15 Higher Education Digital Marketing Strategies for 2018

Every day, universities and colleges are coming up with exciting, innovative courses for the millions of motivated students all over the world. The higher education space is being redefined by innovation in design, delivery and employability for many degree programs. Education experts have the resources they need to craft, test and rollout cutting edge online degree programs. That’s why higher education institutions are bringing on board creative communication and marketing professionals to keep their institutions and programs visible and desirable. Here at Circa, we utilize unique higher education marketing strategies that help raise awareness of courses and programs while bringing in high quality students that enable online degree programs to flourish. 

Innovative PPC Strategies

Andrew Glasser and Farzin Espahani

The possibilities for higher ed marketing are seemingly endless when it comes to PPC. It is by and large the most immediate method for generating high-quality leads while broadcasting your brand to qualified individuals, ultimately turning clicks into prospective students. In Search, PPC is a hotbed for student acquisition, with degree-seekers constantly turning to Google and Bing to help them decide their career/academic path. Within Social, PPC offers increasingly advanced tools which we can use to hone in on subgroups of your target audience, fostering lead growth in the student acquisition cycle while simultaneously nurturing your Brand’s reach.

When it comes to paid advertising on social platforms, we notice a clear trend for universities who are marketing online graduate degree programs: All the ads are the same. The ad copy makes it clear that the program is flexible and completely online, and the visuals often convey a happy working professional looking satisfied in their new role. In 2018, it is our focus, mission, and purpose to ensure that colleges and universities make a commitment to standing out from the crowd by showcasing their true story. Students understand that they have basic needs in their degree program, but in 2018, millennials need to have a connection to something bigger. It is important for universities to look at their missions, ideals, and unique value propositions outside of online, flexible, innovative curriculum to begin conveying the information that matters to a student’s personal journey.

Mobile Optimized Search Ads

Studies continue to show that mobile devices are the go-to option for searching the internet. In fact, mobile devices are used more often for searches than desktop computers.  The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, the average time spend on a smartphone is 177 minutes per day, and amazingly, the average mobile session is 70 seconds. This means consumers are using their phones all day, every day, but in short bursts of time. By bidding higher for mobile devices in Google Adwords and Bing ads while utilizing mobile optimized ad extensions we can increase the CTR significantly.

Managed Placements And Interests

Managed placements is a good strategy when there are specific websites that you think are related to specific program or university where can be visited by a potential student. For example for an online MBA program, we want to place our display ads on education related websites and focus on pages relevant to higher education and career advancement. This will help us to make sure our ads are shown to those more likely to click on the ad to learn more.  

Facebook Retargeting Campaigns

The beauty and effectiveness of retargeting allows you to reach out to users who have already showed interest to your brand or program and to get them to re-engage with your brand. This is a slow but steady and cost effective strategy that converts more students compared to traditional targeting, since users are more likely to engage with ads from brands that they know. The best way to achieve a winner retargeting strategy is to start with a brand awareness ad to simply introduce your brand. Then running a retargeting campaign that shows new ads to those who have already engaged with your previous ad.

Fundamental SEO Strategies

Tyler Cooper

Every month, hundreds of thousands of prospective students are logging onto their computers, opening up Google, and trying to figure out where they should earn their degree. If your website’s SEO strategy is not up to par, chances are you’re missing out on the vast majority of these leads. While you can use Google AdWords to show up for these results, you’re going to be paying a premium for each click. When you rank organically, there is no cost per click. When looking at this from an ROI perspective, the value of SEO is undeniable. Having a large search presence means more organic traffic, more leads, more applicants, and more students. If SEO is not a part of your digital marketing strategy in 2018, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

Link building

Link building is undoubtedly the most important aspect of your SEO strategy. In order to compete in competitive markets such as higher education, your website will need a steady stream of high-quality and relevant backlinks. There are a number of link building strategies. You can read more about those here.

On-Page SEO

In order to get the most out of your link building campaigns, it’s extremely important that your on-page SEO is in place. Make sure you all of the content on your website is properly optimized for search. This includes keyword rich title tags, relevant meta descriptions, keyword density, optimized header tags, internal linking, and much more.

Technical SEO

While this may require assistance from a web developer, it’s important that your site is technically sound so that it can be properly crawled by Google. The easier it is for Google to crawl and understand your site, the more your website’s pages will be shown in Google’s search results. On the other hand, if your website is full of technical errors, your search rankings will almost certainly suffer. Some things to look for when performing a technical SEO audit are: 404 errors, missing/broken XML sitemaps, slow page load times, duplicate content, irrelevant/thin content, and more! Use a tool like Screaming Frog to identify some of these common issues.

Website Content Strategies

Frederic Lee

Creation of website content (articles, infographics, data visualization, and more) is an essential aspect of any search marketing strategy. The primary reason being that Google favors websites with fresh content. With this in mind, a strategy of continuous creation and publication of content is important for website visibility in Google’s search results. In addition to creating fresh content, here are three core strategies to get the most ROI in this content.

Traffic and Rankings Focused Content

Through careful keyword research with an emphasis on target long-tail variations of your core keywords, content can be created with the best opportunity to rank in the search results. Keyword clusters/pods can be established in order to streamline content creation and may cover many keyword opportunity areas surrounding a long-tail variation. Upon completion and distribution, this content may rank for competitive keywords and either bring in large quantities of industry traffic, or a lesser, more valuable flow of conversion-focused traffic.

Conversion Support Focused Content

Depending on your business goals, conversion support content have a goal of providing detailed information about your product/service and industry. This content is designed to speak directly to individuals in the sales funnel. Through paid and organic social distribution and careful placement on your website, these articles are designed to be a strong touchpoint in the sales process.

Social Signal Focused Content

A portion of the Google algorithm involves having positive social signals pointing towards your website and content. Articles and graphics can be created with this exact goal in mind. A detailed analysis of your target audience and how they interact on social network is a key first step. This content must give them a reason to share and engage. Upon publication, strategic social sharing and promotion can help kick start this content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other relevant networks to your industry.

Creative Digital PR Strategies

George Bradley and Joseph Lapin

In the higher education industry, digital public relations is an important approach for any SEO strategy. Here at Circa, we believe that the faculty are one of a university’s greatest assets, yet in general, many higher ed marketing companies are not utilizing these key stakeholders. By leveraging traditional public relations strategies for the digital world, digital PR not only influences brand awareness and thought leadership for universities, but it also allows us to create high level media opportunities for our professors in publications such as the Washington Post, The Hill and HuffPost. Not only are the professors being placed here, but we are obtaining backlinks to our program pages. This directly influences organic traffic that leads to conversions and new students. In collaboration with on-page SEO elements, content marketing, and other link building strategies, digital PR helps bring prospective students to a university and serves as a significant contributor to a diverse link profile for an authoritative website.

Relationship Building

Professors and reporters/editors are the two key relationships that should be built as part of a higher education digital marketing strategy. By building trusting relationships with faculty, you are able to gain an understanding of their research and passions and also create opportunities that are specifically focused on their expertise. Relationships with reporters can also prove to be greatly beneficial. When you have a reporter who trusts you, they are far more likely to respond to your pitch and come to you for a quote from one of your faculty members.

