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It’s an exciting time to be involved in higher education. After decades of relative stability, the past few years have seen significant change driven by a combination of social, cultural, political, economic and technological factors. Many industries are facing challenges to their established ways of doing business but never before have the paradigms of education been so shaken. It is uncertain which structures, delivery methods, funding models and stakeholder relationships will emerge as standard practice but it’s becoming clearer that those administrations with long-term, forward-thinking strategies will be best positioned to find opportunity in these shifting sands for sustainable success.

Disruptive forces impacting higher education include the proliferation of private for-profit providers, fewer college-bound seniors, greater student mobility and the legitimization of online learning. The rise of corporate career colleges and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) poses a direct challenge to traditional colleges and universities, and in light of reduced government funding and falling barriers to international markets, it is an increasingly dynamic and competitive market, to say the least. Shifting demographics, attitudes and preferences among prospective students, and rapid technological innovations are only a few of the other reasons to keep us on our toes.

We’ve covered all these trends and more in our blog posts over the past year, and now as we reach the end of 2013 we have compiled some of the highlights below. It is no small challenge for schools to stay on top of all the changing best practices for higher education marketing, so we hope that as you take a much needed break for the holiday season this list will help clarify where your institution stands in the big picture to better identify top priorities going into 2014.

Content continues to be king

Infographic Content Marketing

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For increasingly tech-savvy students, college and university websites are often the primary point of interaction and surveys show that the website experience can make or break a prospective student’s consideration of a school. Quality content is more important than ever to engage website viewers and increase search engine recognition. We’ve written about establishing a content culture at your school using the 70/20/10 content marketing formula, creating an efficient editorial calendar and increasing your college’s visibility by developing valuable content curation from related outside sources. An effective content sharing strategy makes your blog the anchor of your content marketing, amplified on priority social media networks, each with a slightly different emphasis. Special events, such as a graduation ceremony, can be good occasions to base new content around. Promotional video content is only going to grow in importance going into 2014.

Social media’s dizzying evolution

Social Media Marketing

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Social media marketing has been evolving so rapidly that we have recently started a regular blog series to help you keep up with the constant changes. To truly maximize the impact of great content, strategic promotion is necessary to spread the word throughout the top social media platforms. Earlier this year, we offered time-saving tips to streamline your college’s social media activities, making your website’s content easy to share and then organizing creation, promotion and management with a sharing path and schedule. Optimizing your social media strategy means understanding how your efforts will accomplish your institution’s goals and managing your accounts and reputation with tools such as Hootsuite and Mention.

Facebook is still the dominant social network and we have written previously about its gradual commercialization, such as using the Power Editor to place ads in newsfeeds and generating engagement through your Facebook cover. This year has seen Google+ become impossible to ignore, featuring the second highest number of active users and Google Authorship seen as a significant factor in search engine optimization. LinkedIn made a splash with its university pages designed to attract prospective students, and Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr all made news in student recruitment circles. Sharing content through image and micro-video will become even more prominent in 2014, and as social media becomes increasingly monetized, schools will have to decide whether social advertising is worth the investment, compared to PPC and other campaigns.

Brand management with mobile-first, engaging websites

As the one-stop shop for all your various audiences, the college or university website is an essential hub for establishing brand identity. Page content, design and technical navigation elements must be optimized to reduce website bounce rates and we have several informative posts detailing best practices for program pages, admissions and testimonials, donations and financial aid, virtual tours, microsites and intuitive website navigation. Resist the urge to crowd pages with extra information when considering site architecture, while featuring engaging images, video, student-generated content and strategic calls to action.

Coming into 2013, responsive web design was the big buzzword. As prospective students are increasingly mobile-only and have little patience for poorly functioning websites, most colleges and universities are at some stage of making their sites responsive. When moving to a mobile-first mindset, readability regardless of device and understanding typical user behaviour are key considerations.

Innovative lead generation

Recognizing that today’s students have grown up constantly connected to the internet, innovative colleges and universities are integrating gamification into their lead generation activities to make the enrolment process more entertaining. Webcasts, e-newsletters and text messaging are other popular methods of interacting with potential and current students. Using a drip marketing system for lead nurturing has had proven results for some schools.

International student recruitment

While international student mobility has been increasing for several years, recruitment practices for this lucrative market went more mainstream in 2013. Leveraging technology, and longer term partnerships and research, the pursuit of the increasingly younger international student is getting more competitive all the time. This year we wrote about optimizing your website for international student recruitment, and specific strategies for recruitment in North America’s three largest source countries: China, India and South Korea.

Analytics solutions for improved measurement

IBM recently released their annual list, based on research into market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies around the world. Number one trend? Within the next five years, the classroom will learn about each student’s learning style using sophisticated analytics to give educators the tools to provide tailored curriculums. In the realm of student marketing, advances in measurement techniques, such as Google Analytics, have already created unprecedented opportunities for continuously improving web functionality based on data-driven results. We have strived to make this admittedly complex process more transparent through blogs on emerging best practices in this field, including multi-channel attribution, cohort analysis, visitor keyword information, adwords and various specific analytics applications.

It has been a big year for Higher Education Marketing and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading and offer our best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season!

What has been the biggest higher education marketing trend of 2013?