3 Things Higher Education Marketers Should Consider in 2017

Whether it’s the increasing use of mobile devices or Facebook’s unveiling of lead ads, there have been a number of changes to the digital marketing landscape over the past few years. Some of these changes have had substantial impact, and many digital marketers have been scrambling to adjust and align their initiatives in order to remain competitive within the industry. While quick adjustments are often essential, it’s also important for higher education digital marketers to take a step back and conduct a full assessment of the current marketing strategy. With the new year soon approaching, now is a great time for digital marketers to reassess their current initiatives and test out new strategies for 2017. Below, I’ll offer some questions to consider during the review process and highlight a few new strategies to consider for 2017.

Review & Fine Tune

When reassessing your current higher education marketing strategy, you’ll want to consider two key elements: goals and data. If you’re a larger university with a number of initiatives, be sure to keep it simple at first. Perhaps start with the question: Did we reach all of our lead goals that we set for 2016? If no, this is where you’ll want to examine data to uncover where lead goals were missed and why. Outside of lead goals, you’ll also want to consider goals relating to your online presence, such as site visits, followers on social platforms and user engagement. When considering these metrics, examine the data to see if you can identify any trends or patterns to give you an idea where your audience may heading in 2017. For example, a major Q4 increase in traffic to social platforms along with a decrease in site visits could signal that potential students are more interested in reviewing a school’s social identity than they are the traditional web page.

After the review process, be sure to prioritize your goals for 2017 (example: “We’re more concerned with user engagement on social platforms than we are on site visits”), then fine tune your strategy to fit. Questions to consider while fine tuning include:

  • Do we want to reallocate our budget in any areas?
  • Should we remove any marketing initiatives?
  • What social and blog posts were most successful this past year?
  • What sources are most of our leads coming from?
  • Are there new social platforms that we should test?
  • What initiatives are we going to implement to get X number of followers?

When in the assessment and fine-tuning process, you’ll also want to consider recent changes within the industry. Below, I’ll highlight a few of the major changes over the past few years that you’ll want to consider.

Increase in Mobile

Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the use of mobile has steadily increased, largely due to the ease of apps and mobile platforms. Yet up till this past year, desktop was always considered the primary source for reaching potential students. According to a comScore report, that now has changed as users are trading desktop for the convenience of mobile. This change has occurred for a number of reasons, but one of the main driving factors is the refinement of apps. For example, when Facebook Mobile was first released, the platform was congested and difficult to use compared to the desktop website. Yet over the past few years, Facebook and other leading tech companies have placed a major emphasis on attracting the millennial audience who tend to rely heavily on mobile. With this switch in focus, companies upgraded their mobile apps and platforms to enhance the mobile experience with improved configuration and additional perks, such as being able to order a pizza without having to leave the Facebook platform. These improvements have resulted in a 394 percent increase in mobile usage, a number that is only projected to increase in the coming years.  

As a higher education marketer, it’s important to know how the aggregate are leaning in their use of digital media, but it’s equally essential not to confuse the aggregate for your own audience. Be sure to dig through your data to see if you can identify a similar shift to mobile amongst your audience. If so, be sure to evaluate paid search strategies, as well as the content on your blog and social platforms to see if there are any adjustments that can be made so content is more mobile friendly.

Facebook Lead Ads

Mark Zuckerberg has turned Facebook into one of the premier advertising platforms, so it’s no surprise that they are leading the transition to mobile advertising with their introduction of leads ads. Within Facebook’s older advertising platform, clicking on an ad would send users outside of Facebook, which proved to be inconvenient for Facebook and its users. Lead ads changed all of this, making it so users can express interest in a school without ever leaving the Facebook platform.

Here’s how lead ads work: when users click on an ad, a lead form opens up within the Facebook platform that’s already automatically filled out based on what kind of information they share with their Facebook audience. So, for most, clicking on a lead ad would open a lead form with their name, phone number and email, and all the user would have to do is click submit to complete the lead form process. So far, the convenience of lead ad forms have proven to be very successful, dropping the aggregate CPL of one of our programs by about $15, all the while boosting lead volume in the process.

If you’re looking to have a strong start to 2017, now is the time to begin auditing your current strategy and implementing new initiatives where they seem fit. Remember to ensure that your current plan aligns with your overall goals, and don’t forget to examine analytics data to get a better understanding of where your audience may be heading in the new year.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment box below!

 

Tyler Putz of Circa Interactive Tyler is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.

7 Snapchat Accounts Every Marketer Should Follow

Social media and communication (as we know it) were changed forever when Snapchat launched in September of 2011. After gaining popularity among millennials, Snapchat has grown rapidly and now boasts over 150 million daily users, passing Twitter’s daily usage of 140 million daily users. It seems that almost everyone is using this app to communicate with friends, catch up on the latest celebrity gossip, and even read the day’s headlines, but are they using it to its full potential?

Read more: 5 Ways Snapchat is Changing the Way We Communicate

Besides sending funny pictures to friends, this service can also be used to stay up on the latest trends in marketing. There are hundreds of companies, entrepreneurs, marketers, and other successful business men and women who actively share tips, tricks, and their own experiences. After following a number of Snapchat accounts and actively watching, I’ve put together a list that every marketer should follow.   

*Pro Tip: Take a picture of any of the Snapcodes next to their name using Snapchat to automatically follow their account!

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University of Michigan: UofMichigan

The University of Michigan is a prime example of how a university can implement Snapchat into their own digital marketing campaign. After launching their account in February 2014, they became the second university on the platform. Michigan attracts current students to their account by utilizing Snapchat to show off lesser known areas of campus, highlight student exhibits, and hold interactive contests and activities. Prospective and incoming students are given the chance to interact with the university through their #AskUMich campaign that answers questions and addresses concerns utilizing the chat feature. Overall, Michigan’s account is an exceptional account to follow for inspiration on how to create interactive campaigns for any digital marketing venture.

Learn more: University of Michigan’s launch and overall Snapchat marketing strategy

 

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Michelle Obama: michelleobama

First Lady Michelle Obama is an unexpected person to see on Snapchat because she is the wife of the President after all. Her joining Snapchat is similar to how the Kennedys were the first Presidential pair to be shown on television. Michelle Obama is the first, First Lady to utilize a social media platform like Snapchat. The First Lady created an account because more than half of 13 to 34-year-olds are using the app. Working with this younger generation has been her main focus while in office so she decided it would be the perfect medium for her to communicate with them. Besides giving her followers a behind-the-scenes look at her life in the White House, the First Lady has utilized the application to promote her Let Girls Learn trip to Liberia, Morocco, and Spain this past July. This specific marketing campaign is a prime example of how to broadcast an event or trip through Snapchat. FLOTUS built up hype surrounding her trip using the application by regularly speaking on the subject and sharing details of the trip. Once she was traveling, she gave her followers a look at the lives of the girls she was there to help and made it feel as if you were there with her through photographs, interviews, and videos of the discussions held in each country.

 

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Justin Wu: Hackapreneur

Justin Wu is the founder of Growthly and an avid user of Snapchat. Jason gives his followers an inside look at what life is like during the early stages of a startup. From big meetings to his downtime coming up with new ideas, Justin provides tips on presenting, growth marketing, and creating a successful startup. Jason recently went to the WSJD Live and Snapchatted the entire event. He held interviews, asked for commentary from his followers and held a live follow up discussion on Snapchat after the event. Wall Street Journal even had Justin cover the WSJD Live event for their Discover page!

Check out: Justin’s coverage of his whole WSJD Live Journey

 

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Dan Knowlton: danknowlton1

Dan Knowlton is the co-founder of KPS Digital Marketing and author for Social Media Examiner. Dan’s Snapchat provides followers with a variety of marketing tips, industry updates, and a look into the life of an entrepreneur. Dan recently attended Get Social Kent and actively snapped his experience at the event. Dan shared helpful digital marketing insights from keynote speakers, gave an inside look of the event, and introduced key marketers at the event by holding interviews with them, asking about their marketing goals for 2017. Dan is an avid Snapchat user and provides a lot of insight on how to utilize the app to grow your own business.

Check out: Dan’s insights on Using Snapchat to Grow Your Business

 

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Gary Vaynerchuk: garyvee

Gary Vaynerchuk is the CEO of VaynerMedia and an established social media guru. Gary uses his Snapchat account to help teach others how to become successful in digital marketing through motivational snaps and valuable marketing advice. He encourages his followers to interact with him and send any questions they have about entrepreneurship, marketing, or growth hacking and will answer their question on his story. He continues this campaign across all of his platforms with #AskGaryVee. Gary gives his followers a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a CEO and all the hard work he puts in to accomplish his goals.