Creative Pitch Writing

Pitching compelling story lines and sources are the crux of any PR strategy. In the higher education digital marketing space, we leverage the faculty expertise to write pitches that relate to current trending topics in the news. There are often four key components to a pitch, and these are the lead, call to action, unique value proposition, and conclusion. You can find more information on how to write these pitches here.

Stay on Top of the News

Having access to and critically understanding the latest news is imperative because you want to stay ahead of the curve. There are various ways to understand what is happening throughout the world, and you should consider each method to be as important as the next. Understanding stories in the newspaper and tying in our professors is the perfect way to begin the pitching process. All of this comes back to understanding your professors and the people working on relevant stories within the media.

Organic Social Media Marketing

Audrey Wills

In 2018, social media is an imperative part to any digital marketing strategy –– especially for higher education. To put the importance of social media marketing into context, take a look at the graph below. When the Pew Research Center began tracking social media usage in 2005, less than 8% of 18-49 year olds in America used at least one social platform. Today, over 75% of 18-49 year olds are active on at least one social media site, meaning social media is the optimal medium for reaching higher education’s target audience.

While the growth in social media usage is a good thing in the world of higher education digital marketing, this increased usage leads to users being inundated with ads and content marketing. So much so that at the beginning of 2018, Facebook changed its algorithm to prioritize content from user’s inner circles. Thus, making it even more difficult to get content in front of your target audience –– organically at least. So what tactics can you use to ensure you continue to reach your audience and boost enrollment? Let’s take a look.

Know Your Platform

As mentioned before, Facebook changed their algorithm in the beginning of 2018 to prioritize content from a user’s family and friends. This means that whenever you post content, whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you need to post content that best suits that platform.

Facebook’s algorithm favors content that people want to engage with. Think: would I share this with my friends? Content that is made for Twitter should be concise, yet informational. Let your followers know what you’re sharing and why. Do some research and identify the most active hashtags for your industry and use them throughout your tweets to help increase your reach. When creating content for Instagram, think visuals first, and make sure you have an eye-catching graphic that will grab your follower’s attention and get them to stop scrolling.

Keep up-to-date on social media marketing by attending a conference: http://circaedu.com/hemj/13-higher-education-marketing-conferences-in-2018/  

Live Video

One tactic that all social media algorithm’s love is Live Video. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter enable you to leverage live video to interact with prospective students. My favorite tactic for utilizing live video is hosting live Q&A info sessions to address general program FAQs and provide prospective students the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers in real-time. Hosting a series of Q&A info sessions that address different areas of your program. To give students a better feel for your program, have different team members host each session. Anyone from an alumni, a current student, a faculty member, or even dean are perfect candidates to provide their own perspective and create a connection with the prospective students.

Chatbots At Your Service

Social media has changed the way we all communicate, and chatbots are taking our new forms of communication one step further. Chatbots provide a modern way for students to get questions answered instantaneously. Implementing chatbots into your recruitment strategy can help your admissions team speed up the enrollment process by weeding out unqualified candidates, answering questions in seconds, not hours, and even following up with potential students to ensure they finish their applications before the enrollment deadline.

Circa Interactive is the premier digital marketing agency in higher education. Since opening in 2011, Circa Interactive has helped more than 60 degree programs increase lead flow, build brand awareness,and generate more students. To find out how our services could help your institution, please email clayton@circaedu.com. 

 

Understanding the Value of A/B Testing

What is A/B Testing?

Have you ever wondered if a certain piece of content on your website is performing to its full potential? If the subject line on your email campaign is compelling enough to maximize open rates, or even if a button on your website is the best color to attract a user to click? Many businesses and their marketing teams ask these and similar questions every day. Thankfully these questions can be answered by utilizing A/B testing.

A/B testing, or split testing, as some people like to call it, is a controlled experiment whereby two or more variants are tested against each other to find which performs better. This commonly used approach allows marketers to make the most of existing traffic that has usually taken a lot of time and money to get in the first place.

The Stages of A/B Tests

There are a handful of stages when running a successful A/B test. These stages can vary depending on who you ask but in general, four show up time and time again. These stages can be represented in four questions.

Do I need to conduct an A/B test?

Testing random ideas just for the fun of it will more than likely be a waste of time. For this reason, it is highly advised to create a hypothesis first. This hypothesis must be based on research into where the problem lives. For example, “if I make this change I expect to see this result”. This will help you gain information on not only what needs to change on your site but valuable information on your customers and their behavior.  

What metrics will define the success of this test?

This stage is the most important, and thus should be given the most time and focus. It is important to define what metric which will be used to measure if the experiment group is better than the control group or not. To help you decide this, you need to ask yourself what are you going to use the metrics for. There are two main categories of use that you will be using your metric for; Invariant checking, variants that should not change across your experiment and control, and evaluation of metrics and evaluation. These can be either high level such as increase in revenue or percent of market share. On the other hand, matrices can be more finer and look at user experience.  

It is important to note that some metrics may not be able to be completely measure correctly due to factors such as technology and demographics used. For example, Java may not run on certain web browsers resulting in incorrect CTR. As a result, filters may be needed to ensure data is not skewed and the metrics chosen can actually measure correctly.

How to design an experiment?

Designing the experiment includes deciding on a unit of diversion, deciding on the size and characteristics of the population and how long the experiment will run for.  

  • The unit of diversion is what units you are going to run the test on and comparing. Commonly, these can be event based (e.g. pageview) or anonymous ID (e.g. cookie id) or user ID. It’s important to ensure when you have a user visibility change to assign people instead of events. This is so the user will not get confused if they see a change, refresh the page and then see that the change has disappeared. If measuring latency change, other metrics like event level diversion might be enough.
  • The population of subjects that are eligible for this test is then selected. Everyone who visits your site may not be eligible for this experiment as you might be only looking at US traffic, of wanting only students depending on what and why you are experimenting.
  • Timing in a/b testing can be a deciding factor whether the experiment has been carried out correctly or not. When best suits to run the experiment? During the holidays? At night? Weekdays vs the weekend? This will depend on who the population is and what you’re looking to achieve. Making sure the experiments run long enough to gather a sufficient amount of data but not too long to miss out on the opportunity to use the better performing page with all of your site visitors.
How to analyze data?

Tests can end in three different ways, either the control wins, the experiment wins or there is no change. Reading this much is for the most part easy but it is important not to pat yourself on the back just yet. It is essential to dig deeper into these results and find out more about the behavior of your customers. As Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal explains “Only with A/B testing can you close the gap between customer logic and company logic and, gradually, over time, match the internal thought sequence that is going on in your customers’ heads when they are considering your offer on your landing page or within your app.”

A/B Testing Examples

MVMT

The Retention of customers is an issue for many watch companies as a customer is usually only in the market for a watch every few years. MVMT faced this issue and introduced a selection of interchangeable watch straps to their site. To ensure these straps increased consumer retention the way in which they were presented on the site was tested. The control in this experiment was with no cross selling of the straps with two test variations, one with the straps above the watches and one with the straps below the watches. By doing this test, MVMT were able to increase conversions by 5.5% for mobile shoppers and 2.2% for shoppers on desktop.

