Virtually everyone knows that consumers – including students – have little time for traditional marketing. Students don’t want to be pushed or sold to, even when they are actively looking to “buy” an education. They want to discover schools, learn about them, and decide on their terms.
It is a journey that has become infinitely easier due to the Internet. The key for schools today is to put information out there in a compelling manner that prompts students to engage with it in a way that feels good to them.
In other words, the key is content marketing.
Content marketing has been described as “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.” More fully, content marketing is:
“A marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Although social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are perfect vehicles for content marketing – since they are made for the posting of relevant information, interaction, and conversation – not every school is optimising them for this function. Today’s post will look at best practices in social media management as they relate to content marketing.
Use social media for what it’s made for
Students are definitely on social media platforms, but they are selective in what they engage with. They may “like” a school page then happily – and without thinking – scroll right by it every time they go to Facebook to check out what their friends – and some lucky brands – are up to.
So getting lots of “likes” and “follows” is not in itself success, as much as social media marketing is often measured using these metrics. A “like” is not an action that at the end of the day is going to affect a school’s bottom line. What will affect the bottom line?
- Prospective students becoming aware of an institution (through “shares” but also by viewing other students’ positive reactions to and engagement with the school);
- Prospective students’ growing interest in attending an institution;
- Prospective students enrolling at the institution;
- Current students and alumni spreading the word about their school.
All of these actions can be spurred with good content marketing on social media platforms. But too often, this is not happening: a recent Guardian article based on a survey the newspaper conducted with 300 potential and current university students found that “although 65% of students use social media channels several times a day, students rated universities’ social media presence as less influential and less trustworthy than more traditional sources such as prospectuses or open days.”
The Guardian noted that some of the comments they received from students about universities were “they do not talk about the things we need to know” and “I don’t find enough useful information that relates to me.” Of such comments, the newspaper noted:
“This suggests that many universities are using social media to try and engage with too many stakeholder groups at once, and consequently not being tailored enough about the updates they are sending out. The danger of using social media channels to push out any and all university messages run the risk of engaging with no one successfully.”
By contrast, two university marketing professionals the paper interviewed provided smart perspectives on how to think of Facebook, Twitter, and other online social sites for student recruitment.
Ms Anne Whitehouse, head of marketing at Bucks New University, said: “Social media are useful at different stages of the application process. A prospective student may not use social media for initial research, but may engage with social media to help finalise their decision.”
Mr Tim Longden, director of marketing and communications at City University, said:
“The key is to integrate a range of activities including traditional media and print, web-based information, events and activities and social media throughout all stages of the recruitment process.”
8 tips for content marketing on social media sites
Whitehouse and Longden’s comments provide a great leaping-off point from which to introduce our list of eight tips for content marketing on social media sites:
1. Use these platforms to engage students – not talk at them. Every single post must be based on the question: “How does this help my prospective/current students?” And ideally: “Have we phrased it in a way that might prompt comments, sharing, discussion?” As Copyblogger explains:
“Every piece of content you write has to either solve a problem your audience cares about or it has to entertain them … preferably both.”
2. Consider them part of an overall marketing campaign. Again, the function of social media platforms is engagement – not advertising (your brochure can do this) or oodles of information (your prospectus or calendar serves this function).
Don’t make your social media platforms carry too much of the load or it will be overwhelming and unattractive for students. The better plan is to provide links to other marketing materials within posts – not every time, but sometimes.
3. Share others’ great content, and run fun challenges or contests. For example, lots of students want to spruce up their dorm rooms or apartments. You could post cool pictures of decorating solutions (see Apartment Therapy for an example) or even run a Before/After contest among students to show how they have done it themselves.
If you don’t want to go the route of a contest, you can also simply just ask for opinions. In the example of a room/apartment makeover, many students would likely share their decorating genius, especially if your posts already receive a lot of positive feedback and discussion.
4. Don’t make it look like an ad. As professional as schools must be on social media platforms, these platforms are… social. You are sharing with students, helping them, talking with them. You are encouraging trust, and a sure way of blowing that trust away is to use advertising copy or endless brochure-like pictures.
5. Keep it short and often visual. Sometimes “content” connotes long-form writing, but it really shouldn’t. Someone once defined content as “Information designed for consumption, seasoned for enjoyment, and packaged to share” – a definition that works well for content designed for social media platforms.
A successful content marketer will always assess the format for which he/she is writing – and short and visual is the rule of thumb for social media. If you want to write more, reserve it for the blog, and link to the blog with a short post on FB or Twitter (e.g., “How one student gave back to his Sri Lankan community when he graduated and returned home,” and include a picture in the post).
6. Use your assets – including multiple voices. Prospective students want to hear not only from the school but from people who have “bought” the school (i.e., other students and alumni).
They also want to sample as much of the school as they can before committing – just as they would for other products and services – so consider giving them as many snippets of the experience of studying there as possible. An important visiting professor’s video lecture, pictures of a successful charity event, a happy student’s recollection of his/her first “A,” etc.
7. Remember the end game. The end game is recruiting students – so at some point, you want to get your students to perform actions that get them closer to enrolling. Invite them to a web chat in which they can ask any question imaginable about studying at your institution. Provide a link to a landing page of your website that includes an application form and ideally a great, time-sensitive offer. But execute such “homestretch strategies” conversationally, subtly, and entertainingly if possible (e.g., “You can ask us anything – last year’s best question was ‘What about your coffee? I need good coffee if I’m going to study there!’”).
8. Stay in tune with your audience. Keep tabs on what is engaging them and what isn’t. Have discussions with anyone at the institution who is regularly in contact with them and thus privy to their concerns and questions – and sources of interest – and create posts that respond to these.
Never before has it been so easy to adapt marketing to changing conditions and even changing audience needs – and this includes the type of content you’re publishing. As PR professional Mr Justin Shaw notes in the Guardian:
“Prospective students want to make better informed decisions and require a greater amount of information and engagement from a university. Students want to follow, friend, tag, pin. Let’s encourage that.”