 

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HubSpot: hubspotinc

HubSpot is an inbound marketing software company. HubSpot’s social media strategy is a prime example of how companies can utilize Snapchat to show off their culture, educate their followers, and even help recruit new talent. In fact, HubSpot held a recruiting event via Snapchat this past July! In lieu of a resume, they asked hopeful applicants to teach them something in 60 seconds or less. By taking their recruitment completely digital, HubSpot was able to recruit from a specific audience and create a test that would result in employees that were the right fit for the position. Besides finding new uses for the application, HubSpot’s Snapchat is perfect for finding inspiration for your own company’s account.

 

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Morgan Brown: morganb180

Morgan Brown is the COO of Inman News and is a 15-year startup marketing veteran. Morgan provides innovative tips on growth and productivity and shares examples to help illustrate his points. He also invites his followers to ask him any marketing and growth hacking questions they may have. Through his interactive use of Snapchat and sharing real-life examples to his followers, Morgan is able to educate his audience and truly show them how growth works online.  

 

Have a favorite marketing guru you follow on Snapchat? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Audrey-for-site

Audrey is a recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. With a background in journalism, public relations, and graphic design, Audrey lends both creative and analytic skills to the marketing team. Her passion for innovation and connecting like-minded individuals is driving Circa’s social media strategy into the future.

5 Ways Snapchat is Changing the Way We Communicate

Snapchat has roughly 26 million users in the United States, with 60 percent of those using the app aged 1334. In May, Snapchat’s dominance was established when it beat out Apple and Facebook applications to top the Apple iOS downloads chart for the first time. If you don’t believe Snapchat is worth your university’s time, consider the fact that 77 percent of college students use Snapchat daily. This app is designed for tech-savvy and content-hungry users. In other words, Snapchat is the perfect application to reach millennials, especially for universities looking to share a different side of their campus and boost interest in their brand.

This app alone has informed and shaped millennial culture through soundbites, chats, brief moments, and temporary flashes of content. Here I will discuss how it has begun to transform the way we communicate.

1. Creates a Sense of Urgency and a Need to Share ?

In basic communication, humans transmit information and receive instant feedback. The integration of texting and emailing, however, has enabled senders and receivers to sit and dwell on content before responding. Snapchat has changed the game by making messages available to view only once. In order to remember what was said or seen and reply appropriately, the user must reply as soon as  they’ve opened it. In effect, these temporary messages take away the ability to dwell and create a more real-time form of communication.

In true millennial fashion, Snapchat utilized emojis to further encourage a timely back-and-forth conversation. Snapchat added an array of badges and rankings that encourage you to consistently interact with friends. From becoming a best friend of another user to earning awards for sending snaps, a Snapchat user is constantly encouraged to keep sharing. One example of this quest for badges is the ?  emoji. By keeping a conversation going for more than a day Snapchat will recognize the streak and add a ?  emoji next to their name.

Snapchat has created a way for people to constantly update and share content with their friends with little effort. A picture is worth a thousand words and Snapchat has created the perfect medium to share these visual stories with friends.

 

2. Provides an Inside Perspective of Faraway Places ?

Snapchat has enabled people from all over the world to share their story. With the addition of live story streams and Story Explorer, users are able to get a peek of what life in other cities, states, and countries is like. Snapchat regularly features cities from around the world and features them on the app with a live feed of Snapchats from people in the selected city. For example, tapping on the “Rio” feed instantly transports users to the lively city in Brazil and provides a peek at life through the eyes of everyday citizens.


Besides cities, live feeds are perfect for sharing events. From a higher education perspective, this is the ideal platform to share student events, football games, community outreaches, and more. Snapchat provides universities the unique opportunity of sharing experiences from a wide array of the campus population. By utilizing a live feed, or a Snapchat account altogether, a university is now able to show prospective students what life on campus is like from a student’s point of view. The students who Snapchat their experiences  are nurturing their connection to the university and sharing student stories on Snapchat can result in higher student interest, and help prospective students to determine if a school is a right fit for them.

More on: Leveraging University Events for Your SEO Strategy

 

3. Share the Full Story, Instead of Just Highlights ?

Snapchat enables users to not just share the best picture out of their daily experiences; it encourages them to share the full story. Many users channel their creativity to share their day from the moment they wake up, to the moment they go to sleep.

Just last week Snapchat announced the next generation of stories: Memories. Users will now be able to save their snapchats and combine them with other photos on their phone to create custom stories that they can then share with their Snapchat friends. This new feature allows users to completely customize their content and share their experience from their own perspectives.

 

Instead of uploading  a few photos on Facebook or posting a 140 character tweet on Twitter, universities can utilize Snapchat to complete their “social story”. Using a mix of video and pictures, a university can share a campus event from beginning to end. A great  example would be using Snapchat to share a graduation weekend with their audience. The university can not only share captured moments of graduates but of the ceremony, award banquets, speeches, and more. By sharing moments in this way, a university can create a sense of community and become relatable to current and prospective students.

 

4. Digital Messages Have Become Personal ?

Customizing content doesn’t just mean choosing how long a picture is able to be viewed or writing a caption to accompany the picture. Snapchat has taken storytelling to the next level by encouraging users to draw, write, sticker, and filter their pictures to add a personal touch and have fun doing it! The newest Snapchat features, similarly to  Lenses and Discover, enable users to interact with the content they view and share.

Lenses is Snapchat’s upgrade for the average selfie. Now users can transform into a myriad of animals, characters, and even other people using these smart filters. The most popular example of a Lense would be Taco Bell’s Cinco de Mayo filter that transformed users into actual tacos. Taco Bell was able to market, create brand awareness, and even set a new record by using Snapchat’s features to engage and interact with their customers.

Circa Interactive Team Using Snapchat's Lense Feature

A university could create a Lense for a football game that would engage students in attendance and encourage them to share their stadium experience. By creating an interactive university brand, prospective students are shown the campus community and current students will feel more engaged and a part of their school’s conversation.

Snapchat’s Discover features channels for a group of brands to broadcast their own content. These brands are lucky enough to be able to market themselves by engaging their audience and creating a conversation through interactive content. Another ability users have when using Discover is being able to directly share their favorite pieces of content with their Snapchat friends. Instead of having to explain and describe what was so funny, simply holding a finger on the screen allows users to instantly show their friends why they are laughing.

 

5. Bringing News Back into Millennial Life ?

All of this interactive content has lead to journalism becoming attractive to millennials again. A study conducted by Wibbitz found that 40 percent of millennials rely on digital outlets for their news, while 23 percent primarily get their news from social media. Snapchat has jumped on this finding and added news outlets to Discover. An overarching theme in this article is interaction. Millennials love to interact with content, so why not the news? A big step in this new territory occurred when the Wall Street Journal joined Snapchat. Once this media-giant joined the ranks, it was made clear Snapchat is the way to reach a millennial audience. CNN and National Geographic are among the 24 other media companies that have also joined the application in hopes of delivering journalistic content to this demographic.

150 million people visit Snapchat daily, yet a Discover channel may only get 1 million views a day. Snapchat has announced new updates will occur in an attempt to fix this and bring in more ad revenue. While this application has begun to deliver newsworthy content, we will have to wait and see how this feature evolves. All of this aside, Snapchat has undeniably transformed our means of communication, created new opportunities for brands and universities and even brought personality back into a digital world.

 

Audrey-for-site Audrey is a recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. With a background in journalism, public relations, and graphic design, Audrey lends both creative and analytic skills to the marketing team. Her passion for innovation and connecting like-minded individuals is driving Circa’s social media strategy into the future.

5 Ways Your Online Event Calendar Can Positively Influence SEO

By Krystal Putman-Garcia, Vice President, Marketing, Localist

As competition for students becomes fiercer, search engine optimization has never been more important for a college/university. Better visibility and finding creates more visitors and engaged students. Thus university marketing teams are constantly looking for ways to improve their standing in search results. One key element that higher education marketers may be overlooking is their online event calendar. Just think about it – an efficient online calendar is filled with up-to-date events that are rich in content, which can play a major factor in SEO efforts.

