For the last three years, we’ve been researching and analyzing online conversation about higher ed. We shared some of the multi-year trends we captured along the way, which also led us to eight recommendations higher ed marketers can use to drive their communication and marketing strategy.
Consider your goals. A successful marketing strategy is rooted in clearly articulated goals that reflect a campus’s values and priorities. Know your campus mission, vision, core values, areas of distinction, distractions, assets, and aspirations. Align these with the unified, holistic message you’re delivering across all brand channels—your goals should guide everything you do.
Know your outcomes. Once you know your goals, consider your outcomes. What do you hope to achieve? What audiences do you intend to reach? You can use social listening to reach more direct outcomes that align with your specific campus goals.
Understand your differentiators. Every campus has clear differentiators that support distinctive marketing messages to a well-defined target audience. Once you know and understand them, you’ll be able to confidently put resources toward attracting the students who are the best fit for your campus, developing programs that help you stand out from the competitive field, or building brand awareness in academic areas where you may lag behind your peers.
Cross-campus buy-in is critical. Share your goals and brand strategy across campus. Our data shows that less and less conversation about your campus is owned (originating from campus). And the majority of the owned conversation is not coming from marketing, it’s coming from institutional accounts—accounts from other departments and groups on campus. If your message hasn’t been adopted across campus, by your school of public health, your student affairs division, and yes, even your athletic teams, you’ll be fighting against brand fragmentation. Support from senior leadership is equally important. If necessary, reframe how you present your goals to the cabinet or board to explain the work you’re doing and how it aligns with the campus strategic plan.
Increase your visibility. Higher ed conversation trends show that there’s less conversation about higher ed in general. And an increasing amount of the existing conversation is generated by individuals without a direct relationship to the campus. Increase your visibility to ensure greater awareness of your brand message and build authentic relationships and trust with your audience. Tell brand-aligned stories and build campus differentiation to begin to increase your mindshare and awareness.
Pull back on your content calendar. There’s very little social listening evidence that more original content drives greater benefit, especially for small campuses. Don’t worry about posting original content as often or from as many accounts. Instead, focus on efforts with a higher rate of return, like some of our other recommendations.
Focus on engagement. Engaging with your audience is an opportunity to interact with an individual in your target audience. When we review conversation from the perspective of individuals, such as alumni, students, parents, prospects, etc., the conversation is substantially more positive or negative. When you don’t respond to comments, only people with heightened anger respond to you. But when you start responding, you create a more welcoming environment for conversation of all kinds. This is an opportunity for marketers to make a difference around the margins, rather than trying to influence general sentiment (perception) through pumping out more original content. This also holds true when you tell stories about individuals.
Stop using vanity metrics. Your top-line metrics, like conversation volume, unique authors, and sentiment are incredibly similar to peers. Campuses are on the same channels, posting similar content, chasing similar metrics—performance metrics created by the social media platforms. We call these vanity metrics. Prioritizing vanity metrics forces you to align your social strategy and content creation to the demands of the platforms, rather than your strategic plan. Instead, use social listening metrics to capture what you’re saying and what others say about you.