ASANA  

Teamwork-trafficking software Asana used a/b testing to successfully redesign and rebrand their website, improving user experience along the way. To ensure consumers were not surprised with a big website design, Asana implemented these changes slowly over time to gradually optimize the site for the best user experience. By breaking their tasks into two categories, Asana’s product team were able to first focus on core functionality features, implementing them once they had performed well in their test segments. After this, their rebranding team implemented the overall new look of the site and new branded look.

A/B testing is just one of the way’s that our PPC team ensures our clients campaigns are optimized and operating to their fullest potential. You can check out or PPC services here.

Aidan graduated with a Master’s in Digital Marketing from the National University of Ireland, Galway in 2016 where he gained a strong understanding of online marketing strategies, and marketing performance and productivity. Prior to his move to the US to work with Circa interactive, Aidan gained his experience in a variety of industries from festivals to medical devices. His current role within the Circa team is as the Jr. Digital marketing specialist, working with both the SEO team and the Marketing Analytics team, ensuring the service we provide is above the high standard expected from our clients.

5 Ways to Keep Your Readers Engaged

The average reader will view your article for 15 seconds or less. You may have drawn them in with your headline, but are they going past the first few lines? Are they leaving your site truly understanding the point of the piece? If not, then why? Even if you are drawing the attention of those who are likely to be more engaged than the ‘average reader’, there are still tips you can follow to ensure that readers are absorbing and engaging with your content. 

Ask Tough Questions

Notice here how I have already questioned you and your articles. Questions encourage curiosity and allow for people to think of an answer to what is being posed. Questions also connect with a reader’s brain and leave them wanting an answer to your question (which is now their question). Ultimately, the reader should leave your site feeling a sense of value from the questions you have posed. Therefore, in order to ask the questions that are going to allow for optimum engagement and readership, understanding your audience is pivotal. 

Have an Opinion

An article that people want to engage with is often one that makes a claim and sticks to it throughout the piece. This should get people thinking about where their thoughts are on a particular issue. This can often lead to positive debate within a certain topic area or industry. That being said, think about your readers here and consider balance on some topics. You do not want to force people away from your site by being overly controversial, but it is not always necessary to sit on the fence. Industry leaders are often the ones with strong opinions, and a great way to showcase this leadership is by getting involved in the comments section on your site or engaging with readers on Twitter.

Ensure the Article is Digestible

This comes in two forms; tone and visuals. With tone, you again need to ensure you understand your audience. Are technical, high-level terms going to be understood? Or are they going to lead to your readers becoming confused? If so, they are likely to zone out and ultimately look for their information elsewhere. Be sure not to become too casual though. If you are posing answers to questions that your readers already know the answers to, then really what value are they getting from the article? As for visuals, you do not want to overwhelm readers with big block paragraphs. Breaking the article down into sections can make the whole piece feel more digestible and less of a task. Utilizing subheadings can also allow readers to skim through the article and get to the section they are looking for.

Use Statistics

Statistics allow writers to support their arguments with convincing evidence. They also enable writers to draw conclusions and argue specific sides of issues without sounding speculative or vague. Stats also engage the readers and get them thinking about the significance of the issues that you are presenting to them. Keep in mind though that the statistics need to be relevant to the the story. Adding them for the sake of it will likely confuse the reader and defeat the purpose; which is to tie everything together.

Tell a Story

People connect with stories. From a young age we are exposed to storytelling and we enjoy it when things come full circle. Tying points back to the questions you asked originally is a great way to do this throughout the article and should be fully utilized in the conclusion. The reality is, when stories are told, readers engage, so if there is the opportunity to emotionally engage with an audience, then seize this opportunity. All the points mentioned in this article can ensure that you are telling your story and that your readers are hanging around for more than just 15 seconds.

George has been part of theGeorge Circa team for three years. He graduated from Plymouth University, England, with a master’s in marketing management and strategy degree. George is a PR and digital marketing specialist who is passionate about creating high level opportunities for professors within national publications. 

The Benefits of Outlining an Article in Advance

Whether you’re crafting a straightforward blog or you’re delving into an in-depth research article, there is a temptation to simply sit down and crank out the copy. Once you start writing, the thoughts will flow, the sentences will arrange themselves accordingly, and everything will come together properly.

Unfortunately, as any dedicated writer or marketer can attest to, crafting effective copy takes a bit of forethought. Prior to writing a piece, it’s important to take a moment to plan out exactly how you’re going to approach crafting your copy–by doing so, you can ensure that your piece will have a cohesive structure, and that you will use your overall writing time efficiently. Here are a few of the key benefits of outlining an article beforehand.

The Theme of Your Piece

The most important benefit of outlining is that it can help a writer to determine the overall theme–or point–of a piece. Let’s say that you want to craft a blog about how Cision is the most effective marketing tool on the market. The first step in crafting this piece is to answer the critical unsaid question: why? Why is Cision the most effective marketing tool? Is it because it helps you stay organized? Or is it because it helps you connect with reporters and editors around the world?

Consider the following sentences:

A) Cision is the best tool a PR rep could ask for.

B) Cision is the best tool a PR rep could ask for because it features an unrivaled database of top reporters and editors around the world.

By addressing the unsaid question, you are able to determine the theme of your piece–Cision is great because it has a fantastic database. Once you’ve established the theme (or the why?), you can then break down how you will explore this concept on a paragraph-by-paragraph level.

Secondly, by addressing the theme, you can avoid burying the lede. A reader wants to know what the point of a piece is from the get-go–this is known as the lede, or the vital point or points that the reader needs to know about this story. In a traditional journalism story, the lede often appears right at the start of the piece.

Let’s say that you’re crafting a news piece about a revolutionary environmentally friendly car. The lede for that story would probably look something like this:

Acme Motors’ new Eco car line, which debuted at the Berlin Auto Show last May, is the most environmentally friendly car on the market, according to Green Car Reports. While most vehicles use gasoline to power their engines, the Eco car relies solely on water as a fuel source.

The lede for this piece lets you know the crucial parts of the story–that the Eco car is unique for a particular reason–right from the start.

A lede can appear in the first paragraph or even the first sentence of a piece. However, if you are not aware of the point of your piece from the start, you may “bury” your lede further down in the copy. This may cause the reader to become distracted or confused, since they may not be clear from the beginning on what the piece is actually about. By outlining before writing, you will establish the point of your piece immediately, and you can then decide how to examine this point in a clear and thoughtful fashion.

Solid Structure

When outlining, you can provide a thorough breakdown of how you will write the piece on a paragraph-by-paragraph level. By doing this, you can ensure that you will use your writing time properly, as you will understand where you need to go with your narrative as you tackle each paragraph or section. When outlining, there’s no need to go overboard: You can craft a detailed structural breakdown that explicitly highlights what you will say in each paragraph, or you can craft a simple outline that only offers a sentence or two regarding your approach within each section. The point is that with an outline, you’ll have a roadmap of sorts–you’ll understand where you need to go with the piece as you write it.

Research: Offering The Right Information

Outlining beforehand is useful from a research perspective, as well. Going into a piece, you may have a rough idea regarding the facts, statistics, or other data you might want to use within the copy. When outlining, you can determine a structural breakdown of the piece–in other words, what you will say in each paragraph–and you can also establish what type of information you will use within each individual section. For example, if you’re crafting a piece about press releases, you might want to include a section about the overall effectiveness of press releases–in other words, do they actually work on a consistent basis? If you want to make the case that press releases are effective, then you need to have the statistics to back up your assertion. By outlining, you can decide what type of research you will need for your piece even before actually begin writing it.