Luckily, there are simple and efficient ways your online event calendar can help increase page views and positively influence SEO. Here’s how:

1. Grow the Number of Pages on Your Website

Having more pages on your website – in this case individual event pages – gives you the opportunity to have a larger number of keywords and page views. Instead of having a static 30-day calendar grid-view, you can make your events SEO-friendly with a dedicated page for each event, which allows users to click and view more information.

More event pages will also encourage users to engage with your online event calendar, thereby increasing the time visitors spend on your site. As you may know, the time a visitor spends on a site is one of the factors that search engines use in their ranking algorithms, so the longer visitors are engaging with your events, the better for your SEO.

However, it’s important to note that having more pages isn’t enough – these pages must also be structured correctly. Your online event calendar system should code the name of the event as <h1>. This defines the most important heading, and search engines will pick this up as a priority.

2. Gain a Large Quantity of Backlinks

The number of times people link to your site is a big “off-page” factor in SEO. When there are a ton of backlinks, search engines infer that your website offers valuable or interesting information because it’s popular and engaging with users online. Think about the large quantity of backlinks your online event calendar could gain if other people, companies or organizations share unique links for each individual event on their own websites.

Increasing backlinks is a direct result of getting people more engaged in your online event calendar, and that means your online event calendar should be chock-full of content and events.

3. Activate Social Sharing for Users

There are tons of benefits to incorporating social media into your online calendar, especially when it comes to SEO. Search engines are constantly taking social data into account when displaying search results. In fact, links that people are sharing over social media see more success in user searches.

Be sure to utilize online calendar software that can provide immediate metric reports, specifically on the social media activity around a particular event. Having access to the real-time knowledge of this data will allow you to optimize your marketing efforts, ultimately impacting your SEO.

4. Gain Attention with Unique Event Titles and Descriptions

While content should always be interesting and engaging, each event should also include custom, unique page titles and descriptions. Meta titles and descriptions that feature relevant keywords a user might type into a search box help attract robots and will display as a “sneak peek” for the page in search results.

5. Keep Your Content Fresh

It’s important to consistently update your online event calendar with new events. Ultimately good SEO is good content. You’ll need to make sure you are including as much descriptive content as possible for each event to ensure guaranteed SEO success. Frequently updated high-quality content sends a signal to search engines that your page is worth displaying in search results. Thanks to the easy-to-use nature of online calendars, new content will be easily achieved through basic day-to-day updates.

An event isn’t successful if no one knows about it until after it has happened. In order to get your events discovered, the right online calendar should be fully equipped to help with many important SEO factors. Events generated through our software at Localist are integrated with Google’s index so your events appear higher in search results. And metrics such as EventReach will help you quantify how discoverable your events are amongst the student body.

Online event calendars, especially those generated with a robust interactive software, can ensure your school – and event – will get found online. Highlight these SEO-friendly features of your online event calendar and page views will soar.

Krystal Putman-Garcia

Krystal Putman-Garcia serves as Vice President of Marketing for Localist, an event marketing technology company that offers interactive calendars that help companies publish, manage and promote events. She is responsible for Localist’s marketing and partnership efforts, to ultimately help businesses make the most out of their events.

12 Techniques to Help You Learn Adobe Illustrator

Adding some custom design to your marketing materials and content can really help identify your brand. Most designers charge a fortune for simple projects, but if you’re willing to put in the time yourself and learn Adobe Illustrator, the basics aren’t as hard as it seems. It’s never a bad skill to add to your personal marketing arsenal either. The creative cloud program costs $20/month for one program and $50/month for the full suite, which is far less than any freelancer or in-house employee would charge. It goes without saying that if you’re really interested in mastering the program, I highly recommend an online course solution such as Lynda.com. However, if you’re just looking to pick up a couple quick tools and techniques for foundational skills to enhance your content strategy, this list compiles my favorites and will get your design project off the ground in no time.

1: Color

Lets start with something simple. If you’re going to be designing anything, you’re probably going to be using color. I won’t touch much on color theory, but I do want you to feel comfortable adjusting colors and creating aesthetic color schemes within adobe illustrator.

How to 

  • Lets start on the top left of your illustrator dashboard. Look for two squares. One will be white, and the other will be black with a white square inside of it. The white square represents the inside of any vector object you create within Illustrator. We call this the fill. The Black square represents the color of the object’s border. This is referred to as the stroke or, more specifically, the stroke color. Clicking on either of these will bring up a drop-down menu and swatch grid where you can select different colors preset by Adobe. They have some basic stuff here but nothing too unique. Within this window, there are other menus at the bottom that can show more colors and even help you create new ones. Clicking on the “New Swatch” icon will let you manipulate the current color you have selected through a few different methods. I like using the CMYK editor or Web-safe RGB. If you have the RGB values or hex code of your brand’s color (or one you just really like and found on the web), then you can easily input the values through the two RGB options. We’ll get into another method for copying colors off the web later on.

Color

  • On the bottom of the tools panel on the left hand side, you’ll see these colors represented as two overlapping squares. This simply tells you whether the fill or stroke is selected on a given vector shape. The selected one will be on top. The double pointed arrow will let you swap the colors of the fill and stroke.
  • On the right hand side of your illustrator dashboard, make sure Automation is selected on your workspace dropdown menu. At the top of this menu you’ll see an artist easel icon. Clicking this will also let you manipulate the CMYK values of your selected color.
  • Below the color icon is the color guide. I find this essential for creating aesthetically appealing designs based on color coordination. You’ll find complimentary colors, triad groupings, and much more in the dropdown menu within this tool. The colors in your grouping will be shown down the middle column of the color guide grid and tints and shades of them will be shown to the left and right.

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Tips

  • Using too many colors can be overwhelming. I generally stick to a maximum of three for any given project.
  • Selecting the white square with a red line through it will make either the fill or stroke (whichever you have selected) transparent.
  • Depending on what you’re designing, it’s important to keep in mind that RGB values (Red, Green, Blue) are used for anything published on the web or digital space, while CMYK values (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) are mainly used in print. This just has to do with pixel colorations and printer ink standards.
  • Color can define the mood of a design. It’s important to research and understand how different colors can affect different peoples perceptions and emotions. This is a great way to translate the objectives of your project to your audience subconsciously. Forbes covers this in excellent detail here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/02/04/how-to-use-color-psychology-to-give-your-business-an-edge/#39d302292e28.

2: Shape Tool

Illustrator is ultimately a creative suite, but I’ve found that many of its geometrically precise functions make it far superior to other design options. The shape tool is an essential foundation for any beginner jumping into adobe illustrator and a Segway into some more complex functions of the suite.

Where is it?

  • When starting up illustrator, on the left side of your computer screen you’ll find the tools panel. Under the line tool and above the paintbrush, the default icon for the shape tool will be represented as a rectangle. Click on the rectangle icon to use the rectangle tool, click and hold the icon to find a dropdown of other shape options (this interface function applies to most tools’ icons as well).
  • Keyboard shortcut: “M” to select the rectangle tool and “L” for the ellipse option.

How To

  • Two words: click and drag. Using the basics of the shape tool is extremely intuitive, which is why it’s early on in my list. Clicking and dragging when having the rectangle tool selected will draw a rectangle with a white fill and black stroke if you haven’t manipulated the colors already. Now, if you shift + click while dragging, you can create perfectly symmetrical shapes such as squares and (with the ellipse tool selected) circles.
  • One of my favorite uses of the shape tool is the polygon option. Clicking and dragging with this selected will automatically draw a perfectly symmetrical hexagon.
  • Below the polygon tool, the star tool has very similar properties and allows you to draw perfectly symmetrical stars.

Tips

  • Use alt + Click + Drag to copy shapes (or anything) in Adobe Illustrator. This is really useful for everything you will do and an even easier keyboard shortcut than Command + C and Command + V.
  • Press and hold Command with any shape selected to round the corners. Click and drag the circles that appear on the corners to adjust the roundness.
  • If you press the up and down arrows on your keypad when using the polygon or star tool, you can change the number of sides or points your polygon or star will have. I love using this to create perfect triangles for arrows and buttons or multi-pointed stars for making badges or action borders. You can also make flat-looking rounded gears by rounding the corners of a star with a lot of points.

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  • The flare tool can create a unique sunlight effect, but I wouldn’t play with this too much as a beginner. The standard settings could be useful for an effect on a photo though (some opacity applied).

 

3: Gradient Tool

Gradients, or color fades, are a great way to create depth and transition in a design to guide the viewer’s eyes. They’re very easy to learn but difficult to master. Some of the best designers use gradients in very creative ways. Often times they are really easy to overlook.

