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.

5 Qualities of High-Converting College Websites

At Circa Interactive we’re fortunate to work with a few outstanding partners. Below, our friends over at Finalsite put together five useful tips to increase the conversion rate on your institution’s website. Enjoy!

 

The term “conversions” covers a wide landscape of actions happening on your college or university’s website. It can mean a prospect did something as small as subscribing to your bi-weekly newsletter, or something as big as applying. It is the term used when a current student purchases a ticket for an upcoming football game, when a parent orders some swag, and when alumni make donations. In short, a conversion happens every time a form is submitted on your website.

When someone makes the decision to submit a form, it means that the perceived value of what you’re offering them is greater than giving you their personal information, their most prized possession in today’s world of sponsored posts and spam.

 

Therefore, a high-converting website has five main components:

 

  1. A website that drives qualified website traffic: The first part of getting conversions is getting qualified visitors to specific pages of your site.
  2. A semi-controlled website experience: You want certain visitors to go to certain pages and forms, so guide them there.
  3. Content that influences a conversion: Use visual and textual storytelling to appeal to the logos, ethos, and pathos of your target audience.
  4. Forms that facilitate a conversion: Your form length should vary based on what the user is receiving in exchange.
  5. Follow-up campaigns that engage a recent conversion, and nurture a future one: When someone converts, it means they’re interested in something — so never lose out on an opportunity to capitalize on that momentum.

 

Let’s dive into a little more detail on each of these five qualities:

1. A website that drives qualified traffic.

83% of search query paths (AKA, a simple Google search) begin with an

unbranded term such as “best colleges in Georgia for chemistry,” or “affordable liberal arts colleges.” This means that less than 20% of searches include a specific college or university name.

While this data may be a sign word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMM) may be dead, it’s also a sign that getting qualified traffic to your website is harder than ever. In addition to the mass amount of website traffic stemming from unbranded

searches, 60% of all organic clicks go to the top three search results. (Top of

the page means top of mind for lazy, quick-to-make-a-decision high school students.)

So how exactly do you combat this to drive qualified website traffic and boost your conversion rate? You have two main options:

  1. You can implement an SEO strategy to earn your website and its pages a Page 1 presence. This is a critical long-term strategy, but doesn’t always yield the best short-term results due to its complexity and time it takes to earn authority.
  2. You can invest ad dollars into a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ad or social media ad strategy. These strategies often yield to best and most immediate results as you have more control over the journey the website visitor takes. For example, when someone searches for “best liberal arts colleges in MA,” you can pay to direct them to a landing page about your school’s liberal arts programs with a form to learn more.

 

A combination of SEO and PPC will be most successful, but if you’re looking for an immediate fix to drive new conversions, go with PPC.

Pro tip: When you send a searcher to a specific landing page on your website with a form, be sure to remove the primary navigation to further “force” a conversion. You can include your navigation on the “thank you” page.

 

2. A semi-controlled website experience.

The website experience can begin in search, but when it begins (or progresses) to your website, you’re also going to want control. This comes in two main forms: Calls-to-Action (CTAs) and specific landing pages.

A good first step to a successful CTA strategy usually begins by placing 2-3 CTAs right above the footer, as the bottom of the page is one of the highest-converting locations. However, the CTAs used on each page should vary based on the content and end-goal. For example, admission pages should have CTAs that drive traffic to inquiry and open house forms, while athletic pages should have CTAs that drive traffic to pages where they can read athletic success stories or meet with a coach.

While CTAs can be used to drive traffic virtually anywhere on your website, you’ll want to use them to drive traffic to specific landing page. Landing pages are where you earn your conversions.

A different landing page should be made for every type of conversion on your website. These pages include a form, as well as compelling content that influences them to fill out that form. When you build a landing page, it is a best practice to have the following content:

  • A value proposition
  • Photos or a video
  • Testimonials and social proof

 

3. Content that influences a conversion.

Take a quick moment and do a role reversal: If you were a prospective student who just did a broad search in Google, and you were sent to a plain page with a form, would you fill it out? Or, if you were an alumni who just received an email to give back, and were sent to that same type of page, would you give back? Chances are, that’s a resounding “no.”

Conversions require content. And lots of it. Your school’s homepage, interior pages, and landing pages all require content that engages a particular target audience. Content should appeal to all stages of the applicant’s journey through awareness, consideration, and decision.

As you build out your content and website pages, ask yourself:

  • Who would find this content useful or interesting?
  • When should we share it?
  • How should we share this content?
  • Where should this content live?
  • What happens next?

