Charting the Enrollment Journey in Higher Ed Social Media
Date posted: March 27, 2019
Thinking in terms of the enrollment journey can be helpful for schools in every area of inbound marketing. By considering what kind of information will resonate with your target personas at each stage of their decision-making process, you can provide what they need, when they need it.
This is especially true when it comes to social media. An increasingly important research tool for prospects seeking education at all levels, your social media presence provides a valuable touchpoint for your audience to connect with your school, engage with other members of its community, and get an overall sense of your institution’s identity.
But how do you target your social media posts towards leads at specific admissions stages? Read on to find out.
Higher Ed Social Media Marketing Ideas for the Awareness Stage
When discussing the buyer’s journey, HubSpot defines the Awareness Stage as the point at which prospects “identify their challenge or an opportunity they want to pursue. They also decide whether or not the goal or challenge should be a priority.”
In the context of the education sector, this means that it is when your school needs to make prospective students aware of what you can offer, and convince them of the worth of pursing a qualification, considering your institution, or studying in your location.
There are many ways you can create social media content that aligns with these goals. If your school is targeting prospects from outside your locality, you may look to produce posts that highlight the attractiveness of your school as a study destination, using visuals to show off your local area and its attractions, or your campus and its facilities.
Example: Georgetown University does a great job of highlighting the attractiveness of its campus and surrounding area on Instagram.
Looking at the benefits of your courses and why your target personas would be motivated to pursue them is also important. At this stage, a prospect has not yet made a hard decision to pursue a qualification (whether at your school or anywhere else) and may need to be convinced that it is the best path to achieving their goals.
Whether they’re looking to learn a language, get a better career, or just learn a new skill, content which provides information about how your school can help them achieve these aims can go a long way.
Example: This post from Geneva Business School is pitched perfectly towards prospects in the awareness stage, positioning its International Finance degree as a gateway to a career in securities training.
Keep in mind, too, that prospects in the Awareness Stage will usually know very little about your school, and may not have heard of it all, so improving your visibility on social media is a must. You could try to use popular hashtags that your audience might be searching for at this point in order to increase your reach.
Example: This post from ASC English uses the #TOEFL and #ESL hashtags, both of which are likely to be popular among language learners.
One area of social media that is becoming more and more crucial for schools looking to remain visible is stories. The ephemeral slideshows have become increasingly popular across a number of different platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Messenger, and many are now predicting that they will surpass newsfeed posts in popularity in the near future. They also offer the plus of appearing prominently in the feeds of most major social platforms.
Example: Delfin English School makes good use of Instagram Stories to spotlight its campuses.
Creating stories for your school can be a great way to stay ahead of your competitors and ensure that you can make yourself known to potential applicants at this juncture.
Paid promotion and advertising can also be a good way to reach prospects on social media who are unaware of your school. You could boost posts to carefully targeted audiences outside of your followers, or run ad campaigns that drive traffic to your website or social media pages.
Example: A lead generation-focused ad for ESL school Language Systems on Facebook, which directs prospects to a landing page on its website.
Lastly, you should ensure that your higher ed social media strategy is coordinated with your efforts across other digital channels. If you are creating content on your website that also targets prospects in the Awareness Stage, sharing it on social media allows you amplify its potential visibility.
Example: ATC Surrey regularly shares blog posts on Twitter.
Your website should also include social sharing and link buttons to encourage visitors to share your content and follow you on social platforms. This creates a reciprocal relationship between the two channels, allowing both to strengthen each other and accelerating your growth. In doing so, you increase your chances to earning the visibility you need to see a real return of new leads.
The Consideration Stage: Solidifying the Interest of Prospective Students
At the Consideration Stage, prospective students can be expected to have firmly committed to the idea of pursuing study, and have some knowledge of what your school offers. Your goal from here should be to encourage them to make an inquiry and engage with your team.
You can do this by creating posts that drive them to your website and landing pages. For best results, feature content that focuses on things they might be thinking about at this point, such as preparation tips for study and travel, more in-depth insights into the courses or subject areas they are interested in, and information about key decision drivers like accommodation, financing, and on-campus facilities.
Example: This EC English post offers information about its accommodation in the University of Hartford. Factors like this can play a major role in a prospect’s view of your school.
Another great option for engaging prospects on social during the Consideration Stage is live campus tours and Q&A sessions. These online events offer prospects the chance to see more of your school, while connecting in real-time to your team with any questions or comments they have.
Example: The University of Toronto recently hosted this live discussion with students and staff talking about life at the school. Student services staff took real-time questions during the broadcast.
In today’s market, it’s also important to offer avenues for prospects to message your admissions staff directly from social. Including a Messenger action button on your Facebook page is a great way to encourage your audience to reach out to you.
Example: Kaplan International English Toronto includes a Messenger action button just underneath the cover image of its Facebook page. Note that the pop-up Messenger window has also been set up to automatically provide a list of common FAQs for prospects to choose from.
