The world of higher education is changing – fast. Online education is on the rise, incoming students are more connected than ever, and the way in which we market higher education is becoming increasingly more digital. Competition is as high as ever, and will only continue to grow.
Gone are the days of sending out some program brochures, buying a billboard or two, or taking out a magazine ad. Well, those channels can still be effective if utilized as a supplement to your overall marketing efforts, but if they’re your only marketing focus you’re probably starting to figure out you’re in trouble.
How can you remain relevant and competitive?
In today’s world, to stay relevant and competitive in the marketing and recruiting of perspective students you must go digital. That means shifting focus from the old outdated marketing tactics that have worked in the past, and allocating budgets towards online marketing channels such as SEO, paid search, and social media.
Allocating a budget across the three general areas of online marketing will be largely dependent on the programs being marketed – heavier on the organic and paid search for Masters level programs, and heavier on social media for undergraduate programs. Most likely I would guess the majority of higher ed marketers are already doing some paid search, and maybe focusing a little on SEO. I would also bet that a lot of them aren’t utilizing social media to its full advantage – either they lack the resources, the knowledge, or both.
Today, I wanted to specifically focus on the importance of blogging as part of a social media strategy, and provide some reasons why higher ed marketers (or anyone looking to promote a degree program) should start blogging to benefit and grow degree programs.
Blogging in the world of higher education is still relatively new – some are doing it, but most aren’t doing it that well.
In any case, at least they’re doing something. At this point in time you’re no longer considered “ahead of the game” by utilizing social media and blogging – it’s far too late for that.
If you need some convincing as to why you need to start blogging for the school or degree program you’re marketing or recruiting for, here are my six reasons (in no particular order):
1) Blogging allow you to connect with potential students and build relationships
This holds especially true in the undergraduate world. It’s really tough to connect with the younger generation through anything but social media and blogs. Dr. James Nolan, President of Southwestern College, wrote a great op-ed piece about social media and blogging in higher education. He discusses his initial struggle to accept and adopt social media, but also discusses the impact it has had on his college since they’ve embraced it.
One comment stuck out to me: “Nowadays, visiting prospective students almost invariably tell me that they have read our blog, that they are a member of our Facebook group, that they follow us on Pinterest, and so on.”
Don’t miss out on this opportunity with your prospective students – get blogging!
2) Blogging can help to establish your program as a thought leader in your niche or industry
Be your own publisher. Don’t wait months for a journal (if you can make it through all of the rejection first) to publish your article. Share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions on industry related topics right now, and receive feedback immediately.
Not only can you quickly connect with an endless number of people who are interested in what you and your program have to say, but you can also quickly get a gauge on what content your audience likes. Once you’ve figured this out, rinse, repeat and see where else you can plug these topics into other online channels (whitepapers, Tweets, ad content, etc.).
For marketers and PR people, this is one of the most cost effective ways to build credibility around your program’s brand and get on the radar of potential future students who otherwise may have not even thought twice about your program.
3) Blogging can help to increase search rankings and visibility
This part is huge. I mentioned the competition in higher education – this is where you can get a step ahead. Blogging is one of the more effective ways to keep Google happy and influence your rankings.
– produces fresh content
– results in more indexed pages
– enhances internal linking
– creates link bait opportunities
– can help you to eat up additional search engine real estate
– can help strengthen your target domain
Take a step back, truly understand your audience, and create content (500+ words per post) that they would be interested in. Don’t write just for SEO – rather, write for your prospective students. What do they want to read or learn more about?
Write quality posts, share them on your social networks, and watch the magic happen.
4) Blogging Increases web traffic
Even though SEO will influence this, the real magic is in the long-tailed keyword opportunities. Blogging will help you to capture individuals at various stages of the buying process, and allow you to get on the radar of prospective students who are searching for programmatic terms that you may not currently rank for.
As a result, you’ll have the ability to generate relevant traffic and not have to rely so heavily on trying to rank for keywords that may be too competitive to match.
5) Blogging can help create conversation or buzz around your program
Blogging is one of the best ways to get your audience talking about you and what you offer. Invite comments on blog posts and promote the sharing of your blog posts through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
6) Blogging is cost effective
Not only does blogging work, but it’s also cheap. Aside from the man hours required to write the posts and maybe a few stock images here or there, blogging is free.
If you’re just getting started with blogging in the higher ed world, here are some things I’ve learned along the way:
– establish one manager of the blog
– utilize social share buttons on each post so content is easily sharable
– setup a content calendar (Google Calendar works well for this)
– post daily or as much as possible (whatever your resources will allow)
– blog for visitors, not links
– don’t just publish updates on the program – publish content that prospective students will benefit from.
– ensure your blog has some type of CTA – you’re driving traffic there, why not generate some leads as well?
– Don’t know what to write about?
-checkout alltop.com / google trends / Google Keyword Planner / Twitter
– write about hot industry topics, current news events – whatever people are consuming or searching for
– create the blog off of your existing .edu domain – either as an internal page or sub-domain
– lacking the time or resources to produce blog posts? Offer an internship, higher graduate assistants, or ask some top students to help out.
Looking for some good examples of how blogs are effectively utilized in higher education? Check these out:
http://onlineuniversityrankings.org/2009/top-50-official-university-blogs/ – full list of blogs
http://admissions.vanderbilt.edu/vandybloggers/ – Vanderbilt’s Admissions blog