Where is it?

  • The primary area of your illustrator dashboard you will be using for the gradient tool is on the right side, towards the top. You will see an icon that looks a lot like the rectangle option of the shape tool, but with a gradient. If you don’t see this tool on the right hand side, make sure your “Essentials” option is selected in the workspace dropdown menu on the top right of your dashboard.
  • Towards the bottom of the left hand tools panel under the mesh tool and above the eyedropper you can find another gradient tool. While it looks identical, this is used to mainly apply and manipulate the direction of gradients after you have designed the color scheme.
  • Keyboard shortcut: G

How To

  • Click on a shape you created. Make sure the fill is selected rather than the stroke (unless you want to apply a gradient on a shape’s border) and then click on the gradient tool on the RIGHT side of the screen. To apply the last used gradient, click the Gradient box in the Tools panel or the Gradient Fill box in the Gradient panel. The default settings for a last used gradient are going to be an even white to black fade from left to right. With the gradient window open and the fill selected, click on the gradient box in the top left corner of the gradient window. This will apply a gradient to your shape.
  • You’ll see a line in the gradient window that represents the colors in your gradient. You can drag the color points around to shorten or lengthen the space in between color transitions. You can also click just below the line to add new colors and then reorganize them as well. Play around with this a bit until you get more comfortable.

Gradient

  • Up to this point, your gradients color will be greyscale, but you can add colors to your gradient by dragging them in to the gradient window from the swatches panel – the color fill dropdown menu in the top left corner of your screen. You can also change the color of a swatch already applied to your gradient by double-clicking on its marker on the color line in the gradient panel.
  • Linear gradients are great, but radial gradients can also be useful for certain projects. Click the dropdown menu at the top of the gradients window and select “radial”. I don’t use these as often but mess around with the properties and see what you can create! The best way to learn is to experiment.
  • After your gradient is applied, you can use the gradient tool in your tools panel (left hand side) to rearrange the orientation of your gradient by clicking and dragging it across your shape.

Tips

  • Adjusting the opacity of a gradient is possible through single-clicking on one of the colors on your gradient timeline in the gradient window and selecting an opacity option under the respective dropdown menu. This is a great way to make shadows and reflections by using the same color throughout a gradient while only scaling the opacity.
  • Don’t use too dramatic of colors. A high color contrast in your gradient can make it look tacky if you are a beginner. Keep it simple. No more than 3 colors and only make slight variations in the color array.
  • There are pre-designed default gradients in the swatches panel as well. To display only gradients in the Swatches panel, click the Show Swatch Kinds button and then select Show Gradient Swatches.


4: Pen Tool

The pen tool is one of the most widely used tools in adobe illustrator. It allows you to draw freeform shapes with the help of some geometric guidance. This one takes a little bit more practice to get the hang of, but will become a critical addition to your design arsenal when you get comfortable using it.

Where is it?

  • The pen tool can be found at the top of the tools panel on the left hand side of your dashboard. It is above the curvature tool and below the lasso. The icon looks like the tip of a quill.
  • Keyboard shortcut: “P

How To

  • Lets start with straight line-based shapes. This is very simple with the pen tool. With the tool selected, left click anywhere on your artboard to create a point. Move the cursor away from your first point and left click again to create another point. The points will be connected with a straight line. Simple as that. Keep clicking points until you want to close the shape off. Do this by hovering over your first point until you see a circle icon appear. Left click, and you will have created an enclosed shape.
  • Curved lines are where the pen tool really stands out. This time, click and drag to set the slope of the curve segment you’re creating, and then release the mouse button. Move the cursor and click again, you’ll see that the guiding lines you create from dragging the cursor have made a geometric curve based on where you have set them. You can adjust the angle of these guiding lines after drawing them by holding alt on your keyboard with the pen tool selected and dragging their end points (NOT the end points of your visible line).

Pen-Tool

Tips

  • Hold down Shift to constrain the pen tool to multiples of 45°. Whether it be straight angles or guiding lines for curves.
  • Use alt to turn the curve of a guiding line into an angle. Play around with straight and curved lines leading into each other.
  • The best way to get the hang of this tool is to start tracing things. Download an image that you like such as a mountainous landscape or even a portrait. Identify tracing sections by the differences in color and trace them with the pen tool. You may be surprised what you can do! Eventually it will become second nature. Make sure you are only tracing with stroke, not fill, so you can see behind your tracing.


5: Type tool

We’re all familiar with typing and text by this point, but the interface in adobe illustrator isn’t like your run-of-the-mill Microsoft word. It’s primarily a design studio, not a text editor. It’s easy to get frustrated trying to format the little things with your typography that are normally intuitive.

Where is it?

  • The type tool can be found in the tools panel under the curvature tool and above the line segment tool. The symbol is a T. There are a few dropdown options when you click and hold on the icon. I won’t go over all of them but most are self-explanatory and fairly intuitive.
  • Keyboard shortcut: “T
  • Adjusting the paragraph spacing and kerning (space in between letters) of text is an important function of typography. To do this, you can find editing options when you click on the orange character button at the top of your dashboard after typing something.
  • Clicking on the orange paragraph button on the top of the workspace opens standard paragraph options such as indents and positioning as well as the option to unhyphenate words that overflow off the text box.

How To

  • The standard text tool has two different settings.
    • Single click in your workspace and start typing to create an unresponsive text box, where you will manually have to insert line breaks to organize the spacing of a text block. I find this a lot easier to manipulate manually but issues arise when redesigning spacing layouts.
    • Click and drag your cursor to draw a responsive text box that automatically drops down a line when your text reaches the limits of the box. This function is really useful for designing brochures, advertisements, or any project that demands spacing limitations and is a great way to manage large text blocks that you may want to re-shape later on in a design.

Type

  • If you want your text to occupy an unorthodox shape, such as a circle or polygon, first make your shape using the shape tool and then select the area type tool under the text tool dropdown menu. Click on the shape you want to transform into a text box and start typing. It’s that easy. Your shape will be permanently converted and transparent though.

Tips

  • Research and download lots of fonts. I use sites like http://www.fontsquirrel.com and http://www.dafont.com to find some really eye-catching ones. Don’t use too many fonts in one design however. My rule of thumb is a maximum of 3.
  • Convert your text into vector shapes by right clicking on it and choosing Create Outlines. This is useful if you are going to share an illustrator file, as the person on the other end may not have the text you used downloaded on their computer.
  • Consider pathfinder capabilities for the area type tool – we’ll get to this

6: Eyedropper Tool

The eyedropper tool is a really easy way to copy aspects of a design you want to recreate and helps streamline your workflow. It’s a great way to import new colors for your design off of the web as well.

Where is it?

  • The eyedropper tool can be found in the tools panel near the bottom. It looks like, well, an eyedropper. Ignore the measure option in the dropdown for this tool for now.
  • Keyboard shortcut: “I

How To

  • The eyedropper tool is really easy to use. It essentially copies all of the graphic elements of one vector object onto another. The best way to see it in action is to use it. Create two shapes. Make one black and the other white. Give the black shape a thick stroke of your choice of color by increasing the stroke value in the upper left corner of your illustrator dashboard. Select the white shape and click on the eyedropper tool. Then click the black shape. The white shape should have adopted all of the characteristics of the black shape without copying the dimensions of the original black shape. The weight of the stroke and colors of both the stroke and fill will be copied to any shape you have selected when you use the eyedropper tool.

Eyedropper

  • The eyedropper tool also works great with text. It will copy all aspects mentioned above as well as the typeface and the font size.

Tips

  • Think outside the box. Literally. The eyedropper tool doesn’t have to be used strictly within the illustrator workspace. If you click and drag the eyedropper from a selected shape to a color on a photo you upload to illustrator, you can copy the color directly from the pixels of the photo. You can do this to grab brand colors off of websites as well, outside of the illustrator workspace.

Eyedropper2

7: Layers

Every time you create a new object in illustrator, a new layer is established for that object and the most recently created object will always be on the top. Using layers is a great way to organize your projects and rally necessary when tackling complex designs with a lot of details.

Where is it?