Gaps in Logic

Let’s say you’re making an argument: Press releases are no longer valuable. Your position is a controversial one, so you need to have facts to backup your case. You also need to make sure that there aren’t any obvious holes in your logic. By outlining, you can determine what kind of information you might need for your piece in advance, but you will also have a chance to examine your position from top-to-bottom. You might find during the outline stage that you overlooked a critical point in your argument. However, with a proper outline, you can ensure that you’ll present a solid case to your readers.

Supplemental Imagery or Charts

A good blog or article understands how to convey information in an easily digestible fashion. In other words, when crafting a blog, it’s critical that you present your copy in a way that won’t overwhelm the reader. Large, dense paragraphs might work for an academic journal, but they’re not appropriate for blogs, which are often intended to be read or scanned quickly. With that in mind, you might find at the outline stage that you can break up your copy, or supplement your information, by including charts, tables, or imagery. Determining the kind of images or charts you might need for your piece is far easier to do at the outline stage than the final drafting stage.

A Conclusion

Every good narrative needs a good ending. With an outline, you can develop your conclusion right from the start, guaranteeing that you will present a cohesive narrative structure from the first sentence down to the very last word. Once you highlight the theme of your piece in the outline, you can check to make sure that every section within the article or blog addresses this theme. Ideally, the conclusion reiterates your theme–e.g. Cision is excellent because of X, Y, or Z–and points out to your reader why your main argument matters.

An outline is a compass bearing, offering you clear guidance and direction at every stage of the writing process. An outline doesn’t need to be extensive–it can be detailed, or short and sweet. But by outlining before you write, you can guarantee that you will use your writing time in the most effective way possible.

Stefan Slater obtained his Master of Fine Arts in Narrative Nonfiction from Goucher College. He is a writer with over seven years of content creation experience, and his nonfiction work has appeared in a number of publications, including LA Weekly, Hakai, Angeleno, Surfer, and more. He is Circa Interactive’s lead editor.

How to Get Published Online: Guest Articles

Having a guest article published on an industry-specific or national news site can be a great way to build on your thought leadership and promote your brand. However, it’s not always an easy feat, as editors receive hundreds of submissions every day from others clamoring for the same opportunity. It’s easy to understand, then, why publications must be stringent in their submission and review process–they must ensure that only the most high-quality and valuable content makes it through. For this reason, it’s critical to have a well-executed strategy in place before you begin writing or submitting an article for consideration. So what can you do to successfully get published online? Having had dozens of articles published on behalf of clients and my team, I’ve listed some top tips that you should consider when trying to obtain a guest article placement.

Leverage a Relevant Time or News Peg

An article is much more powerful and engaging if there is a relevant news peg tied to it. This means leveraging a trend or story currently taking place in the news (whether it be mainstream or industry-specific) and tying it into the focus of your article. An editor will be much more likely to publish your story if it ties into a larger theme and conversation that is of interest to their target audience. For example, if you are a marketing and branding expert with a focus on social media, it would be wise to use the latest Facebook algorithm change to discuss how this shift in users’ newsfeed could impact brands and organic reach. Time pegs are another very effective way to add relevancy and a sense of urgency to your story. For example, MLK Day or Engineers Week are both examples of time pegs that could be leveraged for an article.  

Provide a Unique Angle

While it’s incredibly important to tie your article into a larger narrative or trending story happening in the news, you must also be sure to provide a unique angle to that story. You never want to simply regurgitate what has already been said. One method to help ensure that you’re not writing something that has already been covered is to do a quick search of related topics on a publication’s site to determine whether they’ve already written about the story you’re pitching/writing. This will help you to fine-tune your idea and shift the angle if needed.

Understand the Publication’s Audience

It might seem obvious, but even the most well-written, interesting article will go ignored if the topic and angle doesn’t appeal to a publication’s audience. It’s important to understand what an audience (and editor) will be drawn to. For example, if you write a guide on the best educational teaching tools out there, but the audience of the publication is primarily students, it won’t be of any use or interest to them, despite the fact that they both pertain to the same industry. You must tailor your content and angle to something that the audience will find beneficial and worthwhile in order to be seriously considered.

Make Sure to Follow any Submission Guidelines

Few things will disqualify you more quickly in the eyes of an editor than completely disregarding clear directions for writing and submitting an article for consideration. This can turn you and your article into more of a nuisance than anything else and cause an editor to overlook the hard work you’ve put into the actual content. With this in mind, take note of their submission requirements and follow them as closely as possible.

Also, unless they explicitly say otherwise, it’s usually a good idea to send the editor a short pitch outlining your article idea before you begin writing it. If it’s not in line with what they’re looking for, this tactic will allow you to either pivot your angle or focus your time and effort on other publications instead.

Have Sources to Back Up Your Claims

Although contributed articles tend to be opinion pieces, it’s still important to include credible sources that help to support and back up your claims and position. Adding in these sources will only strengthen your stance and illustrate that you’ve put in the time and effort to provide a piece of content that has merit and which goes beyond your own personal ramblings. Citing stats or studies but failing to hyperlink to the sources can also prolong the publication process, so it’s important to properly reference and link to any sources used from the get-go. Keep in mind that news sites (almost always) prefer hyperlinks to sources over more traditional APA citations and footnotes.

To learn more about our digital PR services, read here: Digital PR.

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team, and she has worked with partners such as HP, Cisco, and Adobe. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.

Learnings (and Mistakes) that Have Shaped My Communications Career in Higher Education

With almost 20 years on the marketing and communications side of higher education, I’ve learned a great deal from key stakeholders and my brilliant teams. But I’ve learned from myself and my mistakes, too. It’s amazing what can grow from a few blunders, helping you lead a more productive, informed and fulfilling career.

Following are six of the biggest lessons I learned from my own failures:

Communicate with everyone.

During my early years in higher-ed communications, I would communicate with one audience at a time. My approach was not as inclusive; and, I sometimes left out key audiences that needed to be informed.

Lesson learned! As higher-ed marketing experts, identify every possible communication channel to disseminate updates through a mix of university websites, videos, email, newsletters and live discussions, as well as through external media, social media, community partners and education outlets. Different audiences receive information from a variety of sources, so accessibility is important – accommodating the way they are informed. Transparency helps reach key audiences; so they are not only informed, but so they feel part of the conversation.

Delegate, delegate, delegate.

During my first job out of college, I tried to do it all. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was capable and effective.  So I took on more work than I should, and, eventually, I started missing details – and I was not being very effective (and didn’t feel very capable). While I had good intentions, I was missing deadlines, making mistakes and feeling overwhelmed.

Delegation is important to a successful outcome. Your team is just that… a team, and delegation empowers all team mates to have a role and to feel involved in project success. When the right mix is involved, work gets done more efficiently and successfully. Delegation is a great way to coach and mentor, as well.

Give back – and Get Back.

In my early career, prior to getting involved in higher education, I was stuck, frustrated and not learning very much in my job. I was craving professional development and new challenges, and I made a mistake by waiting too long to satisfy this craving.

