Digital marketing for universities: strategies for success

University marketing teams can increase their visibility and attract a diverse applicant pool by using contemporary strategies, writes Archana R. Nayak

Archana R. Nayak's avatar
24 Apr 2024
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Universities need to find inventive ways to interact with and attract prospective students using a combination of personalised communication strategies, innovative engagement initiatives and digital marketing expertise. Here are some strategies that have worked well in my department.

Capitalise on current and past students’ experiences

Publish present and former student testimonials on your website and social media channels. These can be about experiences with a particular programme, campus life or anything else relevant. They can take various forms, such as written statements, videos, interviews or ratings and reviews.

Make your institution more visible online

Making sure content from your website ranks highly in search engine results is critical. To do this, you need to invest in search engine optimisation (SEO). I would suggest hiring someone in-house who understands SEO principles, your university’s offering and your target audience to create educational blog posts that answer prospective students’ frequently asked questions and to optimise content appropriately.

Use email marketing

Build a list of prospective students by encouraging them to sign up for your newsletter at your student recruitment events and online. Build relationships with counsellors and community leaders who can refer students to your sign-up page. On the sign-up form, include questions that help you identify where your prospective students are based and their area of study so that you can segment your audience and tailor email campaigns with valuable insights into course curricula, scholarships, campus infrastructure and important dates. Use automation tools to streamline the process, and gauge the effectiveness of your campaigns by tracking open and click-through rates. Make data-driven adjustments as needed.

Conduct online campus tours 

If distance is a challenge for students, you can engage them with virtual campus tours to give them an insight into what life is like on your campus. Include classrooms, accommodation, food courts, sports facilities and other recreational areas. Student interviews and faculty-led virtual information sessions enhance the virtual tour experience further; when you create opportunities for potential students to interact with present students and alumni via live chat sessions, you make them feel like part of the community before they even arrive on campus.

Collaborate with influencers

The power of influencer marketing is undeniable. There is no reason for universities to shy away from using it to reach a wider audience of potential students. You can identify them by searching for content using hashtags. Some popular ones include:

  • #HigherEducation
  • #CollegeLife
  • #UniversityLife
  • #StudentLife
  • #EducationMatters
  • #AcademicExcellence
  • #LearningIsKey
  • #GraduateSchool
  • #FutureLeaders
  • #CampusCommunity

Find relevant YouTubers, student bloggers or those with Instagram or X followings and collaborate with them to create authentic and engaging content that showcases your university. Use it to highlight what makes your institution and campus unique and to dispel any misconceptions. Monitor the activity to see how it performs.

Host interactive webinars 

Organise online events on platforms such as GoToWebinar with alumni and speakers from your leadership team and academic departments. Include information about your programmes and curricula, student life and admissions support. Give students the option of switching off their webcams so that they feel comfortable, and provide a chat box so you can address any questions and concerns. You can use your website, social media and newsletters to drive awareness about these sessions and conduct surveys afterwards to identify areas for improvement. 

Consult school counsellors 

School counsellors are key influencers in students’ decisions on higher education. Building rapport with these individuals will help you reach more students. Give them thorough details on your university's offerings, admission standards, financial aid opportunities and value additions. You can offer them opportunities for professional growth by organising networking events and informational sessions and propose collaborative events for students such as seminars and fairs. 

Make data-informed decisions 

Finally, I would recommend hiring an in-house data analyst to employ various methods to test hypotheses and gather user data, which, in turn, will enhance your content strategy, website design and marketing initiatives. 

University marketing teams can increase their visibility and attract a diverse applicant pool by using contemporary strategies including influencer marketing, interactive webinars, tailored email campaigns, virtual campus tours and effective data analytics. By putting these practical strategies into practice, universities can forge successful connections with prospective applicants.

Archana R. Nayak the assistant director of marketing at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India.

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