Content is a broad term, but the most effective forms of content are social and authentic — meaning look to student testimonials, a student-run blog, and social media to serve as your primary source of content.

4. Forms that facilitate a conversion.

Forms may appear to be the easiest part of a high-converting page, as they are the tool used to gather information. But for that exact reason, they are complex.

Forms need to appeal to two very different types of website visitors:

  • Low-Commitment Visitors: These individuals are just shopping and browsing. Therefore, they are less likely to give you a lot of personal information. Forms for low-commitment visitors include pieces of content (like an informative whitepaper) or a newsletter subscription. Keep the form only 3-4 form fields in length for optimal conversion rates.
  • High-Commitment Visitors: These individuals already know and love your school. It doesn’t matter how long your forms are, or how hard they are to find, they’re ready to fill them out.

Most of your website visitors — especially those in the awareness phase of their journey — will fall into the low-commitment visitor category. It’s important to have a mix of forms that appeal to low-commitment and high-commitment website visitors to fill your admissions funnel. For example, a newsletter sign up form with 1-2 form fields will help fill the top of your funnel, while a longer open house visit form that is 6-8 form fields will help fill the middle of your admission funnel.

 

5. Follow-up campaigns.

When someone makes a conversion, that’s their way of raising their hand and saying “hey, I’m interested!” And, you should use every digital opportunity you can to spark another conversion. Here are some good tools to have handy:

  • A Thank-You Page: This is the page that comes after the form submission. Here, it is a best practice to have the content/information related to the form submission, as well as other similar content they may be interested in.
  • A Page Pop: Putting a PagePop on a thank you page provides you real estate to drive traffic to a specific page or form to move your user further down the funnel.
  • A Follow-Up E-mail: Whenever someone submits a form, there should always be a follow-up email with the information requested, and additional information.
  • Email Campaigns: Based on form submissions, build different email campaigns. For example, individuals who have only filled out your inquiry form, but have never attended an open house, should receive nurture emails to spark a conversion on that form. Another example is alumni who have signed up to volunteer but haven’t donated money. Today’s consumer requires specific, personalized content to move them down the funnel.
  • Social Media Campaigns: Instagram and Facebook are two great social media networks where you can go after those who have converted on your website. In this case you can remarket to them and drive them to new pages on your website on which they may be interested, and where you can garner another conversion.

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

Mobile PPC for Higher Education: AdWords Call Extensions

In higher education search PPC marketing, call extensions can be a valuable asset, enabling prospective students to speak with an admissions or enrollment advisor with just a single click. Within the modern PPC marketing mix of search and social PPC campaigns, mobile traffic often accounts for the majority of paid-click user sessions; the terminus of this ongoing mass exodus of users, from their desktops to their smartphones, remains to be seen. As our friends at Unbounce put it back in 2015, “[every year] since 2009, it’s been declared that whatever year it was must certainly be the year of mobile.” Nearly a decade later it’s a sure bet, no matter what year it is, now is the time to be revamping your mobile student acquisition strategy. Today’s blog post is part 1 of my series on Mobile PPC for Higher Education: AdWords Call Extensions.

Why should you make call extensions part of your higher ed search PPC strategy?

  • AdWords call extensions would enable users to call directly via your Google Search PPC ads
  • Phone call inquiries can be an indispensable asset in student acquisition, as many would-be students are actively looking for a specific program to enroll in, and speaking to an enrollment advisor at this moment could make or break that individual’s decision
  • The AdWords API likes it when you use every extension you (appropriately) can
  • You can set Call Extensions to show only when your representatives can take calls
  • Conversion tracking is easy to set up

In lieu of these facts, I find it’s usually in the best interest of most higher ed PPC accounts to implement AdWords call Extensions.

One important thing to remember whenever you’re dealing with (any) extensions in AdWords: when there are multiple extensions at different levels (account, campaign, or ad group), AdWords will elect the most specific to be used. In other words, when you add extensions to an ad group, those extensions show instead of your campaign (or account-level) extensions. Similarly, campaign-level extensions override account-level extensions.