Then, I got involved with the American Cancer Society as a volunteer. With the sole intention of giving back to the community, I actually “got back” so much more from this experience.  Volunteering gave me the professional development I needed, while enhancing my communication and leadership skills.  Most importantly, I met a board member from Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), and that introduction led me to higher education and long-term communications role at my current organization. So, expand your community, and more will come.

Course Correct.

We’re familiar with the expression, “Life is what happens while we are busy planning it.”  Well, the same holds true with our careers. I wrote a plan for a previous president, and then I got so focused on sticking to the communications plan — and then I missed a few opportunities.

While it’s important to have a plan, I also learned that it’s helpful to step back, evaluate, adjust and course correct when new opportunities develop – and challenges occur. I now accept that plans often need to be adjusted, and that’s a good thing.

Listen to All Stakeholders.

It’s easy to isolate yourself and your team in your work. I’ve done that many times, and learned the hard way about isolated thinking. Big mistake!

Learn from stakeholders from all sides — from students to donors to staff members to the community, as they all have something to teach you. They wear different hats and can collaborate and add perspective to university outreach and strategies.

Model and Mentor.

In my early years, I wanted to show my bosses and leaders that I could figure it out by myself.  While sometimes I could, I also found that I made some mistakes along the way and that I could have benefited from some extra guidance.

Eventually, I started working with a mentor who taught me new leadership skills. In return, I mentor students and professionals, to help them grow in their careers and foster new partnerships. After all, higher education is about teaching others, and it’s important to mentor and model throughout your career.

We can learn from so many teachers and leaders in higher education, including ourselves.  So embrace the blunders, and celebrate the lessons. There’s plenty to learn from our slip-ups!

About the Author

As the Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategy for Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), Catherine B. Lucas, APR, redefined MSU Denver’s brand in the higher education marketplace; spearheaded the legislative approval process to offer master’s degrees; and led the name-change transition from “college” to “university.”  She has earned a reputation for brand and reputation management, collaborative decision making and community engagement. 

6 Tips to Start and Master Your College’s Blog in 2018

At Circa Interactive we’re fortunate to work with a few outstanding partners. Below, our friends over at Finalsite put together six useful tips for your college’s blog to become successful. Enjoy!

While you already know that your school needs a blog, the usual roadblocks–time and staffing–are probably standing in your way. Whatever you do, don’t allow these to become constraints. Blogging has the potential to grow your school’s brand, engage your community, and recruit right-fit students to your schools, so it’s definitely worth the effort. If you’re ready to dive in to starting your college’s blog in the new year, here are a few steps to guide your success.

1. Determine a Focus for Your College’s Blog

Many colleges and universities don’t blog at all, and those that do often limit themselves to ones written by the college president, department heads and admissions directors–a pretty narrow focus.  Since your blog will be a traffic-driver and will help to fill your recruitment funnel among other things, put the focus on where you shine: your culture. Showcasing what makes you unique, like the programs you specialize in, your awesome students, and incredible careers of graduates allows you to broaden your focus and bring in students, faculty, coaches, current parents, alumni and others to contribute content.

2. Gather a Group of Dedicated Writers

In order to make an impact with your blog, you need to be consistent about posting. And while it seems simple to assign the task to one person to keep the blog’s tone and voice the same, gathering more content contributors makes it easier to produce content on a consistent basis.

To choose this group, start by polling your community. Ask faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents to share their ideas on posts they’d like to write, or topics they think would be beneficial to prospective and current students and their families, or alumni. Current student bloggers are a great source of content (especially English majors!) as it’s a great resume booster for them to see their work published online, so they’ll love to blog frequently. And, prospective students love to hear firsthand from current students.

Vanguard University does a great job of sharing content from students in a variety of stages and programs to give real-life insight into the student experience (and it looks pretty cool, too!).

An example of how to use student contributors for your college's blog.

A Student’s Guest Post on Vanguard University’s Blog

And while you may want to have different blogs for special programs, like study abroad or athletics, these should be maintained in addition to your college’s main blog. Use a tool that lets you categorize your posts so that they can be dynamically published to all related categories, letting you maximize the impact of your content with less effort.

Remember-it only takes two blog posts per week to improve your website traffic!

3. Create a Content Calendar

Once your group of writers is formed, work with them to create a content calendar that works.

Determine which days you want blog posts to be published, which topics are timely, and which topics are evergreen (can be posted any time.) If you’re only going to blog twice a week, take into consideration that Monday mornings rank highest for visits and Thursdays rank highest for social shares, so focus on those days to get the most traction.

4. Determine an Editing Process

At Finalsite, we use the “press call” concept. Each day at the same time, the marketing team receives an email with all the content that’s scheduled for the next day, including blog posts, and shares their edits with our content marketing manager, who inputs them, and prepares content for publishing.  This system works for us, and now our team expects and prepares for press call each day. Your editing team might be made up of content contributors, marketing or admissions staffers, or others with a critical eye.  

5. Write Simply and with Intent

If your intent is to inform, blogs are meant to be easy-to-read, conversational pieces, but your content contributors might be self-conscious about writing. If your blog is simple and written with intent, it will always be well-received.

Here are few tips for making this happen:

  • Write in lists. It makes content easy to digest and gives readers key takeaways.
  • Write your blog post title first (you can always go back and fine-tune it later!) A title gives your post focus.
  • Write in chunks or sections. Blogs shouldn’t be written like an essay, but should be segmented by different thoughts or ideas.
  • Use a textual hierarchy to break up your post and make it easy to read.
  • Numbered posts are really effective: “The Top Five Reasons to Major in Business,” “Three Reasons Greek Life isn’t What Think it is?”
  • Always incorporate photos in your posts. We recommend one image near the top, and several images throughout the post.
  • End all blogs with a call-to-action.
  • Encourage content contributors to be themselves and use an authentic voice.

6. Share Your Post via Social Media and Subscriptions

“Is anyone out there?” It’s a common fear that you and your content contributors could spend hours on posts that no one sees. But when you follow a few simple steps, your blogs will be seen, appreciated, and shared.

First: Create a way for readers to subscribe to your posts via email. This way, they’ll get the blog posts delivered right to their inbox.

Second: Each time you post a blog on your website, share it on your social feeds. This is a pivotal piece for your inbound marketing strategy! You can also share older blog posts that are still relevant on social media, too! Be sure to always include a photo in your tweets and Facebook posts, as posts with images are more likely to get clicked.

Third: Add links to your blog in the online newsletters that you’re already sending. If you have a monthly newsletter that goes out, include this month’s best posts as a way to drive readership and subscriptions.

Fourth: Use blog posts as inbound marketing content. When sending communications to students in the admission funnel, consider which blog posts you have, and use them as your inbound content. For example, if a student wrote a post on their experience as a student athlete, it would be great to share that with all applicants interested in your athletic programs.

 

Pulling it All Together

Your blog won’t appear overnight, and neither will differences in website traffic — so don’t get discouraged. A blog takes weeks to really get up and running and months to really make a difference. However, with the right people and plans in place, it will quickly become a central piece of your inbound strategy and school culture.

For more tips and strategies for a high-converting website, download Finalsite’s eBook “The Ultimate Website Guide for Colleges and Universities.”

 Hadley RosenAfter more than a decade working in schools in roles in the classroom, communications and advancement, Hadley joined Finalsite in 2013 as Marketing and Communications Manager. She loves meeting Finalsite’s amazing family members around the world and learning about trends impacting schools. She’s a big fan of travel to places near and far with her growing family, cooking cuisines of all kinds, and working on her French fluency.

