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content strategy for student recruitment

Why does interaction matter in content marketing?

Research has firmly established that when we actively participate in an exercise, we’re much more likely to invest in it, understand it, and retain what we learned. In fact, experts estimate that we remember a tiny 10% of what we read, compared to a whopping 90% of what we “do.”

So it’s no surprise that marketing pundits are predicting the fast rise of “interactive content” in 2016 and beyond. It’s simply more engaging, more memorable, more customizable, and more measurable that static alternatives.

Think user-controlled Oculus Rift or self-directed 360° campus tours, versus a conventional video one passively consumes and promptly forgets.

Consider the rise of gamification in classroom teaching and recruitment marketing – and the importance of real-time Q&A and conversations on social media. All signs point to interactivity as the next logical step for content marketing – across sectors.

Scott Brinker calls it “a new arsenal for content marketers to battle the flood of ‘meh,’ passive content.”

Others predict that, sooner than later, the deluge of “meh” content now inundating the internet will hit a brick wall. Consumers (particularly tech-savvy students) will simply ignore most of it, like they often do banner and pop-up ads. Audiences will gravitate instead toward nimble content they can “steer”, personalize, and really have fun with.

So what kinds of content are we talking about here? And how are educational institutions getting on board with this trend?

Here are 4 examples of interactive content – ranging in complexity – that schools can use to hold the attention of prospective students, and generate excitement around inquiry and enrollment.

Future-Planning Quizzes for Prospective Students

Quizzes are one of the simplest forms of interactive content, and yet surprisingly, many educational institutions aren’t leveraging them for online student recruitment. Humans are naturally drawn to a good quiz, and when it comes to prospective students, quizzes can actually address pressing questions about academic direction, life on campus, and career outcomes.

Here are three examples that work as conversation starters, encouraging your website visitors to stick around a little longer, reflect on their goals, and even click through for more information.

1. Choosing a major

More than ever, prospective students are questioning which study area they should pursue. They’re weighing factors like personal interest and aptitude against projected employability and salary. They’re considering their parents’ wishes, while sorting out their own hopes and dreams.

Long before they meet with your admissions team, students are scouring your website in search of answers regarding which programs might suit them best.

A well designed “What’s my major?” quiz (like this one from Loyola University Chicago) is a great way to address those questions, demonstrate your willingness to help, and start building rapport.

content strategy for student recruitment

interactive content for student recruitmentI love how this quiz reformulates its “suggested” study areas as you move through the questions, and the system gets a better sense of your unique interests and abilities.

Click here to experience the surprisingly addictive nature of Loyola’s interactive quiz for yourself.

What a fun tool for students who know what they enjoy doing and learning about, but aren’t sure how these interests correlate with various study paths. Or, that there are so many relevant majors to choose from. Just using this simple quiz creates a sense of anticipation and excitement about getting started on the academic journey.

I can definitely imagine feeling inspired to click through and explore a few of the suggested programs after completing the quiz – and then fill out a request for further information. And that’s exactly the kind of momentum education marketers want to build on their school webpages.

2. Adjusting to student life

Student lifestyle quizzes are a little more lighthearted, but just as interesting for prospective applicants. This next example from Saint Louis University is quite humorous and fun to complete, while offering practical advice new students can really apply. Plus, it encourages students to envision their lives away from home (perhaps for the first time), meeting new people and in this case, adjusting to life in residence.

content strategy for student recruitment

content strategy for student recruitment

This quiz is shareable on social media, and is listed within a dedicated section of available quizzes and polls that students can interact with while visiting the Saint Louis University website.

3. Career Aptitude Tests

Are you a career college where recruiting is tightly focussed on job outcomes, and students are anxious to map out a practical path to rewarding employment? Show you can help them move forward by offering a Career Aptitude test.

This is a great tool for the top of your recruitment funnel, when quite a few students are still uncertain about which career path is suited to their skills and interests – and they need some encouragement to start inquiring about particular programs.

This example from Rasmussen College is ideal for getting that conversation started well before the student fills out a Request Info form or books a campus tour (and could very likely lead to those important conversion actions):

interactive content for student recruitment

interactive content for student recruitment

Rasmussen is very wise to include a filter that provides details on salary and expected growth. These are themes prospective career college students are most definitely focussed on – and they will prioritize institutions that offer transparency in these areas.

Keep in mind though, that it’s not just career college applicants who want insights into how their school of choice will prepare them for a volatile job market. In order to remain competitive, undergraduate and master programs – even high schools – should incorporate alumni outcome data into their student recruitment content strategy.

Would quizzes work with my school’s target audience?

Schools of all different types (master programs, study abroad programs, language schools, high schools) can adapt quizzes to suit the unique needs of their target audience. Perhaps a quiz on money management as a student? Managing the stresses of coursework, kids, and full/part time employment? Moving to a new country to pursue a degree?

Education marketers could also target parents with quizzes, focusing on topics that relate to sending a child off to college or boarding school, identifying a learning disability, or selecting the right summer camp.

Consider what matters most to your personas to develop relevant quizzes that will support your current strategy for student recruitment.

Interactive Viewbooks: Total Sensory Immersion

Brochures, flipbooks, workbooks, viewbooks…schools have been using content like this for years to communicate information about programs, resources, campus life, and applications procedures.

But the rise of interactivity is pushing the conventional brochure from a linear “show and tell” format, to a totally immersive sensory experience that the user steps into and steers.

