Listening to your students and parents informs your content strategy and ultimately leads to conversions.
by Will Patch, Niche Enrollment Marketing Leader
Social media can be one of the easiest ways to amplify your institution’s voice and change perception in the eyes of prospective students and parents, but it can be easy to get it wrong, too. Enter: social listening.
To be clear—listening is very different from hearing. If you’re listening to what students and parents ask, say, and share, you can build tactical responses to help them as well as the hundreds or thousands of their peers with the same questions, enthusiasm, or concerns they haven’t voiced yet. Hearing is simply noting what is said and moving on without celebrating the wins or addressing the opportunities for improvement.
Listening to Inform Content and Messaging
Listening to your most important audiences provides insight into both what they need and want to know about you, and what they say about you. Both of these play an important role in your content strategy. What are they excited about? What are they concerned about? Answering these in an unprompted way in your outreach and marketing positions you as a resource and supporter.
Using user-generated content (UGC) in your digital ads, emails, and marketing materials is a great way to connect and show that your admission staff aren’t the only people who love your institution. Providing proof points from people your audiences relate to is crucial to building affinity. Incorporating these into your strategy highlights your value and the experiences of different segments of your study body. Reviews from Niche, Google My Business, or Facebook can provide unsolicited feedback to help tell your story.
In “normal” times, financial aid can be one of your biggest sources of complaints and appreciation online. This past fall, 68% of students enrolling in college told Niche that they ruled out colleges because of the sticker price. In Social Listening for Admissions Insights: February 2021, we see the social proof. Students want to attend college, but when they see the total cost—prior to the aid they will receive at most institutions—some turned to asking celebrities and strangers for money. This online panhandling is their response to not having the real or perceived resources. What if your college stepped in with better information about actual cost?
To take that one step further, what if you used current students to answer questions and point to resources?
Listening to Inform Engagement
Remember, listening without action is only hearing. You need to listen to what is said, and in what context, to inform how you respond and adapt your active outreach.
While most of the conversations occur on social media, and largely on Twitter, you should also have a plan for prospective students and parents in online forums, and for addressing concerns and the goldmine of social proof found in online reviews. Will your office, or student ambassadors, engage with students and parents who ask questions on Reddit or College Confidential? It’s much better to have informed responses than allow the speculation that often takes place in response threads.
Athletics conversations dominate admitted student mentions, but aren’t used to the fullest extent. These mentions are great opportunities to engage and leverage the enthusiasm of student-athletes to connect with other students considering your institution. Engage with them by offering congratulations or sharing hype videos and resources, use their content in UGC campaigns and remarketing, and connect them with each other.
A bigger question and opportunity sits beside this though—how can you generate this level of engagement in the rest of your students? Ultimately, whether they receive scholarships or not, part of the reason there are so many conversations surrounding incoming student-athletes is in the identity. They’re not only joining your institution, they have a second affinity point in their team. How can you create this relationship elsewhere?
Fine and performing arts are ripe for this type of identity. Some colleges or departments within a university create this type of connection, but not many. There needs to be meaning, and even a bit of swagger, with joining your institution and their cohort. Treat these areas as you would athletics. Create special graphics, social shares, hype videos, and amplify the traditions that exist in other programs. Find the swagger and help students discover and share the identity, turning your recruits into your recruiters.
Bring them Together
Social listening insights can be a tremendous asset to your planning, testing, and optimization of your outreach. Build an internal plan for social listening to inform your content, messaging, and audience engagement strategies to ultimately lead to conversion. One of the best decisions you can make for your future enrollment is to listen to students and parents, rather than only hearing them or ignoring their online voices.