  • The layers panel can be opened by clicking on the layers icon on the right hand side of your workspace towards the bottom of the column.
  • You can also use the dropdown option Window > Layers

How To

  • The main use of the layers panel is to reorganize your layers and reposition things behind and in front of another. To do this, you simply drag and drop the item you want to move forward or backward (up or down) within the layers panel.
  • Layer groups will be color-coded and listed in a drop-down menu in the layers panel. Click the arrow to bring up a list of items in the layer. You can tell which element are in which layer simply by looking at the selection color when clicking on them in your workspace.
  • In the dropdown list under each layer, you’ll see a small preview of each of your items in that layer. To select the item through the layers panel, click on the circle to the right of each preview.
  • On the left side of each item listed in the layers panel, you’ll see an eye icon. This hides and shows anything you want to see hidden without deleting the actual item. A very useful technique for experimenting with and replacing different design elements.

Layers

  • To the right of the eyeball and the left of the layer color of the object seems like an empty box, but when you click in this space, a padlock icon appears. This means that the object is locked, meaning that you cannot move or edit it. You can also lock entire layers. This comes in handy a lot if you want to move one item without moving a lot of others underneath or in front of it.

Tips

  • An easy way to reorder your layers and objects is by using the keyboard shortcuts Alt + [ for move backward, Alt + Shift + [ for move to back, Alt + ] for move forward, and Alt + Shift + ] for move to front.
  • I generally use 3 standard layer groups on basic projects, consisting of a background, foreground and text, because text will always be on top.

8: Groups

Working with a bunch of objects in one project can be overwhelming. That’s where grouping comes in handy. A lot. Grouping objects can allow you to organize certain elements together so that when you select a portion of the group, the entire group is selected rather than each individual element.

Where is it?

  • Grouping is a right-click function within Adobe Illustrator. Select the Rectangle tool and click and drag the page several times to create multiple rectangles. Now select all of the rectangles you just created and right click anywhere on the page. Towards the middle of the right-click drop down menu you’ll see the option Group.

How To

  • You’ll see that when you click and drag one of the objects in your new group, the whole group now moves with your cursor. Grouping objects essentially makes them a new single object, without actually doing so. With the group selected, changing the fill or stroke also changes that of the entire group so if you want to edit a single element inside your group you’ll have to double click. This will allow you to edit the individual elements of a group, whether it be repositioning them, editing colors, reorganizing the layering or anything else you wish.

Groups

Tips

  • I use groups every time I design something with layers. Groups are an easy way to combine objects of the same color so that you can easily change the color of multiple vector items with just a couple clicks.
  • You can make groups inside of groups to organize elements even further. There’s no limit to how far down the rabbit hole you want to take your groupings.

9: Pathfinder

This is one of my favorite tools in adobe illustrator. Plus, it’s really easy to use. The pathfinder can allow you to create complex shapes that will challenge your creative thinking. It’s a window I always keep open in my dashboard.

Where is it?

  • Window > Pathfinder 

How To

  • The pathfinder tool has two different categories. Shape modes and Pathfinders. Just ignore the differentiation. The theory is that shape modes create a new shape, eliminating previous bounding paths, while Pathfinders only alter the interaction of shapes. But Crop and Minus Back, under pathfinders, should really be under shape modes since they do create new shapes.
  • Lets discuss the most useful tools within the pathfinder window. Create two squares and make sure they are overlapping to some degree.
    • Unite – click the top left icon in the pathfinder window to unite two objects. This creates a new path and turns multiple shapes into one. Unlike group, you cannot edit the properties of each of the united elements. They are now one congruent shape with the same border and fill.
    • Minus front – click the icon to the right of unite to subtract the front of a shape with another shape. Think of this as punching out or cutting a shape with another shape. Really useful for making shapes like rings and donuts as well.

Pathfinder

    • Divide –Clicking divide when shapes are overlapping creates new shapes out of every overlapping line. It divides your entire image into unique movable and editable shapes All divided shapes keep the visible style of the top overlapping shape. Divide is a Pathfinder tool that I personally use a lot.

Tips

  • Experiment with the other pathfinder tools.
  • Create complex things by using multiple pathfinder functions together.
  • Once you use the pathfinder tool on a set of shapes, you cannot undo the function unless you press Command + Z.

10: Clipping Masks

A clipping mask is the closest thing to cropping that you will use in illustrator. In essence, a clipping mask is an object whose shape masks other artwork so that only areas that lie within the shape are visible. They’re great for framing patterns and photos.

Where is it?

  • Clipping masks are found in the right-click drop down menu when you select two objects.
  • Keyboard Shortcut: Command + 7

How To

  • Great for manipulating photos and pictures, draw a square, circle or other shape around an area of an object you want to use in your project.
  • Make sure the shape you are using as a clipping mask is in a layer above the object you are trying to crop.
  • Select both the photo and your shape and right click. Scroll down to the make clipping mask option and you’ll see that the image has been cropped to the parameters of your shape. You can also use the keyboard shortcut above.

Clipping-Masks

  • To release or edit a clipping mask, you can right click the clipping mask and select release clipping mask.

Tips

  • I mainly use clipping masks for background items and not for vector shapes. If you are trying to crop a shape in the foreground of your design you’d be better off using the pathfinder tool and the “Divide” or “Minus Front” option.
  • Be careful when editing clipping masks. Your edits will apply to the clipping mask itself, not the item that it’s masking. To edit the item it’s masking, you’ll have to click the edits contents icon in the top left corner of your workspace. It looks like a circle with anchor points around it.

11: Drop Shadows

Adding some stylistic elements can really make your designs look professional. Two that I use quite often are drop shadows and inner glow. But the list of stylizing options doesn’t stop there. Feel free to explore the stylize list and discover new techniques yourself! They’re easy to figure out once you start pressing buttons.

Where is it?

  • Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow
  • Make sure to choose the stylize option under Illustrator Effects and not Photoshop Effects. If you don’t see Photoshop options then ignore this.

 How-To

  • Drop shadows are very easy to apply. First select the shape you want to apply a drop shadow to, then choose “drop shadow…” in the stylize menu. After you get to the drop shadow panel, just Set options for the drop shadow, and click OK.
    • Mode specifies a blending mode for the drop shadow. Keep this on “Normal or “Multiply” for now.
    • Opacity Specifies the percentage of opacity you want for the drop shadow. Lower numbers make the drop shadow more transparent, higher numbers make it more visible.
    • X Offset and Y Offset specifies the distance you want the drop shadow to be offset from the object. Mess around with this with the preview box ticked can help you manipulate the perfect drop shadow.
    • Blur specifies the distance from the edge of the shadow where you want any blurring to occur. Again, starting out you’ll want to have the preview box ticked.
    • Color dictates a color for the shadow. Usually this will be black, but feel free to experiment.
    • Darkness specifies the percentage of black you want added for the drop shadow. A value of 100% used with a selected object that contains only a black fill or stroke creates a 100% black shadow. A value of 0% creates a drop shadow the color of the selected object.

Drop-Shadow

Tips

  • Once you apply a stylize effect, you can’t undo it unless you press
    command + Z so it’s always best to tick the Preview box when defining your stylizing options to make sure it looks right.
  • When manipulating your drop shadow with Preview ticked, I find it best to place your vector shape over a background of the same color. I use white on white. This helps you really see the changes your making to the shadow by maximizing the contrast.

12: Inner Glow

My favorite stylizing effect, inner glow can make your vector shapes look great when done right. This is a technique I use a lot for promotional materials such as banner ads for the web and other marketing materials. It’s a great way to give your designs some extra depth.

Where is it?

  • Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow
  • Again, make sure to choose the stylize option under Illustrator Effects and not Photoshop Effects.

How To

  • Once you’ve selected an item you want to add an inner glow to, apply an inner glow through the stylize menu. Adjust the parameters to your liking and press ok.
    • Mode Specifies a blending mode for the glow. Again, keep this on normal or multiply.
    • Color (the box next to mode) changes the color of your inner glow.
    • Opacity specifies the percentage of opacity you want for the glow. Keep this low for high contrasting colors if you want a more subtle glow.
    • Blur specifies the distance from the center or edge of the selection where you want blurring to occur.
    • Center applies a glow that emanates from the center of the selection.
    • Edge applies a glow that emanates from the inside edges of the selection. This is the standard option.

Inner-Glow

Tips

  • Again, play with these options with the Preview box ticked and discover how to make your inner glow perfect for your project.
  • Feathering is very similar to inner glow, except it adds opacity to the edges instead of another color. Once you feel comfortable using the inner glow technique, move on to feathering. You can find it right in between “Drop Shadow” and “Inner Glow” on the stylize menu.