Let’s walk through the steps:

  1. Find a suitable number for prospective students to dial when inquiring about the respective program(s) you’re advertising — typically an Enrollment Advisor, or an Admissions Office hotline
  2. Open your AdWords account
  3. Go to Tools and then Conversions. Select +Conversion
  4. Select Phone Calls and opt for the 1st option (“Calls from ads using call extensions or call-only ads”)
  5. Create your Call Conversion Event, naming it something besides “Calls from ads” — as this is the default call reporting conversion metric AdWords has by default (and it will be difficult to discern between them if they have the same name). You do not necessarily need to assign a value to these conversions, but regardless I recommend setting the call length to 30 seconds and opening the conversion window to 60 days; the other settings can remain at their default
  6. Navigate back to your AdWords account home screen and select the campaign (or ad group) from which you’d like to start receiving phone calls from prospective students
  7. Go to the Ad Extensions tab (hint: if you can’t see it, click on the down-arrow to the right of the viewable tabs – you’ll be able to enable it here)
  8. From the View menu, select Call Extensions
  9. Select +Extension
  10. Select +New Phone Number and enter the number you obtained in step 1
  11. Leave Call Reporting as is (“on”), and leave Device preference unchecked (unless you have mobile-dedicated ad groups)
  12. Open the +Advanced options and select +Create custom schedule – populate this with the hours during which your representatives will be available to receive calls
  13. Check Count calls as phone call conversions and select the conversion event you initially set up in step 5
  14. Click Save

You should be ready to start receiving calls from prospective students! Repeat the steps above and add up to 20 call extensions to each account, campaign, or ad group.

 

Andrew croppedA graduate of the University of California, Andrew is our analytics and paid search team lead. He is both Google Analytics and AdWords certified. With an ROI-focused and problem-solving approach, he researches, plans, and manages our clients’ PPC campaigns.

 

5 Ways to Effectively Balance Student-Work Life

Being a student and working a full or part-time job on top of that requires discipline and dedication to both work and school. Balancing school and work, while managing to have a life outside of the two can be overwhelming at times. As a current college student and employee struggling to find the perfect balance, I have stumbled across several tips and tricks that have helped me balance school and work while remaining relatively stress free.

Manage your time

It sounds obvious, but this is one of the most challenging aspects of being a student and an employee simultaneously. The first step to time management is resisting the temptation to plant yourself in front of the TV and completely relax after a long day. Set aside some time each night to do homework or stay on track with a work deadline. Google calendar, the calendar on your cell phone, or a good old fashion planner can keep deadlines in one place and help with prioritizing projects. Electronic calendars are especially useful because alerts can be set to let someone know when a deadline is approaching. When you figure out how to use your time, make it known to your boss, colleagues and professors so there is a mutual understanding of how you will be allocating your time.

Stay Organized

There is a reason that organizational skills look good on a resumé. Staying organized while being busy is harder than it seems, but it makes a difference. The more organized you are, the more likely you are to meet deadlines and ace classes. I like to use apps, websites and a day planner to keep my affairs in order. Apps like Evernote, If This Then That, and Dropbox can help you stay organized with everyday tasks and work related tasks. Evernote helps with keeping to-do lists, notes and ideas all in one place. Ifttt (If This Then That) allows you to keep all of your favorite apps, like Spotify and Google Docs, in one place. Dropbox gives users a space to keep files, photos and docs, while also making it easy to share large files with other dropbox users. There are also many apps available that can be extremely helpful for college students struggling to stay organized.

Check your emails

Even if you only work part time with your school schedule, set aside at least 15 minutes a day to check and respond to emails. This is especially important for anyone that works directly with clients. Making yourself readily available to a client can be the difference between a successful business relationship and one that fades out quickly. Boomerang, a gmail extension, is an extremely helpful way to organize your emails. It allows users to schedule an email to be sent at any time and “boomerang” an email back to their inbox after a certain period of time as a reminder to follow up with a client or colleague that has not responded to an initial email.

Strategically plan your schedule

When planning your school schedule, make sure to leave time gaps that allow you to go into work. Going into work in the morning and school in the afternoon can be a good option. I try to plan classes for a few days during the week and go into work the other days as a way to keep the two separate. Keeping work and school days separate helps me stay better organized, but it’s all about finding out what works for you personally. Try to avoid overloading particular days. While freeing up certain days may seem tempting, having extremely busy, stressful days can lead to burnout. Make sure you are not biting off more than you can chew. Check with your employer to see if and when they can accommodate your school schedule.

