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Friday, October 10, 2008

Higher Education Online - a Guest Post

Friend and marketing genius, Jennifer Wood, has graciously agreed to share her insights about marketing her "product" - the University of Charleston - via the Web to her target audience of potential student enrollees. She will be sharing a multi-part lesson with us, beginning with today's first post. Enjoy these fabulous insights!

Higher Education Online

Those three words can mean a variety of things. As a graduate student studying online, it makes me think of the research and assignments that go along with any academic program.  However, it also relates to my work duties.   I handle web site updates and electronic marketing for the University of Charleston.  The world of technology and electronic communication is vast and for many businesses, including that of higher education, it is imperative.

My days are spent promoting the University through our Web site, Facebook events/groups, Google/Facebook ad campaigns, and researching other ways to promote the institution.  We’ve recently started using Twitter and Flickr to showcase photos from events or to promote the event itself.  Anyone who works in technology-related fields is aware that our world is continuously evolving.  If I didn’t keep up with blogs, news articles, and attend trainings about upcoming technologies, I would be completely out of touch with the resources and mediums available to me and the University.  Even with all of those resources at my fingertips, I usually rely on hearing the latest and greatest from my other marketing and tech-savvy friends through Facebook or Twitter.  My network and the sharing of information mean everything to my work. 

So, as an avid reader (aka “groupie”) of the Marketing Genius blog, I find a great deal of helpful information here.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some helpful hints for higher education marketers.  I look forward to reading your comments and your suggestions as well.

Lesson #1: Know your audience.  I know…it sounds elementary.  When we’re young, we think that we will never lose touch with our youth.  Truth is: we do.  I overheard someone say recently, “The last thing that a student wants to receive is an email. We should send them a letter.” Ask a 17 year old how often they look at snail mail that comes to their house or if they go to the post office and you’ll realize that it is greatly less frequent than the number of times they check their email, MySpace, and/or Facebook.   The comment was made by someone who has worked in higher education for longer than I’ve been alive.  I do not doubt their competency. However, it can have a negative effect on enrollment and retention when you’re out of touch with your audience.   When your main source of revenue is from people who are between the ages of 16-24 (give or take a few years depending on the level of nontraditional students), you need to rethink your strategies. They may utilize channels of communication that you aren’t comfortable or familiar with.  Burying your head in the sand and hoping that MySpace, Twitter, Facebook and the other social networking avenues will just go away is probably not the best approach.  Understanding how they communicate, how they make decisions, what they’re looking for, how they look for it….the list of things that you should know about your audience goes on and on. You can’t afford to be out of touch. 

Young entrepreneurs are popping up everywhere in this age of continuous communication and technology.  MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, and many other websites are not only popular but they were all created by young entrepreneurs. There’s another new “kid” on the block in the world of online content and communication.  In the latest COLLEGE Issue of the New York Times, Jordan Goldman is featured for the creation of a website that provides a “real” look at colleges and universities.  For Unigo, Goldman’s company, you need to think: YouTube meets electronic campus tours.  It is an unscripted, candid look at colleges through the students’ eyes.  The content is posted by students regarding the university they attend.  This provides a students’ perspective to prospective students.  To be honest, I read this article and was very excited.  Then the old school PR voice in my head got louder.  I realized that it would be content that we can’t control. In the times of YouTube, Facebook, online blogs, and many other avenues for students to praise or ridicule their alma mater, we have to let go. If we want prospective students to see a real side of our institutions (not just the administration’s approved messages), then we have to welcome these avenues of promotion. Goldman stated in the NY Times article, “It’s just harder to look at them as the main source of information. If you’re a college student, you are as much of an expert on being a student at that college as anyone.” 

Videos that I’ve watched on Unigo are shaky and many of the “videographers” (I use that term lightly) didn’t use a tripod. However, the information from the students is compelling. Students featured in impromptu video interviews state reasons behind selecting their school.  Some discuss their academic selection, social interests, and other things they “love” about their school.  They are also mentioning things that they wish were different and heed warnings to incoming students about things to ask or to prepare for.  So, I encourage you to get your current students involved in your marketing.  Find out what they are looking for, their interests, and their preferred means of communication.  Most students are quick to share information on their college experience. Most of them are also very candid. Allow them to have a voice.  Giving your students a voice is the most important marketing strategy for any institution.

Here are some links to check out--

NY TimesThe College Issue: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/magazine/21unigo-t.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y&oref=slogin

NRCCUA’s Enrollment Power Index: http://www.nrccua.org/educator/services/epi/criteria.asp 

A review of college web sites with student subjects. Students rate your site based on several criteria.  UC received an A- this year (for our size), which is up from last year.  However, we still have much work to do. Feel free to visit our site and send me any critiques/comments.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Janet Johnson said...

This is a wonderful, timely series. Thank you, Jennifer, for the time you've taken to share it with the rest of us marketers. The landscape has certainly shifted!

11:23 AM

 
Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

Janet-

I really appreciate your comment.
Indeed, Jennifer is dialed into this topic.

We are proud to have your voice among those of many marketing geniuses here on this blog. Hope you will come back often!

Skip

1:51 PM

 

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