Bonus: Saving the file correctly

All of these techniques can be great for creating awesome designs. However, it all goes to waste if you aren’t saving your files correctly. If you want to save a design as an image for the web, you have a few options. First off, you will most likely want to export the image instead of saving it. I know this can be confusing, but using PNG’s and JPEGS has become the standard for image sharing in most cases. I could go on and on about saving files so for the sake of your time, I’ll go over a few guidelines to go by whenever you’re exporting something from adobe illustrator.

Where is it?

  • File > Export

How To

  • If you want to save a project in high quality and care about the background being transparent, you’ll want to save it as a PNG.
    • To save as a PNG, click File > Export and then choose the “PNG” option in the drop-down menu. After you click “Export”, you’ll be directed to a preferences screen. Here, you can choose the quality of your image, the background preference, anti-aliasing, an interlace option and the destination of your file.
      • Anti-Aliasing allows you to choose whether your export will be optimized for text or for art. It’s pretty straightforward. If you are exporting graphics, choose art. If it’s text, choose text. If you have both in your design, just leave it on “none”
      • Interlacing basically makes it so your image quality loads on a web page versus its dimensions. It’s a good choice if you’re planning on exporting a PNG for the web.
    • If file size is a big issue and you want a simple image with no transparency, choose to export as a JPEG. To save a file as a JPEG, click File > Export and then the JPEG option in the drop-down menu. This menu will have a few more options on it, but don’t be overwhelmed, it’s fairly simple to use and similar to exporting PNG’s.
      • Quality determines the overall quality of your JPEG based on a range from 0 to 10. Dimensions aren’t affected. Higher quality produced a larger file size.
      • Color modes convert the image into either a CMYK or RGB format. If you’re exporting for the web, use RGB. For print, use CMYK.
      • Compression Methods determines the mode of compression for an image. Select Baseline (Standard) for safe web use, Baseline Optimized for optimized color and a slightly smaller file size, or Progressive to display a series of increasingly detailed scans (you specify how many) as the image downloads. It’s important to note that Baseline Optimized and Progressive JPEG images are not supported by all web browsers.

Jordan Opel Jordan Opel is an accomplished, creative professional. He is responsible for managing and enhancing organic social media activities for our various clients. Additionally, as the leading graphic designer, he contributes to a significant portion of Circa Interactive’s creative endeavors through motion-media design, illustration, and content-creation experience.

Three Common Mistakes Higher Education Marketers Make and How to Avoid Them

As marketing experts, our job is to work tirelessly to understand market habits and trends in a way that allows us to effectively position our university’s strengths to align with those very trends; however, we often forget that market research reports and conversion charts are more than just numbers. While these resources are, of course, extremely important facets when making any decisions in our field, too often we forget the humanity behind those very reports and what drives them. Using research from Chet Holmes, esteemed corporate trainer to greats like GNC and Estee Lauder, and his book The Ultimate Sales Machine, here’s what you and your team can do to make sure your messaging has the greatest impact on the right audience.    

1: Target More Than Just The Active “Shoppers”

According to Holmes’ extensive research, every program, product, and service has an ideal audience that   is broken down into 5 segments.

Prospective Students Stats

(source: The Ultimate Sales Machine, Chet Holmes)

The first 3% are students who are active in their pursuit of a higher education degree. The second 7% aren’t as committed as the first 3%, but they’re open to the idea of pushing their career to the next level. The next 30% are people who A) have no idea that they need a higher diploma or B) are unaware your university or degree program exists. This group is your “unconscious” market. Then, there’s the next 30% that knows both that they need a degree to get where they want in their career and that you offer that program, but the need isn’t their top priority. It’s simply something they want “sometime in the future.” And finally, we have the 30% who will just never be interested. Unfortunately, pursuing the final 30% would result in a colossal waste of time and money, but the good news is that the remaining 70% is free game.

SOLUTION: Even though 3% have made it their priority to actively seek out a way to change their lives for the better, every other university is angling to enroll those same students into their program as well. This is precisely why the remaining 67% cannot be neglected, but the challenge will not go without struggle. Awakening the unconscious will take more than a nudge. Mobilizing the aware but uncommitted will take more than a suggestion. Solving this is, of course, much easier said than done, but this article will guide you to find new ways to mobilize your otherwise inactive 67% of potential students to enroll.

2: Hone in on only one Student Profile for each Targeted Campaign

When setting the various targeting parameters for any given ad campaign, you’re usually given a set of checkboxes or drop-down lists. First, they start out fairly generic: location, check; age, check; gender, check. Then, the good stuff: education level, check, check; profession, check, check, check; interests, check, check, check, check, check. The problem with this strategy typically stems from the crippling desire of not wanting to miss a single community that might be interested in your school. What’s worse is that this same strategy is likely forcing your ad copy to fit the needs of a broad set of compiled personalities and interests. Not only does this approach water down the extraordinary features your program has to offer, but it robs the potential student of the intimacy and inspiration they crave to push their career to the next level.

SOLUTION: Strive for intimacy. To achieve this, you need two things. The first is an effective egoic label: a label demonstrates both what a person identifies with and role they serve within that label. For example, the strongest egoic label is “mother.” Not only is it a word that many women intensely identify with, but it also demonstrates their role and function within a family. Egoic labels can come from a number of different categories like vocation (entrepreneur, professional women, doctor), nationality (American, Canadian, Mexican), relationship (mother, married, single), or even ownership (homeowner, dog owner, mac owner), but what’s important is that only one is chosen per campaign.

The second thing you’ll need is your egoic label’s symptom. For example, working mothers who struggle to make ends meet with their hourly job tend to have “symptoms” like the following: not enough time, don’t make enough money, or, the most common symptom of any egoic label, hate their job. You can use simple verbiage that taps directly into these symptoms.

Take Snickers for example. They may not have names on every candy bar, but when you see “Grouchy,” “Feisty,” “Sleepy,” or “Rebellious” written on the wrapper, the candy bar is no longer selling the chocolate inside; it’s selling a cure to the symptom the consumer self-identifies with. By turning Snickers’ “grouchy” into “mom who hates her job,” your marketing will allow your reader to self-select themselves. Rather than tirelessly working to get your prospective students to say “okay, I’ll check out your university,” you’ll have marketing that allows them to opt themselves in by inspiring them to say “this was made for me!” All too often, it’s easy for us as marketing professionals to forget to look beyond the analytic reports and trending topics and see our job for what it is – inspiring and motivating people to better their lives, their jobs, and their happiness with the knowledge and expertise you know your university can provide for them. Which brings me to my next point:

3: Show Your Prospective Students Value Immediately  

All too often I see ad campaigns float across my Facebook feed begging their reader to “check them out!” The reality of this rhetoric, however, is that the reader, or a prospective student in this case, has little to no incentive to need what you’re offering. By not presenting an immediate value that your hopeful student can both immediately benefit from and use, a much too large margin of error can occur. Campaigns should never be a space for bragging about how excellent your university is; it should create a space where working professionals can A) recognize that they have a “symptom” that needs to be solved, B) understand clearly the long-term benefits in pursuing your degree program, and C) show them what service or resource they can take advantage of immediately which can change their “maybe later” answer to an outright yes.

SOLUTION: Several simple ways of accomplishing this could be a free consultation from one of your university’s advisors, a free (easy-to-grasp) whitepaper, or perhaps an exclusive free webinar. The point here is that your potential students will see, perhaps unconsciously, that your university is willing to put in as much effort in educating them now as they will be when they’ve enrolled and started classes.  

What we, as marketing professionals must remember is that marketing materials aren’t just a compilation of research. It’s a message to an individual that they don’t have to be unhappy with their job, boss, or even their career path all together. We must remember that enrolling a student isn’t just another tally to add to the books, it’s an individual who has committed to creating the change they crave. It’s those 2AM problems that keep us awake at night that should be the forefront of any marketing strategy. If we can recognize these problems and effectively illustrate how we can help solve them with our services, then we’re much more likely to break through the clutter and speak to the audience who wants to listen.

Tami Final for SiteTami is one of our in-house social media gurus with a passion for content marketing and public relations. After earning her degree in communication and marketing from the University of California, San Diego, her dedication and multi-faceted skillset for creative marketing strategies has led her to become a crucial team member driven to expanding Circa Interactive’s digital marketing value.