Instagram and Facebook Stories also provide an option to include a CTA that prompts prospects to message you on their respective parent platforms. Considering the continued growth of stories, this could be a very fruitful tactic to increase your chances of conversion.
You should also provide information about your accounts on other popular instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat on your website. The use of instant messaging apps varies a lot depending on the demographic and geographic profile of your students, and even from individual to individual, so ensuring that prospects have the option to use their preferred platform is a must.
Example: IH InTuition Languages includes its WeChat and WhatsApp handles on its website.
By focusing on engaging potential applicants at this stage, you give your team the opportunity to make a strong case for your school and courses, and show leads that you will go the extra mile to deliver a personalized, caring, and efficient service. This will stand you in good stead when the time comes for them to make a decision.
Making Your School’s Social Media Presence Count at the Decision Stage
Now it’s crunch time. At the decision stage, prospective students are ready to apply, but may be weighing up their options between you and one or more of your competitors.
With that in mind, your higher education social media content for prospects who have reached this point should seek to differentiate your school from your competition. The best way to do this is by focusing on ‘social proof’ that provides tangible evidence of the return your students get from completing your courses. This can include student testimonials, alumni success stories, or even statistics about graduate outcomes, as well as posts which highlight your credentials and accreditations.
Example: Dublin Business School posted a link to a testimonial from a Mexican student on its Facebook page. The post also cleverly prompts prospects to come in and speak to their international admissions team during their business hours.
Another angle you may want to take when creating posts for the Decision Stage is to be a little bit more direct in driving leads towards application. This can be particularly effective if you are approaching application deadlines, or looking to fill any remaining slots in advance of course start dates. Featuring posts which remind your followers that time is running out if they want to attend could give them that extra push they need.
Example: This post from English Studies Institute in Berkeley prompts followers to apply, while highlighting the next upcoming course start date for added impetus.
Social media advertising can also be a valuable tool to use at this point. Your school can create remarketing campaigns to retarget your existing leads and remind them of what you have to offer.
Catering to Students on Social Media After Enrollment
While social media can be a valuable tool to recruit students, it’s important to remember that it is there to serve your current students and alumni, too. These groups are the heartbeat of your online community, and the audience that will ensure that there is active engagement on your social media pages on a regular, long-term basis.
With that in mind, you should include a healthy amount of content aimed at your existing students in your higher education social media marketing strategy. Helpful updates from campus, tips for students as they progress through their studies, and news about events and things to do in your area are all examples of informative content that they will seek out, appreciate, and engage with.
Example: This post from the University of Utah on Instagram advertises an upcoming appearance by former US Vice President Joe Biden. Keeping current students updated on any exciting events you have coming up is a great way to keep them engaged.
In addition, you shouldn’t underestimate the potential to turn your current students and graduates into influential brand ambassadors on social media. Encourage them to get involved in conversations with your school online, use your branded hashtags, and share their own photos and videos of your school, and you could see no end of benefits to your overall visibility and engagement.
Example: The University of Michigan does a fantastic job of soliciting student generated social media content, and will often feature unique, eye-catching (and branded) visuals provided by its school community.
Current students and alumni are also invaluable when it comes to one area which is becoming increasingly important on social: reviews. Facebook reviews are now one of the key information points that prospects look at when researching a school on the platform, and the volume of reviews you attract can even have an effect on your page authority.
They are also unique when compared to other review sources in that users are able to comment and react to them in the same way they would engage with any other Facebook post. This helps to facilitate and encourage interaction between users, and makes the section a central location for conversations about your school on the site.
Encouraging your existing students and successful graduates to leave reviews – and responding to them when they do, regardless of whether they are positive or negative – could therefore prove essential to your recruitment efforts in the future.
Scheduling Your Higher Ed Social Media Posts to Cater to Prospects at Different Stages
While providing content for prospects at each stage of the enrollment journey is great in theory, creating a social media schedule that achieves this in practice can be challenging. With a bit of careful planning, though, it should be more than possible.
As a general rule, aiming for an even spread of posts aimed at prospects in each of the three stages, as well as at current students and alumni, might be the best way to approach it. However, your school may want to put more emphasis on catering to particular groups depending on your unique needs.
A language school which offers mostly short courses, for instance, may not need to provide as much content aimed at current students as they do not enroll over long periods. Conversely, a K-12 school may find that parents of their current students expect high levels of interaction and engagement on social channels, and will need to take more care to ensure they are prioritized.
You may also want to plan your schedule seasonally, and weight your posts more heavily towards prospects at particular stages during periods where they are likely to be interacting with your school online. For example, you might feature a lot of posts aimed at those in the Awareness and Consideration stages during your peak lead generation periods, then move towards those at the decision stage as application deadlines approach, before placing more emphasis on enrolled students as your courses begin.
It all comes down to being sensitive to the needs and motivations of your online community, and positioning your social media accounts to offer the maximum value to both your school and your followers.