Leave some time for yourself

In the midst of a stressful schedule, the easiest way to stay sane and relaxed is to remember to leave time for yourself. Get your homework done early and work on those project deadlines a little bit every night. Procrastination will only leave you stressed out and burned out. Get a little bit of work done every night and follow that up with an hour of doing something you love before bed, such as going to the gym, seeing friends, or just laying in bed and binge watching tv. Finding a way to manage your time, stay organized and stay stress free can be difficult, but once you figure out what strategies work for you, balancing work and school won’t be a problem.

Shannon black and white 2 Shannon is a senior at the University of San Diego studying communications and visual arts. Working as an intern with Circa Interactive, she has gained experience in higher education content marketing, digital public relations and creating content for various clients’ social media. Shannon’s creativity and passion for public relations and content marketing has contributed to Circa Interactive’s digital marketing value. 

A Guide to Understanding Audiences and Creating Personas in Higher Education

First developed in the 80’s by Alan Cooper, a software engineer, audience personas have become a key element to any successful design program or marketing strategy. Initially created to understand how different groups of people use software, personas have evolved to help marketing and advertising professionals target very specific groups of people to deliver the messaging and content they want, expect and respond to.

In the world of higher education, it’s more important than ever to have a clear understanding of who your target audience is and what makes them tick. Competition is as fierce as ever and budget dollars are often hard to come by, so if you want an immediate competitive advantage and a way to run more efficient and effective campaigns, you must know exactly who it is that you’re marketing to. This short guide will help you get started on identifying your target audience, understanding what’s most important to them and leveraging that information to improve your marketing efforts. You’ll be able to use what you learn through this post to:

  • Inform market and prospective student strategies
  • Inform ad messaging and help to establish a common language with target audiences
  • Inform future marketing and sales strategies
  • Inform visual elements of marketing and web design
  • Create audience personas

Initial questions to ask and why

As you begin the audience exploration process, gather three to four key stakeholders to begin crafting probing questions to lead the audience discussion. Marketing, admissions, student services and an engaged faculty member comprise an ideal group of individuals to help achieve this. Each department will provide valuable insight and differing perspectives that will ensure your discussion is well-rounded and thorough.

While some of the questions you need to ask may be specific to the niche or degree area, there are tried and true questions that will help accomplish your goals no matter the program or department you’re working in. Here are eight questions to get you started:

  • What are their problems, pains, and challenges?
  • What is important to them in their personal and professional lives?
  • How do they consume information?
  • Are they active in social networks?
  • Have they previously interacted with your institution?
  • Who or what influences their decisions?
  • What sorts of images and information appeal to them?
  • Do they have the desire, authority and ability to take action?

Some of the answers for these questions may be obvious, but make sure to open up each one for discussion with your group of stakeholders. Each individual will provide a unique vantage point from different sides of your institution, and you’ll most likely find that each question will still receive slightly different answers depending on the stakeholder.

Taking it a step further

To validate or expand what you learn during the initial probing exercise, additional research is required to solidify target audiences and personas. Here are seven ideas to get you started:

  • Analyze your CRM (customer relationship management) platform or Student Information System, such as Banner.
  • Take a look at competitors and similar degree programs – what is their strategy for messaging and imagery? Can you identify who their target audience and demographics are? What can you learn from them?
  • Check magazine editorial calendars in your industry for upcoming topics that signal areas of interest to their readers and your audiences.
  • Conduct surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations.
  • Monitor and participate in social networks.
  • Read industry publications, blogs, and analyst reports.
  • Run a keyword analysis and Google Trends report for relevant topics.

Putting it all together

Armed with deep insight into your audience, it’s time to consolidate the information you’ve extracted to create a handful of very specific personas consisting of no more than five or six. A word of caution: you want to avoid creating more than a handful of personas as your targeting will lack focus and defeat the purpose of the exercise. If you aren’t able to boil your audience down to five or six personas, you’ll need to rinse, repeat and ask more questions until you’ve dug deep enough to get a true sense of who your audiences are. Remember these are audience themes, not specific people. Personas are representative of a group of people within your audience, not one specific individual per se.

Once you’ve identified your personas, it’s time to put them into action. At this point, you should have a well-rounded view of who you audiences are, the content they crave, the messages that resonate with them, what they dislike and what incentives will propel them to take action. You know how old they are, where they work, where they live, their education level, what they do in their free time and what’s most important to them. This information is especially useful when creating social pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns as you would in Facebook, for example. When marketing on Facebook or LinkedIn, segmentation is key, and with detailed persona data this process becomes much easier and significantly more effective than the typical guesswork required without them.