 

How to Leverage Slack to Improve a Higher Education Marketer’s Work Flow

Since its release in 2013, Slack – a cloud-based team collaboration platform – has found enormous success due to its ability to increase efficiency and improve overall organization. Yet at first glance, Slack seems to be nothing beyond a slick instant messaging platform with a few useful tools. While I can understand this assumption, Slack’s power and usefulness for higher education marketers becomes far more apparent the more that marketers explore and utilize the platform. Having used Slack for over a year, we have uncovered plenty of tips and tricks. Below we have listed a few of our favorites that will be sure to simplify the life of even the busiest higher education marketer.

Setting Reminders to Stay Organized

Whether it’s following up with PR contacts or optimizing Google Adwords, there are myriad tasks that fill a higher education marketer’s work week. To remain organized, it becomes essential to set up reminders to make sure that even the smallest tasks get complete. In efforts to establish a reminder system, many often seek a new platform or application; yet, using another service on top of the multiple apps used already has the potential to decrease overall efficiency. Keeping reminders within a platform you already use will simplify the process and increase efficiency both short and long term.

Considering this, I highly recommend using Slack’s internal reminder system. With this, you can not only set up reminders for yourself, but also for other team members and entire channels.

slackbotTPjpeg

There are countless examples of where Slack’s reminders have saved me from overlooking a task, so if you are looking to stay organized, I would definitely explore this further.

Slack Channels

Slack channels are essentially forums to discuss a specific topic, similar to a subreddit on Reddit. For example, at Circa Interactive, we have a channel devoted entirely to PR, Infographics, and even one for music that we use to share ideas, articles, or tasks with other team members.

SlackTPjpeg

 

Yet, these basic set-ups are only the tip of the iceberg for the capabilities that Slack channels offer. A simple step further is creating a channel that automates breaking news so you don’t have to continuously keep checking your various news sources.

Slack2TPjpeg

It seems every week we are finding a new way to leverage Slack channels, so start testing these out and configure them to fit your needs.

Utilize the Slack Community

Traditionally, marketers seeking to communicate with peers or potential audiences may rely on social platforms like Twitter or Reddit. But now there is a new alternative: Slack communities. Much like traditional social forums, Slack communities provide the opportunity to speak with those who share a similar interest. For example, there is a Slack community devoted entirely to marketing, and upon joining this community, I can speak with industry peers to get instant feedback on anything from outreach ideas to best practices for following up. There are tons of different communities, ranging from professional topics to hobbies and interests, so I recommend exploring the communities and finding the groups that meet your needs.

Integrate Platforms and Services

When integrating apps, there are two platforms that we turn to: Zapier and Slack’s internal integration system. Whether it’s an organizational tool like Google Calendars or a social media service like Twitter, Slack allows you to fully integrate anything you need into one easy to navigate platform. For example, it’s to waste time in the morning sifting through a Twitter timeline in efforts to stay up-to-date on industry related news. Yet any higher education marketer knows that time is of the essence, and navigating through Twitter’s timeline doesn’t always make for effective time management.

To help solve this problem, you can integrate your favorite Twitter account(s) into Slack. This way, you don’t have to waste time sifting through tweets that might not even be relevant to what you are looking for. I recommend generating a list of a few industries thought leaders that you like and devoting an entire channel just to their tweets. This way, you have the option to not only choose when you check Twitter, but also whose tweets you will be checking.

By incorporating some of these tips, you can be sure to simplify your life and increase overall efficiency. But remember, Slack is continuously expanding, so don’t forget to explore Slack on your own and uncover some of their lesser known features and new additions.

TylerTyler Putz is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.

How Digital Public Relations Can Build High Quality Backlinks

Building high quality backlinks is a major component of any SEO strategy, and over the last two years, we incorporated a new approach to acquire those backlinks: Digital public relations.  Our process is simple: We leverage faculty members’ expertise and research to create media opportunities with the goal of getting a program link included. Our goal is to land placements in some of the best publications in the country (and the UK [Not an easy task]) in order to create a branding opportunity for our professors as well as build quality links to our programs targeted page to influence rankings and organic traffic. We created a visualization of our successes for nine master’s degree programs (some of which weren’t running the full year) and whether or not the publication added a link. We wanted to compile a list for other individuals running digital public relations for SEO purposes to have a guide on what publications add links — and those that don’t — as well as share other valuable information. Following the visualization, we have jotted down seven conclusions we drew from this analysis.
Digital Public Relations and Backlinks

1. General Insights from our Digital Public Relations Strategy

For the media placements we landed in 2015, the average Domain Authority (DA) was 72.42. During the year, the total potential reach of each publication resulted in a net of 919,690,441 unique monthly visits. (We actually only saw a small percentage of that traffic.) Our goal was to align DA and unique visitors per month and analyze any correlations. Our probability of acquiring a link after publication was 66%.

2. Best Sites for Landing a Link with a DA over 90

Landing an opportunity with a link for a publication over a DA of 90 is incredibly difficult, but we have found that the best site to accomplish this goal, so far, is the Huffington Post. It’s also great because once accepted as a blogger, you can create and post as many articles as you want. This is a great strategy when you incorporate some growth hacking principles that can build more traffic to those individual pages. We have also realized that Scientific American and Elsevier Connect are excellent opportunities to land a DA link of over 90 if you can supply high quality content. This is where a true PR professional needs to come in and pitch an editor on an idea that will provide value to such a high caliber audience.

3. The Higher the DA, the Harder to Acquire a Link

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any SEO specialist, but what we have seen through our data is that it’s very difficult to land a PR opportunity in a publication with a DA over 90, but it’s even harder to acquire a link. We have found that bylines are the best way to guarantee a link, whereas expert commentary–lining up interviews with journalists–has a smaller chance of landing a link but is a much more scalable process, because it takes more time to write an article than it does for a professor to speak with a journalist.

4. More than a Link: Branding Opportunity

While we primarily leverage digital pubic relations for SEO purposes, it’s also about brand recognition and potential reach. It’s also very important to understand that digital PR for professors accomplishes more than just acquiring high quality backlinks. Professors will become more excited with digital PR, because we’re helping tell their stories and put their research in front of a larger audience, which further establishes them as thought leaders.

5. A Need for a Certain Type of Story?

Certain programs did better than others. For instance, our computer science program had a total of 21 placements and the athletics program had 17 links generated from our PR efforts in 2015. Some of our other programs had less. What is hard to define from our analysis is whether or not a program’s subject matter relates to the ability to attain high quality links, because each of our programs have different budgets and varying numbers of participating professors. I can say that computer science, with the amount of tech blogs and the interest in new innovative technologies, is a fertile ground for higher education marketers because our professors are on the cutting edge of an extremely popular narrative. There is no doubt that reporters and journalists would like to speak with these individuals. 

6. To Link, or Not to Link

Another key takeaway from our analysis is that it’s difficult to know whether or not a publication will link or not. Sometimes we’ll ask for a link to be added to the article featuring one of our professors, and the reporter has no problem hyperlinking to our landing pages. Other times we’ve had reporters get upset we even asked or afraid that it will make them look poorly to their editor. We have also heard from reporters that certain publications have policies against adding links. For instance, an editor at MediaPost insisted they had a policy against adding links. That one is easy to cross off the list for adding links, but take note of Inside Higher Ed in the visualization. They have included a link for our program, and in other posts, they have not included a link. So our conclusions: Unless directly stated that there is a policy against adding external links, assume it’s possible. Just track your progress and update as you go. 

7. Probability of Success

Digital pubic relations takes work and creativity, but over the course of 2015, we saw positive results. Our probability of adding a link was 66%, and our goal is to get that closer to 75%. Through building relationships with journalists and editors, we’re confident we can make that change.
If you have any comments or questions about our analysis, then please feel free to comment below. Feel free to also share the graphic of our analysis using the embed code below.
JoeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more. 

 

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Five Ways to Target Potential Students with LinkedIn Paid Ads

While LinkedIn’s network of working professionals and job seekers isn’t comparable in size to Facebook, it has introduced an advertising platform that is logical and effective. What LinkedIn lacks in volume, it makes up for in it’s straightforward targeting options and accurate audience segmentation, which, if leveraged correctly, will produce quality and relevant traffic that can turn into excellent leads and students.

LinkedIn is an essential advertising source for any higher education marketer looking to position their program brand in front of potential students. There is a perception that LinkedIn is composed solely of business professionals, but we have found this inaccurate and have produced great results for both our business and non-business focused programs. While cost-per-clicks (CPCs) can be higher in LinkedIn when compared to Facebook or the Google Display Network, traffic relevancy and quality also tends to be higher, which helps to keep your conversion rates to lead high.