6 Ways to Leverage Student Testimonials in Marketing

Today’s college search consists of visiting hundreds of college websites to find the perfect match. After researching several institutions, prospective students then compile a list of colleges and universities to apply to, but what are the deciding factors that lead them to applying? Is it hearing from faculty members, attending open house events, a google search, or chatting with recruiters? For me, it was how the university utilized testimonials in their marketing.

After graduating from American University with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in integrated marketing communications at Georgetown University. Before making this decision, I was a prospective student searching for an online graduate program that had everything I desired and more. Throughout the several months of searching, I experienced various universities retargeting me around the web, sending emails with application deadlines and receiving recruitment schedules to make appointments. Again, it wasn’t the consistent emails, speaking with recruiters or the ads circling the internet that led me to my final decision. It was reading and hearing faculty, alumni and student testimonials.

As a marketer, and twice a prospective student, I want to share with you six key strategies that will help your college or university boost leads and engage prospective students by implementing student testimonials in marketing campaigns.

1. Create a student experience tab on your website and social networking pages

Including a student experience tab on your website and social networking pages provides current students, alumni, faculty and even parents the opportunity to share their success stories. In this section you have the chance to sell your university or college to its full potential by incorporating quotes, videos and blog posts. Make sure to also highlight topics that matter to your target audience, including internship opportunities, graduation rates, employment rates, campus safety, extracurricular activities, as well as students and professors interactions. This will give prospective students a feel for the student body culture and will enable them to apply and make an enrollment decision.

University testimonial example: Berkeley City College created an International Student tab page to help market its testimonials. Prospective students that navigate to this page will hopefully find a relatable experience that will get them engaged and excited about their possible opportunities at the college or university. *Pro Tip: Incorporating photos of your students leads to better results.

 

2. Revamp paid search landing pages to incorporate testimonials in marketing

Paid search landing pages give you, the marketer, an opportunity to sell your university or college with an incentive or social validation. This can be easily done by incorporating short video clips or quotes from students or recent graduates that may pique your prospective students’ interest. It’s also important that you provide trustworthy information along with providing social validation (video or quote) or an incentive, such as a brochure, to further explain your program.

The content you create must meet your prospective students’ initial motive and provide them with a solution. Make sure your content only gives your prospects two options, either to add their information or exit out of the landing page. Keep in my mind that no one sells your brand better than a joyous and lively student or alumni.

University Testimonials Examples from Unbounce

Source: Unbounce

University landing page example: This particular template is from Unbounce. On this landing page it gives prospective students the option to provide their contact information. However, before submitting their information they will see a testimonial quote from a graduating student that may spark their interest even further. 

A second example is from the University of Illinois at Chicago landing page where they’ve attracted new students by marketing testimonial videos. Using video and adding a small description takes the content further in making it personable and relatable.

3. Post video testimonials on social media accounts

When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I’m often attracted to videos. Whether I’m laying in my bed, walking down the street or taking a lunch break, I’m more prone to click on a video than an ad with a graphic. Honestly, I would rather listen to someone speak than sit and analyze an image. In fact, by 2017, video content will represent 74 percent of all internet traffic, according to KCPB. As a result, video testimonials are a great way to build trust and provide prospective students with additional information so they have a chance to learn more about the program you’re advertising.

As a marketer, whether you choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat to advertise your university’s videos, make sure you’re targeting a very specific audience and that you’re using the right social media platform. For example, Facebook attracts an older crowd. According to a BI Intelligence study, Facebook users aged 45-54 represent 21 percent of the total time spent on the platform, which is the most time spent compared to any other age group. Therefore, if I’m promoting graduate school opportunities, I would use Facebook ads to pitch to an older demographic. However, as a marketer, if I’m looking to attract high school juniors and seniors that are researching institutional programs, I would consider advertising testimonial videos on Snapchat. This is a great way to incorporate alumni and current students into recruitment methods to increase brand awareness.

American University social media marketing example

             

University Facebook page example: This example shows American University (AU) utilizing Facebook to engage prospective students and newly enrolled students. In this video, President Burwell starts off by explaining her testimony as a previous college student and later explaining the experience of current AU students and professors. Although, this is not a current student or an alumni directly explaining their experience, as a leader at the University, she is telling her story incorporating professors and current students into the storyline.

4. Specific statistics and photos perceive tangible results and trust

When marketing testimonials, keep in mind that prospective students always need assurance to make sure they’re making the right decision. Research shows adding a face to the name, along with a testimonial text, can increase empathy towards people, even when never meeting them. This will automatically allow prospective students to feel more connected and provides them with the assurance they need.

In addition, if you are sharing a faculty member’s testimonial and they happen to share a statistic, don’t be afraid to also share that with your audience. Statistics help illustrate that your institution is about producing results and lifting boundaries for your students by highlighting the curriculum and opportunities you provide for your students and graduates.

For example, before attending American University, I would attend numerous open house events, speak to recruiters and speak with current students and alumni. Although attending events and speaking with students convinced me enough to attend American University, there was always one statistic that stuck with me, because I would see the same statistic posted on billboards all around Washington, D.C. and the university campus. The statistic read, “92 percent of our graduates are working, in graduate school or both.”

By reading this statistic, I was easily convinced that American University would give me the proper resources and education I needed to succeed. Reading alumni testimonials was great and speaking with current students gave me an in-depth perspective of university. However, reading and keeping that statistic in mind helped me make my final enrollment decision.  

American University student testimonial statistic

Source: American University

University photo and statistic example: In the first example from American University, the statistic automatically sparks a student’s interest. It makes an individual think they too will find success and become apart of that statistic when it’s time to graduate. 

A second example is from Washburn University using alumni to explain what they’ve gained through their education. Again,  marketing testimonials along with photographs will encourage prospective students to start thinking about the long-term impact an institution can have on their careers.

 

5. Improve email marketing strategies and tactics

If you’ve ever submitted a contact form on a university’s website, I’m sure you’ve received thousands of emails reminding you about application deadlines, open houses, scholarship opportunities and upcoming webinars. Looking at all the emails filling up your inbox, how many of them do you see marketing testimonials to share alumni and student experiences? Not many!

One of the best ways to convince a prospective student to attend a university is by making the emails relatable and personable. Instead of sending a generic email explaining the application deadlines, add a video testimonial with a student or alumni explaining why they chose the institution. Make sure the videos showcase internship opportunities, extracurriculars, curriculum and campus culture.

Another strategy for marketing testimonials is to leverage scholarship deadlines and add a written testimonial, with a photo of the student, that explains the situation they were in before receiving the scholarship and how it has helped them to succeed.

Testimonials can also be utilized when advertising webinars. Make sure to implement testimonials from a student that will be speaking during the webinar throughout the whole email marketing campaign. Feel free to also add an incentive when marketing the student’s testimonial by offering a one-on-one opportunity with that student. For example, before choosing Georgetown University for graduate school, I also researched Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing. I actually enjoyed reading the program emails because they always incorporated an opportunity to speak with an alumni or current student about the online program. While attending one of the school’s webinars, an alumni and current student shared their experiences with me and the opportunities the university offered them. Testimonials are your friend when it comes to selling your brand. Don’t run from them. Utilize them to their fullest potential.