When building out your personas, consider this template as an example:

2016-06-10_12-27-24

Courtesy The Buyer Persona Institute

Key takeaways:

  • Personas will inform all areas of your business and are the foundation to any and all marketing efforts.
  • Involve multiple stakeholders in various areas of your institution to truly be effective in the brainstorming process.
  • Personas are generalizations of your target audience, not specific people. Use them to inform messaging, images and marketing strategies, not direct marketing.
  • Be sure to share your audience and persona findings with each department, as it could also be used to improve their services. For example, student services may leverage this to produce support systems that will help with retention.
  • Marketing on Facebook or LinkedIn? Personas are key. Use them to help carve out very specific audience segments and deliver highly personalized messaging.

 

DSC_0048 reduced 2Clayton Dean is an enrollment management, digital marketing, and business operations expert, leading Circa Interactive’s growth, development, and day-to-day operations. Clayton has successfully assisted dozens of institutions in developing, marketing, and launching degree programs from the ground up. Connect with Clayton on Twitter @circaclayton.

 

6 Ways Prospective Students Find Degree Programs Online [Video]

Online education has taken large steps towards a highly regarded and powerful industry over the past decade. Increased trust toward these types of degrees have stemmed from elite, traditional universities emerging in the online higher education market. The continued development in communication technologies and an increase in savvy online tools have cleared the air of a once cloudy online learning environment.

With this open window into higher education, the current workforce has an opportunity to expand their knowledge and gain graduate level degrees while continuing their day-to-day responsibilities. Universities are investing in professors and tools to provide top-notch education to their future students. Students are using the tools at their disposal to find the right program for their goals.

Higher education institutions are faced with the challenge of shifting from traditional marketing tactics (billboard, print ads, brochures, radio, etc.) to newer methods in order to strategically place their brand in the sights of prospective students. The competitive nature of online higher education is pushing institution’s marketing teams towards new platforms such as SnapChat, Instagram, and new video marketing tactics.

How Do Prospective Students Find Their Online Program?

Today, students pursing online degrees search for them, you guessed it, online. 67% of prospective students use search engines as their first source of information for higher education institutions, so it is more important than ever to have an active presence on major search engines in order to get your program and brand in front of potential students. The video below, created by our content team at Circa Interactive, provides a quick run through of the top 6 ways that students find degree programs online.

 

Organic Search

Organic search is the natural, unpaid search that occurs on search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). If your website is optimized for your core keywords and ranks in the search results, organic traffic is a flow of free visitors to your website. Even better, if your website is on the first page of results for a keyword (ex. Master in engineering program), you are in a good position to receive these free visits.

Fun Fact: Over 70% of users click on a result on the first page.

 

 

Paid Search

While organic search is the natural results shown when a user searches in a search engine, paid search is just the opposite. As shown in the video, paid ads appear on the top, sides, and bottom of the Google search results. These ads are shown based on the search query a prospective student used and a generally marked with the word ‘Ad.’

Fun Fact: 64% of users click on a paid ad when they’re looking to purchase a product or service.

 

 

Organic Social

Similar to organic search, organic social are the general social posts shared by individuals, institutions, or companies. Popular platforms for universities to leverage to place their programs in front of students are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Fun Fact: 38% of users are influenced by a school’s social media engagement

 

 

Paid Social

Paid social ads are the ads you see in social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. These advertisements are a proven way to generate students for an online program. Paid social ads are able to be targeted to very specific groups of potential students.

Fun Fact: 57% of students use social media to research universities.

 

 

Digital PR

Another way to place your program and brand in front of potential students is to use the respectable faculty and stakeholders at your university. Through a multichannel PR approach, students are able to see professors published in major news outlets such as Wired, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and more.

Fun Fact: The Huffington Post has 33,647,468 unique visitors per month.

 

 

Display

While Digital PR works to land opportunities for professors in news outlets and publications around the web, display advertising places highly focused visual advertisements on these same websites. These powerful advertisements are proven to generate high quality traffic to a program’s webpage.

Fun Fact: The Google Display Network includes more than 2 million sites.

 

While the 6 avenues for student acquisition highlighted in the video cover most of the options available, there are many other tactics for savvy marketers to leverage to place their brand in front of prospective students. To find out how to locate students for your program, drop us a line here.

 

how students find degree programs hemj image

FreddieFrederic has three years experience in higher education content marketing and search engine optimization. Working with Circa Interactive, he has gained valuable experience in paid search, analytics, SEO strategy, and client management. Follow him on Twitter: @FredHigherEd

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.