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.
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.
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.
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.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.
“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.
- 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 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.