University Email Marketing Campaign Example Using Testimonials in Marketing

Source: Northwestern University

“A recent IMC Online graduate, Erin Price, Senior Director of Strategic Planning at Sargento Foods, will be on hand to describe her experiences in the program.” – Northwestern University, Medill Program, Megan Castle

University email marketing tactic: This example from Northwestern University shows the institution marketing their online webinar and telling their prospective students an alumni will be present. Prospective students will be more inclined to attend the webinar because they’re interested in hearing a previous student’s opinion about the program.  

 

6. Use public speaking engagements to collect and market testimonials

During my junior and senior year at American University, my state recruiter would always ask if I could speak at accepted student events located in New York and New Jersey. After giving my speech, I remember taking a deep breath before seeing a number of students rush to me and ask questions regarding my experience, the professors, extracurriculars and student body culture.

I enjoyed connecting with prospective students and helping them make an important decision that will impact the rest of their lives. It was simply the way I leveraged my testimony that impacted their final decisions. As you can see, word of mouth goes a long way. If someone reads or listens to a story they will automatically feel more connected compared to someone just reading facts. When marketing a live testimonial, students may feel more inclined to make a quicker decision.

Here’s another tip – at the end of each event hand out evaluations. As a higher education marketer, this gives you an opportunity to see what you’ve done right and what areas to improve when conducting future events. At the end of the evaluations, feel free to also ask prospective students a question similar to this:

“After attending this event for accepted/prospective students to learn more about the (School Name) experience, how likely are you to enroll at our university or college? (1 – 10)

Also please feel free to leave a comment regarding your experience at the event and your name, so that we can post it on our website and social media accounts.”

Hosting similar events for your prospective students gives them social and tangible proof that everything your institution markets and advertises online is exactly what they will see during face-to-face interactions.

Takeaways:

  • In all testimonials, showcase a problem and provide students with a solution.
  • Student testimonials are a university’s success stories.
  • Always leverage the power of social proof and validation.

“Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.” – P.T. Barnum

 

User generated testimonials are just one piece of Circa Interactive’s conversion optimization services. Convert the traffic you are paying for. Learn how Circa’s established methodologies, with new approaches, will help increase your university’s interest and ROI by visiting our conversion rate optimization services page.

Farah Green

Farah Green is a marketing and public relations specialist for Circa Interactive. She has background experience in both the broadcast media and digital marketing industries. While working at Circa, she has gained experience in higher ed content marketing while also improving her creative skills. Farah’s passion and continual education in marketing helps to enhance Circa’s team.

What is Project Management? Your Ultimate Guide to Getting Started

Managing a project is no simple task. Generally, most business projects don’t attain goals they were initially set out to achieve. That’s because most companies are still guilty of outlining project plans and objectives that are not backed up with correct practices. Project management is something you can’t learn straight out of college–it’s a competency that can be acquired only through years of experience and practical knowledge. Typical project management courses are offered to students who already have experience managing projects and require prior hands-on experience. In the current global economy, it’s necessary to understand and continually explore project software that can lend itself to bringing resources together. Organizing remote resources efficiently not only makes management easier, it helps to decrease project timelines lower overall project costs.

What is Project Management?

Project management refers to the ritual of planning, organizing, safeguarding, leading, managing and handling resources to achieve particular objectives.

Projects are temporary endeavors that have a marked beginning and end. They are basically undertaken to add value or effect beneficial change. Managing a project can be quite challenging in the real world. Achieving all project goals while honoring pre-determined constraints – such as time, scope, budget and quality – can be difficult. This is why a lot of effort and planning should be put in before actually beginning real project work.

Get a Project Going and Keep it on Track

1. Defining the Project

Some project teams dive right into the work without clearly defining project goals and requirements. The time properly spent on project planning would lead to decreased duration and cost and enhanced quality over the course of the project. A project definition encompasses the planning work and elucidates all attributes of a project.

2. Planning the Work

Once a project has been defined, you must create a work plan, which entails the instructions to produce project deliverables. If you need some inspiration, ideal to use resources available to you and seek out any prior work plans from similar projects that may be available. The work plan should throw sufficient light on assigning resources and work estimation, taking as many uncertainties into consideration. For each uncertainty or risk, you must determine the likely effect on the project. Certain activities cannot be clearly defined right at the onset. You should therefore revisit your work plan time and again to alter certain aspects as you make progress.

3. Start Executing

Once you have planned the project sufficiently, you may start executing it. Remember, almost no project would proceed completely as per estimation and plans. To ensure things are kept on track through project management fundamentals:

  • Review your work plan regularly
  • Check on your progress in terms of budget and schedule frequently
  • Update your work plan with completed activities
  • Share agile project management updates and provide a fair estimation of whether the project would be completed within the original cost, duration and effort.

4. Resolve Issues

When managing a business project, problems are likely to surface. Make sure you confront the issues and do not let them hibernate and metamorphose into a larger one. Even the smallest of problems should be solved diligently if they warrant your attention.

Basic Project Management Software and Tools

Email and communication tools are great ways to interact with team members, but additional tools help to organize people and team tasks. Dedicated project management software can assist in the fundamentals of project management. These tools help to track ideas, plot deadlines, share documents, and overall deliver more. Some of the more popular tools are free and can greatly increase a team’s overall efficientcy

Wrike

Wrike ScreenshotWrike is one the easiest to use project management tools for large groups repeating the same task or project frequently. It is a web-based program that can automate and organize your tasks and projects, enhance your firm’s productivity and increase efficiency. It lets you share data with your team quickly and collaborate on both tasks and project levels. Wrike’s email collaboration feature helps centralize management. The tool can be used for free or pay to upgrade based on your requirements. If your team has no more than five members, Wrike’s free plan should effectively meet your requirements.

Wrike.com

Asana

Asana ScreenshotAsana is another management tool where teams are provided workspaces made of individual projects. These projects are broken down into tasks that could be presented with comments, tags and notes. Basically, Asana breaks down the work into granular components in an easy to use Kanban board. The program works easily on both web browsers and mobile devices. The tool’s flexibility, short learning curve and simplicity makes it ideal for small businesses and freelancers.

Asana.com

Zoho Projects

Zoho ProjectsZoho Projects is a great choice if you’re already into Google apps for business (such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Calendar) and require bug-tracking and timesheets built-in. It’s powerful and efficient and easily covers task lists, file sharing, project schedules, reporting and communication, etc. On-platform communication is quite potent with the option to chat with all team members at a time, individually or create subgroups.

Zoho.com/projects

Synergist

SynergistSynergist gets the job done by providing you tremendous visibility and control of tasks, resourcing, financials and schedules, in addition to all project communications and files. It’s a full-fledged project costing and management tool for big teams. Initially developed to serve digital and creative agencies, Synergist is now also used by several project-based companies.

Synergist.co.uk

Slack

Slack ScreenshotSlack is a group communication tool that is perfect for siloed businesses. With some organization, it can be used by larger teams to assist in meeting deliverables and moving tasks quickly. Slack integrates seamlessly with third-party applications that makes it easy to transport information from different platforms to Slack. The third-party apps include Twitter, MailChimp, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. With Trello or Asana integration, you can create to-do lists that can be shared among team members.

