Your institution is the next big thing. You know it. We know it. But the ones who need to know it are students, and chances are, they aren’t sure where your college or university stands. With thousands of postsecondary institutions across the country all vying for attention, students get easily overwhelmed in their selection. Luckily, their choices are usually narrowed down based on major factors like location, degree programs and cost, but from there, it’s anybody’s game.
As another enrollment period arrives, how do you plan to separate your college or university from the pack? You must be creative. Intelligent. Engaging. Unique. Aside from coming up with a catchy yet costly campaign, there is something easier and more affordable that you can start doing today. Creating shareable content.
The content lifecycle is easy to understand, but it’s very important. Too many people overlook the significance of content, assuming that it’s overdone and exaggerated on the Web. But once you understand the life process of content and its place in the marketing world, you can begin to appreciate what shareable content can bring to your institution.
The Content Lifecycle
Content refers to basically anything that you can post: a humorous blog, a funny image, a short video, a status update or an informative infographic. This is posted to your website and social media channels so that it’s seen by more people. These people may be your followers, or they may be people who are searching for certain hashtags or keywords. If a person likes what they read, they may it in their own blog or social media page, exposing you to an entirely new audience.
Every piece of content should have your institution’s name and contact on it somewhere, so people that see it know where it’s coming from. Even if they choose not to visit your website, send an email or give you a call, they’re still seeing your name and getting familiar with your message. Brands will pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to have their name heard or seen for a few seconds. But content can be recycled and repurposed infinitely, bringing unlimited and massive exposure to your school for far less.
Not only does content have the ability to be recycled, but also it’s interactive. When you place good material in front of someone, they interact with it by liking it, sharing it or commenting on it. This interaction builds brand awareness and trust, and certainly does you some favors on the Internet marketing side of things. Websites that have quality content that is shared across channels as well as interaction from their audience tend to rank better and strengthen their place on the search rankings. This leads to increased traffic, which churns out higher enrollment rates.
So how can you create interesting, engaging shareable content? Here are five brilliant ways to make your institution the next big thing.
1. Know who will engage with your content and where you can find them.
It’s difficult to define what type of student your school is best for because you don’t want to rule anyone out. Of course you’ll appeal to recent high school graduates, but you may also have courses for older adults, working adults and those in need of financial aid. If you don’t take the time to define a typical student persona, your content is never going to have that targeted feel that is required when writing to certain groups of students.
Colleges and universities are getting more particular about the students they want, so don’t be afraid to do the same. Know what types of students your school can accommodate best and craft content for this audience. If it’s working adults that you want to appeal to, create content that is centered on flexible courses, accelerated programs and the importance of self-study skills.
Also know where to find your audience. Facebook is the go-to source for many colleges, but don’t forget other channels such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
2. Create content that is fresh, relevant and timely.
Stale content is just as bad as stale bread. No one wants it, and they’ll pass it up for a fresh slice any day. Relevant, timely content is what students are interested in reading about, so keep your topics current and your facts recent. Share the latest updates from your school that haven’t been shared anywhere else: new dorm plans in the works, new course formats and new internship opportunities, for example.
Some of your information may be older but relevant, so repurpose it and get it back out there. Update facts and figures, use the information in an informative infographic or refine the content and add new subtitles and images. This is a time- and cost-effective way to recycle some of your better content while keeping it pertinent. The main goal is to become a trusted source for students; a place where people are excited to check back for updates and news that matter to them.
3. Produce material that fosters engagement.
One of the best ways to accomplish engagement is by churning out material that is timely and relevant, which we talked about in #2. But there are other ways to encourage feedback, interactivity and engagement so that students start talking about your school and asking questions. Even if you’re not the right school for that student, it’s nice to know they will mention your institution to a friend or family member also looking for a college or university. It’s like what your Mom told you, “Be nice to everyone. You never know when you’ll run into them again.”
Ask questions at the end of your blog posts to initiate conversation. Respond to comments on social media in a timely manner. Post photos of real students doing real work in the community. Give students choices and let them vote. Run contests where students can win a valuable prize such as a bookstore gift certificate. Post trivia questions regarding your school’s history. What you want to do is create a strong presence that involves your students rather than being a vessel of information.
4. Place your school in front of your biggest influencers.
You have many influencers – alumni, professors, community businesses – but the biggest influencers are your current students. They are the ones who are currently attending your school, and they can relate to new students on many factors: why they chose your school, how they’re paying for it, the classes they’re taking, how happy they are and what opportunities await. Leverage these influencers. New students will trust their feedback more than what comes from your administrative office or your marketing team.
For instance, if you have an international program at your school, start a blog where international students share their experiences. When your influencers have a hand in the content, they will be more likely to share it on their own social media pages as well. They can answer questions from interested students and share their personal experiences. This valued input carries much more weight than information coming from the top.
5. Build relationships with individuals who interact with your institution.
Not only are your influencers important but so are the people who interact with your school by commenting, following, retweeting and liking it. When you listen on social media, you’ll see that there are consistent people who regularly interact with your brand. These are the people you want to target and build relationships with.
Maybe these individuals are former students, people in the community, local businesses that you have partnerships with or the families of your current students. They may even be nearby colleges, universities and high schools. Regardless of who they are, reach out to them, ask questions, request feedback and encourage their participation in contests and giveaways.
People are always happy to see their loyalty recognized and appreciated, and its possible that these followers may become influencers one day. In the meantime, think of it as “free” marketing for your school.
Sometimes, the cycle of creating, posting and sharing content can feel redundant. This is normal. But don’t let that overshadow what you’re doing. Not every piece of content will be the shining star you hope for, but all it takes is one blog post, one infographic, one image to make your college or university “the next big thing.”