July 1st is approaching fast, and chatter about budget, leadership restructuring, and new hires has filled the breakrooms of graduate enrollment offices everywhere.
As the next fiscal year begins, myriad conversations take place about the success of the previous year’s student recruitment strategies, leading into the conversation of “how can we make next year’s strategy even better?”
We all want the silver bullet game plan that successfully attracts and nurtures the prospective graduate student of 2016. We want the formula that “the other school” is using to increase their enrollment.
But the truth is, deep down, what we really want is something that will work for us — something that will work within the context of our organizational structure, our team’s time and talents, and of course, our limited budgets.
What we really crave is an enrollment strategy that successfully attracts the unique personas of our institution. But the sad reality is that many of our enrollment marketing strategies and tactics are outdated and ineffective for today’s prospective students.
If we want enrollment to grow over this next academic year, it’s time to have a bigger-picture conversation regarding where we’re currently allocating budget, team, and technological resources and whether or not this current allocation of resources is sustainable and scalable.
Here are 6 crucial questions all enrollment marketers should ask themselves before the next fiscal year commences:
1. What do you actually want out of your website?
You know that massive website re-design you either just finished, are in the middle of, or are soon to be in the middle of? What exactly are you hoping to get out of it? Website’s today are so much more than digital brochures — they’re living, breathing entities that require fresh content, regular maintenance, and continual optimization. Your website should be your greatest asset for generating new inquires at all stages of the applicant journey.
Your website should be your greatest asset for generating new inquires at all stages of the applicant journey.
Now to be clear, your website doesn’t have to be the prettiest on the block, but it does need to be an accessible place where visitors can easily subscribe to your blog, download relevant content, and request information about a specific program.
2. How large do you want your inquiry pool to be in the next 12 months?
We all want our inquiry pools to grow in both quantity and quality, and it’s crucial to establish realistic goals for growth considering where you’re currently at. The first and most important tactic to increasing your inquiry pool is to focus on increasing your monthly website visitors. If you aren’t growing your visitor-base, you simply can’t generate prospective students to further nurture and engage.
The number one way to generate new visits to your website is to create premium content and then to promote this content on social media (at least 20 percent of your website’s monthly traffic should be coming from social media).
3. Where do you want your monthly visitor-to-lead conversion rate to be in the next 12 months?
It’s not enough to get people to your website — you need them to go through a form so you can start tracking how they interact with your content. If you’re regularly publishing and promoting weekly blog and monthly pieces of premium content, you should expect a visitor-to-lead conversion rate of about 0.5-1.0% after twelve months.
This means that if 1,000 people visit your website each month, you should be generating 5-10 new conversions (people going through some form) each month. (Institutions that don’t employ content creation and promotion strategies are typically living in a 0.05-0.1% visitor-to-lead conversion rate).
4. What kind of ROI are you looking for from your social media strategy?
Every school has a Facebook page (and most have a LinkedIn and Twitter), but if you don’t have a specific game plan on how to generate real interactions, click-thrus, conversions, and new contacts, you don’t really have a social media strategy. Social media is constantly evolving, and if you want to see ROI you need to be okay with constant experimentation.
Considering the vast amount of data and targeting options that these networks have, social media is the best (and arguably most affordable) way to attract your personas. While “likes” and comments are nice, at the end of the day, you want click-thrus and conversions. Paying to promote free educational resources on social media — like a “Guide to Getting a Master’s in Nursing” — generates 50 percent more conversions than promoting recruitment-specific content (like invitations to info sessions or to “Apply”).
Promoting resources on social media generates 50 percent more conversions than promoting recruitment-specific content
Creating persona-specific Facebook target audiences will enable you to promote relevant content to attract specific inquires. If you’re on a limited budget and can only afford to spend a couple hundred dollars a month on social promotions, you need to start by clearly defining which personas you want to focus on attracting from each network.
You may find that spending $50 to promote a “Guide to a Master’s in Nursing” generated ten conversions and three new contacts, but spending $15 to promote a “Guide to Cybersecurity” generated twenty conversions and ten new contacts.
5. How should you market your programs when you’re a one (wo)man show?
You start small. Who’s going to play nice with you? Think about your relationships with the faculty and deans of your different programs — more often than not the one’s whose programs are hurting will be most eager to help you. Ask them to write a few blog posts or help you develop a piece of premium content about their field. Tap into the knowledge and expertise they have in their noggins and leverage the heck out of their responses by crafting relevant and informative content.
6. What keyword searches do you want to “win on” this year?
Another way to ask this question is, “what search engine queries do you want to win on this year?” If you’re a small private institution in Texas, you might not win a Google search on “best Texas grad schools,” but you might be able to win on longer, more specific keyword searches.
Start by creating blog posts, landing pages, and social media posts using specific long tail keywords (e.g. public health evening programs in Dallas) and work your way up. It’s important to keep in mind that you want to develop content around the keywords your personas are using — not necessarily the keywords you would use to categorize your programs.
We know our prospective students better than anyone else: we know the questions they ask, their hurt points, and the challenges they need to work through both personally and professionally before deciding to pursue another degree. Restructuring is hard, leadership change is hard, and working with limited budgets is hard — but let’s not forget that when push comes to shove we need to increase the quantity and quality of our applicant pool.
We’re at a pivotal moment in the history of student recruitment, and yet some of us still posture ourselves as if the prospective student of 2016 is the same as the prospective student of 1996. It’s time to say adios to yesterday’s enrollment marketing strategies and adopt strategies — like inbound marketing — that are relevant and strategic for today.