Slack.com


Successfully Managing Your Remote Teams

How can I use any of this to my benefit? As a manager handling and coordinating remote projects, it’s essential to consider work hour differences, time zone differences, and likely language barriers make using tools frequently with open lines of communication a highly important component. Regular check-ins, status updates, conference calls, etc. make up the drill. It’s important that remote workers are kept busy so that they don’t lose momentum and don’t look for work elsewhere.

Ensure Accessibility to Necessary Technology and Tools

There are several tools that help manage projects remotely such as Asana, JIRA Agile, OpenProject, Basecamp, etc. Basecamp is essentially a chat room space. The chat room daily connects people living in different time zones so that they could catch up on interactions that took place when they weren’t around. OpenProject features project-tracking, wikis, cost reporting and code management, and provides a robust, open-source option for project management.

Having the essential software tools and technology to all project team members makes sure the project stays on budget and schedule. It is easy for a project to derail if the team members are unable to access the information they require on time. Organizations and projects could also be impacted negatively by security violations that could put the company’s or a client’s sensitive data at risk.

Maintain Contact with Your Virtual Employees

Managing remote employees is not just about inundating them with work whenever possible. It’s also equally important to keep them in the loop about company affairs, recent performance, fresh hires, etc. You may accomplish this by sending remote workers recurring emails like a newsletter. Sending photos of a redone conference room, office setups, project teams, etc. can make things a bit more engaging. Video-calling can help reinstate remote employees’ faith in your company or project.

Have all necessary contact information about your remote workers handy. The contact details should comprise more than a phone number and work email address. You should have their emergency and backup phone numbers, personal or backup email addresses. It’s also important to stay updated on things happening in the remote employee’s region. For instance, if there’s a rough weather alert and power lines are expected go down in the area, you then know why the particular employee is being unresponsive.

Seek Remote Employees with an Entrepreneurial Outlook

Try to create virtual project teams whose members are not just technically proficient but also have an entrepreneurial approach and outlook to their work. Such people are naturally inclined to be passionate about things they do, are resourceful, results-oriented, independent, dedicated, highly adaptable and innovative.

The tools and resources are only meant to assist you in your project endeavors. Remember, they are not supposed to replace effort and time that you have to invest to start and lead a successful project. If you are clear about your role as a project manager, you are almost certain to derive tremendous value from these software programs.

 

Bill TimpeBill Timpe, PMP is a digital project management and resource management specialist. With over 10 years of project management experience, a background in development, and history, Bill brings a unique understanding of project lifecycles. Working for both large corporations and small companies, he has developed top of the class resource process strategies.

Five Trends That Are Encouraging the Adoption of Tech in Higher Education

In recent years, technology has vastly transformed the higher education scene. Colleges across the country have implemented various innovative methods to advance learning spaces, remodel their libraries and bolster campus security. 2017, in particular, has seen laptops, tablets, ebook readers and fitness trackers become must-have accessories for many college students. Even virtual reality has found a place in enhancing the teaching of certain concepts in the classroom.

As manufacturers and developers continue to prioritize higher education, the impact of technology in colleges and universities is poised to become even more significant in the future. Below are five trends that are spearheading the adoption of technology in the institutions of today and tomorrow.

1. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality

The world is on the verge of major changes regarding how we all interact with our computing devices. Tech giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been consistently investing in new forms of human-computer interaction (HCI) – notably VR, AR and MR – and products like the Microsoft HoloLens are already influencing the types of hardware and software that are in use in colleges.

This trend is even more compelling when we think about combining VR, AR, and MR with other HCI technologies like cognitive computing and artificial intelligence. As HCI continues to gain traction in higher institutions of learning, the future may see the development of more devices and platforms that combine AI with VR/AR/MR for a more comprehensive experience. Holograms could replace physical bodies in classrooms, and students will perhaps be able to pick their preferred learning setting, such as studying by a brook, or in a virtual Starbucks.

2. Simulation-based Learning

Educators are increasingly employing simulation techniques to facilitate active learning through repetitive and thought-provoking practice in safe, life-like environments. These virtual worlds provide to students a unique opportunity to apply knowledge and make critical decisions while incorporating some immediate feedback or reward system, which makes it easier to grasp hard sciences like biology, anatomy, geology, and astronomy.

Drexel University, for example, has collaborated with Tata Interactive Systems to provide a simulation-based learning system for their online forensic students, where they can conduct clinical assessments in the aftermath of a violent crime. A 3D virtual crime scene, complete with clues and continuous feedback, makes forensics fun and exciting.

3. Internet of Things

Although IoT technologies are primarily focusing on the consumer field, higher education holds a lot of untapped potential for the concept. Smart cities and smart campuses, for instance, are areas of keen interest among tech developers. Some systems in colleges, such as light controls, sprinklers, parking space monitors and building alarms are already internet connected and are significantly improving operations. Future iterations of IoT will likely be more intelligent, requiring less human interaction.

The Internet of Things could also motivate higher learning institutions to create IoT degrees and certificates that meet the changing job market. The “new intelligent things” such as drones and robots are expected to motivate the creation of more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. This will likely drive institutions to introduce new programs, similar to the way hacking has presently driven cyber-security degrees.

The Unmanned Vehicle University is among the few institutions addressing the market by offering programs in Unmanned Systems Engineering. With IoT steadily growing its impact on our world, however, it won’t take long for others to follow suit.

4. Digital Literacy

While previous generations of learners first experienced technology at school, today’s students first interact with technology for entertainment and social communication. This path has put  strains on institutions to incorporate college-friendly devices into their education systems.

Because smartphones and computers now feel as natural to students as pens and books, colleges and universities are looking into lessons that encourage them to solve real-world problems using modern technology. In some schools, an English composition course includes creating a blog and reading web scripting, while in others, history students learn how to visualize and map information digitally.

The intent of this approach is to create self-directed learners, who know how to put together the technologies they’re already familiar with to find up-to-date information and create new solutions.

5. Blockchain and Credentialing

Blockchain may not seem relevant to institutions of higher learning until we discuss it around the aspects of badging and credentialing. In essence, Blockchain is shaping up to become the technology that enables students and young professionals to maintain lifelong, cloud-based learner profiles, which can accumulate qualifications and badges based on courses and programs. Employers would then use these profiles to identify their future employees.

Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn last year, which had itself acquired Lynda.com in 2015, is proof that learner credentialing via blockchain could take off in the coming years. Now, if a student takes a course at Lynda.com, their LinkedIn profile reflects it.

The push into artificial intelligence by Microsoft and other major companies could play into creating a marketplace where employers easily find qualified and competent employees online. Institutions of higher learning will likely be among the main contributors of data into these profiles.

Final Words

Recent advances in technology, coupled with the escalating demand for quality education are forcing greater scrutiny on the value that institutions provide to students. Consequently, educators are changing the way they teach, strategically incorporating a variety of innovations and team-based methods of delivering content.

If the trends above continue to gain ground, the near future may see even more disruptions to traditional learning experience, with more institutions experimenting and embracing new strategies.

Vigilance Chari currently covers tech news and gadgets at LaptopNinja. She is an International presenter and published author. When not writing, she spends her time as an enthusiastic professional party planner and part-time painter.