There are two different types of advertising options: sidebar ads and sponsored content. Sponsored Ads will take up more real estate on the page and will generally have a higher click-thru-rate (CTR) than sidebar ads. If you have a large and broad audience segment, then sidebar ads can be effective at limiting irrelevant clicks. LinkedIn’s real strengths are in its ability to hone in on potential students through its targeting parameters. Here are five different ways in which you can target potential students using LinkedIn’s preset parameters, starting with the most effective:

  1. Job Titles – Simple and straightforward, LinkedIn provides job title groupings that position it as superior to Facebook when it comes to targeting individuals based on their job titles. This was a very smart move by LinkedIn, as Facebook’s job title targeting has become a jumbled mess composed of “Likes” and random titles. For any job titles that aren’t large enough to warrant their own grouping, LinkedIn will simply group them together with other similar titles in a logical way. While cost-per-clicks (CPCs) can be high, the conversion rate to lead of this traffic can be at 15% or higher, which quickly makes up for the higher click costs.
  2. Field of Study/Degree – A new addition to LinkedIn advertising, Field of Study/Degree targeting is similar to job title targeting in its simplicity and effectiveness. When targeting individuals, it is important to know what they studied in their undergrad, as this insight can greatly affect your messaging when positioning your graduate program. For example, if you wanted to market a master’s in health informatics to an audience segment who had graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, providing copy and imagery that speaks to how a nurse can benefit from an informatics education, while still utilizing their nursing skills, can be very powerful.
  3. Skills – This targeting option is unique to LinkedIn and can be very effective for honing in on potential student personas who might be challenging to target through jobs or degrees. For example, if you have a master’s degree focused on something like leadership, then it can be hard to understand whom to target as a broad array of people could be interested in a leadership degree. Through skills targeting, you can focus on individuals who have skills in executive leadership, or org. leadership/development.
  4. Groups – Targeting individuals who are part of relevant groups or associations can be a nice complement to the prior three targeting options. These can also be powerful for targeting individuals who are part of more niche industries, such as individuals who work with technologies that might not be mainstream. For example, if you were marketing a program that targeted web analysts, then targeting all of the various groups and associations relating to web analytics can be effective.
  5. Company + Industry – LinkedIn has put together broad industry categories that are less targeted but still effective. There are broad categories, such as accounting, that can be very effective for marketing a master’s degree in accounting but not very effective for more niche programs such as medical laboratory science or business analytics. Cost-per-lead (CPL) tends to be higher when utilizing this targeting option as relevancy is lower.

While we always recommend a diversified approach to marketing your program, LinkedIn is a platform that I would dedicate at least 30% of your budget. Coupled with an effective landing page, LinkedIn can be relied upon as a good source of mid-priced but high quality leads for an array of graduate programs.

Robert LeeRobert Lee is the CEO of Circa Interactive. He offers a decade of demonstrated search engine marketing expertise, working as an analyst, team lead and manager. Before founding Circa Interactive, Robert worked with higher education marketer Embanet

Storytelling in Higher Education Marketing

Great stories are all about conflict. Audiences care about stories and characters because they want to see a journey or a struggle to overcome a problem. They also have a beginning, middle, and end and appeal to a larger theme. In a basic way, these are the elements of story that I’m constantly thinking about when creating content as creative director at Circa Interactive, and it’s one of the most valuable tools at the disposable of higher education marketers. So how does storytelling correlate to higher education marketing, especially in the digital space?

Our team is focused on helping university programs increase rankings, generate leads, and build enrollment, and as a journalist and author with a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, I approach higher education marketing from a unique viewpoint. I’m focused on building content that the best publications in the country will want to publish in order to build links and increase program visibility, and attention to storytelling is the key to landing these high level publications.

Media Outreach: Professors are storytellers

Because of recent changes in the SEO industry, Google has placed more of an emphasis on organic and authentic content, and it has caused digital marketing professionals to pay closer attention to backlink quality over quantity. Luckily, because we work with universities, we have access to invaluable content creators: professors. This is where individual faculty members come into play. They are on the pulse of industry trends and research, and while it seems obvious now, they are exponentially valuable as content creators. So our focus has been finding ways to leverage their expertise and tell their stories within the media.

What excites me most about higher education marketing is the access to individuals who are on the cutting edge of their fields. I have the opportunity to interview thought leaders in computer science, criminal justice, engineering, and more in order to  learn about their research in groundbreaking areas (cloud computing, homeland security technology, data mining in sports, and countless others). Our job is to present their research, the materials they teach in class, and their viewpoints in order to tell our programs’ stories in as many ways over as many platforms as possible.

Often, faculty members are more focused on publishing in academic journals, because that’s what will help them reach tenure. They tend not to consider mainstream media, and they write in a different style than publications like the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Ars Technica, PBS, and more. So our job is to help guide them. This is where thinking about story is important. It might help to think about faculty members as central characters in the narratives being told in the media. They are actively seeking answers to problems and conflicts through academic writing and their research, and they are in the middle (in media res) of the action. It’s important to remember that faculty members aren’t just teachers; they are professionals. Most have theoretical and practical knowledge, which makes them the ideal candidate for the media.

For example, recently we helped a professor understand his place in the news. One professor was researching how leadership can help LGBT members in the workplace, and we helped him acquire an article on a major publication where he argued for more direct leadership action among mangers in order to create inclusive workplaces. He was addressing a problem and conflict. This is what caught the attention of the editor.

Another example comes from the tech field. A professor we work with is currently interested in how mobile computing will impact urban life. What he was pointing out was the conflict between the infrastructure of our cities and the updates these urban landscapes would need to handle the projected innovations, while suggesting solutions. The great thing about stories like this is that it’s a large scope, and the changes he’s currently writing about might not take place for another 15 years. This leaves us with a lot more room to tell his story and add to it as it develops.

Once the most relevant and interesting stories are targeted, pProfessors can write articles about the problems they hope to solve with their research. From the creation of these articles, it’s possible to have a link posted in their bio back to the program. This accomplishes several things for marketing purposes: helps increase rankings, builds traffic, and expands the program’s brand. If you’re able to offer ghostwriting services, then this helps with the consistency and volume of articles. (Professors are busy people.)

But the way to accomplish this strategy immediately is to start asking: What stories do my professors have to tell? What conflict or problem are they addressing in the media? And who would care? That final question is important because it helps dictate potential audience and outreach strategy.

The Narratives in the News: Digital PR and Infographics

Right now, the biggest stories in the media are the CIA torture practices; Ferguson and criminal justice; the drop in oil prices and the effect on the economy; and the future of mobile devices and cellular networks. By asking what our professors can add to these stories, we’ve discovered a new way to build links. This is the traditional side of PR that we have incorporated into our SEO practices. We reach out to the media, aware of the current state of a narrative, set up an interview with a reporter, and ask the reporter to include a link if they use their quotes. The reality of this strategy is that some publications won’t put a link and some will, but this has become an important part of our larger marketing strategy, leading to links on publications with high DAs (Forbes, Gov Tech, IB Times, and more) while marketing content to a larger and diverse audience.

In addition to pitching our professors to the media, we actively focus on turning their research and the program’s concentrations into content that connects to the larger stories within the media. Some of our most successful pieces of content have become infographics, and we’ve have had these visual resources published at such incredible places like PBS, Mother Jones, Inc., Entrepreneur.com, CIO, Arch Daily, and many more. We have found that our success is based on access to high-level research and the ability to build engaging and rich stories. Countless marketing professionals use infographics as a part of their strategy, but effective story telling is what separates the quality infographics from the mediocre.

At Circa Interactive, we have created countless infographics on subjects such as juvenile detention, cloud computing, sports psychology, and we’re learned that for an infographic to be effective it’s essential to address some sort of problem (the lack of female computer scientists; the rise in school shootings; the problems facing the smart city) and tell this story with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should set up the problem or conflict, the middle should address some of the ways that this problem is affecting a community, and the ending should conclude the story with a call to action or summary. Once these infographics are created, we then look at where they fit into the larger narratives in the news.

Most marketing agencies know that content is king. It’s a cliché thrown around in most webinars and workplaces, but what digital marketers need to consider is what separates good content from mediocre content. For me, it’s all about storytelling, and in the higher education world, we have access to endless amount of stories and content that any editor, any reporter, or general reader would love to experience. The first step is recognizing that value and then finding ways to take advantage of it.

Joseph Lapin is the creative director at Circa Interactive. His writing has been published at the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, and more.