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How to Digitally Market a Higher Education Institution for 2021

Vector Illustration - Educational Institution

Designing, creating, and implementing an effective digital marketing strategy to promote a higher education institution can be challenging. For many years now, education institutions have had to compete with online courses (from other institutions as well as from sites like Udemy and Skillshare), tutorials on video streaming sites like YouTube, and the vast range of educational information that is available, often for free, on the internet.

In addition to these challenges, the arrival of the current global corona virus pandemic has made marketing an education institution a more difficult task. Factors such as the shift to online learning and restrictions on social activities have made higher education a less appealing draw for many potential students.

However, there are still plenty of reasons for people to opt for higher education. The silver lining of the current situation is that, with online traffic higher than ever before, the internet and social media are great ways for your messages to reach your target audience. Designing a digital marketing strategy for education that adapts to meet the unique conditions and challenges of the upcoming academic year is vital for the success of an institution.

In this guide, we will explore exactly how you can develop such a strategy.

Carrying Out Market Research

Designing and implementing an effective market research strategy is the first step in any marketing campaign. In order to successfully advertise to your chosen audience, you need to know exactly who your audience is.

This might sound simple — of course, your target market is potential college students! However, taking time to think about this demographic in detail can help you develop content for your marketing strategy that appeals to the right people.

The majority of college applicants are people in their late teens or early twenties, so this age group is important to reach and appeal to. When it comes to offline marketing, distributing promotional booklets, pamphlets, posters, etc to high schools is a useful way of reaching this demographic. Visits to high schools and careers fairs are also frequently used. Due to the current situation, physical visits to schools may not be permitted or safe, and the possibility of students picking up leaflets may be reduced. This is one reason that online marketing has become even more important this year.

Finding people who are interested in going to college is the simple part — finding out what potential students want when they are choosing an institution to apply to is a little bit trickier. One of the ways that you can do this is by creating market research surveys. Creating a market research survey enables you to collect valuable and useful data that you can use in your marketing strategy. Online surveys are not too difficult to create, and there are many sites that can help you with this.

Developing a Target Customer “Persona”

A commonly used marketing technique is to create what is known as a “buyer persona”. A buyer persona is a fictional person comprised of traits that your target demographic possesses. To find these traits, you can use your market research, and can also think of current or former students at your institution. Creating a persona of a potential student and developing your marketing content as if it were aiming to fulfill the needs of this specific person can help your content be more focused and relevant.

An example of a target persona is Steve, 17. Steve is from a middle-class family, lives in a suburb on the outskirts of Massachusetts, and enjoys playing football, video gaming, and socializing. Steve is in his junior year of high school, and has a high academic performance, with his favorite classes being history and economics. Steve is undecided about his future and the potential career paths open to him but is not averse to the idea of attending college. Like most other people his age, Steve uses social media daily.

Steve is not a real person, but for the purposes of developing a marketing plan it is useful to imagine that he is! The specifics of your target persona will vary based on your institution, but most colleges and universities will be looking for someone like Steve. You don’t have to stick to one single persona — using multiple personas can vary your marketing strategies. For example, you may want to add Anna, 32, who is looking for a career change and considering going back to school!

Using Social Media

Once you have done your market research and developed target personas to market to, using social media to promote your content is the next step. Your marketing channels are most likely to be sites like Facebook and Twitter. However, apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok can also be great places to advertise as they have many young users who are at or approaching typical college age.

Different social media apps are suited to different types of content, so it may not be as simple as copying and pasting the same content across each site or app. For example, Instagram rewards images (think photographs of happy students and scenic campuses) more than long pieces of text, which may be better suited to Facebook. Snapchat and TikTok favor conciseness, informality, and relation to current trends. Although the specifics of your content may vary based on each marketing channel, your “brand persona” (the image that your institution wants to represent) should ideally be consistent across all channels.

Developing an effective content calendar is a great way of ensuring that you post the right content at the right time. Using targeted ads and paid ads (offered by most social media sites) can enable you to advertise to very specific target demographics—this is another time that your personas will come in handy!

Using SEO

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the practice of optimizing the written content on your website to result in search engine algorithms placing your site high up on the results pages for certain search terms. SEO can be complex to learn, but using a university SEO agency can save a lot of time and provide effective results.

Of course, none of these steps on their own result in a complete digital marketing strategy that is likely to be successful. However, when used together, the right combination of market research, social media use, and SEO can result in increasing traffic to your site and interest in your institution.

Vector image by Rawpixel.com

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