Claflin University offers an interesting example of this trend. Their viewbook isn’t something static you download. It functions like a microsite; a seamless, pageless viewing experience.  Claflin doesn’t try to replicate the experience of “flipping through” a paper brochure from start to finish, like so many other institutions. The user decides where to begin and end, navigating the viewbook in the way that best suits their interests and questions. Here’s a quick look at the interface, in the “Life at Claflin” section:

interactive content for student recruitment

There’s so much to see and do! This viewbook offers total sensory immersion by combining video, narrated slideshows, persuasive quotes and statistics, and plenty of quick links to additional information and helpful resources.  The viewer goes from passive reader to active explorer. Take a quick tour yourself here.

The combination and quality of media brings the Claflin story to life – which is one of the hallmarks of excellent content strategy and development. Imagine taking this to the next level by adding additional interactive elements, such as a quiz or poll? Prospects would spend even longer absorbing your brochure, while yielding a wealth of data on preferences and behavior (which we’ll discuss a little later).

Interactive Infographics: Make Those Facts & Stats Come Alive!

American University demonstrates how to breathe new life into static infographics (which we now see everywhere online) by adding a layer of multimedia interactivity.

They’ve taken a fairly predictable infographic on graduate career outcomes, and made it downright irresistible by adding:

  • an interactive graph that lets you select level of study and degree program to see how AU grads from those programs are doing post-graduation (my favorite feature and quite addictive)
  • navigational buttons on the left hand side so viewers can jump straight to the information they want to see without scrolling the length of the infographic
  • an image slider that contains video, plus various profiles of alumni with links to accompanying success stories (all within the infographic)
  • a link that goes directly to the admissions section of the AU website for a seamless transition

These simple interactive upgrades makes the content far more “sticky.” Indeed, they kept me around for much longer than a typical, passive infographic would. Here’s a look at the interface:

interactive infographic for student recruitment

I suggest taking a moment to experience it for yourself here.

Interactive video: From Monologue to Dialogue

We already know that video marketing is incredibly popular and effective across sectors – in no small part because it draws viewers in, captivates their senses, and holds their attention longer than text alone. Here are a few stats to put this in perspective:

So what’s more engaging than video? Interactive video (otherwise known as IV).

The videos we’re seeing now place viewers in a passive role, as consumers of content rather than content co-creators.

Prospective students passively watch alumni testimonials, faculty interviews, campus tours, and clips of classes in session. What if they could play a more active, participatory role in this incredibly effective form of storytelling? What if we could shift the conventional video paradigm from “monologue” to “dialogue”? Some schools are already making the transition.

Here’s a simple example from Deloitte, who uses an interactive video to funnel inquiries into its graduate and summer intern program:

YouTube video

Schools could definitely add more interactive options throughout a video like this, to encourage a deeper dive into their programs, student life, financial aid resources, etc.

In 2015, Cambridge University Press developed an interactive video that lets users explore one of their English language courses. Users can click on any blue-outlined “tab” for a narrated tour through Content, Resources, Class Calendar, Class Tools, etc. The user decides which elements he or she will explore, and in what order:

interactive academic program promotion

Cambridge and Deloitte have turned CTAs (click-to-actions) into a kind of game, so it’s less of a hard sell and more of an entertaining exploration.

This is a great alternative to a conventional video description of a program or course, where the viewer simply sits back and watches – and likely gets distracted by competing online content.

Is interactive video proven to be more effective than passive video?

  • Early adopters report viewer completion rates at around 90%, versus 50% – 85% for conventional video
  • Click through rates for IV are also reported as higher, ranging from 5-12% (versus 1-2% for conventional video advertising)

And as the video marketing space gets increasingly crowded (by 2018, it’ll take up 79% of consumer internet traffic), schools will be called upon to “up the ante” – and offer prospective students something even more personalized, attractive, and engaging.

Interactive video, while still in a nascent stage, offers creative early adopters an undeniable competitive edge when vying for attention on their website, email campaigns, landing pages, and social media channels.

Interactive Content, Measurability & Student Insights

With interactive video – as with all forms of interactive content – education marketers have a tremendous opportunity to measure results and gather valuable data which was previous inaccessible. Not only will you attract more student inquiries, you’ll gain insights into precisely how, when, and where those conversions happened.

Let’s say you poured hours and hours into your latest viewbook. You can easily measure number of downloads, but everything after that is a virtually unknowable black hole.

You have no idea if the prospective student read through the entire viewbook, or at what point they stopped engaging with the content. The same goes for traditional infographics.

Meanwhile, typical video marketing often suffers from the dreaded “20 second” drop rate; the average time at which YouTube viewers tend to abandon watching in favor of some of other activity.

YouTube Audience Retention after 20 Seconds

interactive video for student recruitmentsource

However, with interactive video, those same “click-to-actions” we discussed earlier can be used, not only to sustain engagement with your videos, but to gather useful insights into each prospect’s path to conversion.

When it comes to interactive content, every click, quiz, share, interaction, preference, and completed lead form flows right into your automated marketing software for lead scoring, nurturing, and segmentation – plus performance analytics.

You discover more about your prospective students, can track and measure more touchpoints, and ultimately get greater clarity on ROI.

A few final tips:

  • Make sure your interactive content is responsive (compatible with all mobile devices)
  • Assess and prioritize your recruitment and marketing goals before launching into interactive content (map out where it make most sense to invest in high quality production)
  • Be sure to include social sharing buttons on all of your interactive content to reach and engage a wider audience of prospective students

What do you think is most intriguing about adding interactive content to your recruitment marketing mix? We’d love to hear your comments or questions below.


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