a basic level, our favourite meals provide a certain ‘home comfort’ to us, which can be very significant if you are in an unfamiliar place. International students who anticipate there being very big difference in cuisine in a different country may be worried they will not be able to enjoy their usual meal routine.
Prospects – and particularly their parents – may also have concerns about health, particularly if your country has something of a reputation for fatty foods or dishes with low nutritional value. Food preferences which relate to religious beliefs – like Kosher and Halal dietary requirements – may also need to be catered to.
Your school can remedy this concern by emphasizing the food diversity of both your campus and local area in your online promotional materials. For instance, one simple thing which many schools don’t do is make the menus of their school’s food services viewable on their website. You could highlight healthy and specialty menu options to make sure prospects know their needs will be met.
You could also create content that offers tips about local restaurants and stores that might offer international food and ingredients. Even very small towns have a lot of diverse cuisine on offer these days, so you should find plenty of options once you do a little research.
Example: The University of Reading features its ‘International Student Food Project’ on its blog site. The school offers tips on shopping, dining out, and preparing meals to help students adjust to eating in the UK.
At the other end of the scale, you should keep in mind that you may also encounter plenty of international students who are a bit more adventurous, and are actually eager to sample unfamiliar local cuisine. Blogs about what your country or local area has to offer in this regard could be very appealing to this audience.
Show Prospective International Students What Kind of Amenities Your School Offers
Access to amenities can also play a role in a prospects’ decision-making process. Depending on their lifestyle and needs, a potential international student may be eager to learn whether or not there are gyms, libraries, stores, outdoor recreational areas like parks and bike paths, or various other services and facilities near your school.
For larger schools that have a range of amenities on-campus, highlighting what you offer can be a huge advantage in your marketing efforts. You could create blogs or video tours that focus on your campus’s range of services, exercise facilities, and other things you offer that students will avail of in their day-to-day life.
Example: Ashesi University created this Facebook post in advance of the opening of its new sports facilities.
If you don’t have these sort of facilities on-campus, providing information about where prospects can find them in your surrounding area can help to alleviate any concerns they may have about not finding everything they need in your town.
Providing Cultural Outlets for International Students
Cultural outlets can also be important for international students. Societies for students from different countries, religions, and cultural groups are a feature of many universities, and can be a valuable source of help, support, and friendship for many new arrivals. If you have these sorts of groups at your school, they should be pushed to the forefront of your international student recruitment campaigns as much as possible.
Example: The University of Toronto created this article about its Indian Student Society.
Smaller schools may have to look a little further afield again, and find cultural groups and communities within their local area that are relevant to their international personas. Making this information readily available to prospects will help to make them feel welcomed, and show..