I was recently asked to provide a marketing strategy to a Melbourne-based school/college and I must say the exercise uncovered a few shortfalls.
Is it a stretch to assume that schools and colleges would be ahead of small business when it comes to marketing in the current environment? After all they’re given the hefty responsibility to educate the future. Unfortunately, what I found was a number of schools and colleges with little presence online, that use local newspaper as their primary means of communicating and attracting student enrolments.
This post I hope is just an opportunity for some in the industry to take notice and seek to make some change. There are some great opportunities out there for schools and colleges to build on their branding, improve their communications and ultimately encourage more enrolments.
Here are ten marketing ideas that schools and colleges can implement NOW.
1. IMPROVE YOUR WEBSITE
A school’s website is going to be a valuable and very important asset. It will generally require much more information and provide more flexibility than many small to medium business websites. For this reason, it may take a large budget to start from scratch, for this reason I suggest taking stock and trying to make changes to improve navigation, search engine performance and internal communications.
Just a couple of things to look out for:
- What are the primary reasons for people visiting your site? How long does it take for them to get that info? Quicker the better of course
- Have you got all of the relevant contacts? If you already have social media are they linked? If you are distributing an e-newsletter is there a subscription form?
- Is the information up to date? This is a must, we all hate seeing outdated info
2. SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION
Search engines are so important to any business and it is no different in this case, in fact if you’re thinking it’s not a business you’re already behind the eight ball.
We Google everything these days. Let’s say you’re a parent moving into a new area and you’re looking for schools for your kids, what do you Google? I can tell you that 550,000 people worldwide and 12,000 in Australia each year Google ‘Best School in …..’ each year. (Info supplied by Google Keyword Tool)
How does your school rank in the search engines when you search best school in your area? Does it get on the first page? If not then you have some serious work to do. In my research for the school I mentioned, I found that so many local schools and colleges had very little content online to improve their search engine performance. It is an indication that a lot of improvement is required but also that a great opportunity exists.
SEO is generally outsourced but you can start yourself by simply building third-party listings to generate more backlinks. Be careful however, it is a good idea to only use trusted, relevant listings. I’m not on Google’s payroll but I have to admit that a well-optimised Google Places listing is probably the first and best place to start.
3. GOOGLE ADWORDS
Ideally you would love to get by on organic search engine results alone but sometimes this will not be the case, particularly if you need immediate results.
Be warned, it can be addictive to some and it can get expensive If you do not go into it with a strategy. So set a daily budget you’re comfortable with, prioritise the keywords you want to target and start writing the copy. Know what the keywords are likely to cost per click, how will this work for your budget? Perhaps you need to trim the number of keywords.
There are so many tips and tricks for Adwords but here a just a couple:
- Have the ad send the user to the applicable landing page of your website
- Keep the ad copy as relevant as possible to the keyword – It will keep cost per click down
- Monitor keyword performance at least a couple times a week to ensure you get the most from the budget
Remember, it can be expensive but in the business of enrolments, how many students do you need to enrol to cover the cost of your Adwords campaigns? Of course the real trick is to ensure you know what results you are getting from the advertising.
It certainly needs no introduction but I will mention that Facebook has more than 600 million members worldwide and just short of 10 million members in Australia. Actually I also love mentioning that the average age of a Facebook user is 38 (most people think it’s a lot younger).
Facebook is great for businesses and brands to create an online community and generate conversation. For a school or college it can be another vehicle to provide information to parents, families and students. Upload videos, post events, run polls, ask questions and generally improve communications.
The goal in this instance is to create a community for parents and students. This will likely mean creating two separate pages. I should also mention social media is also fantastic for search engine performance.
5. FACEBOOK ADVERTISING
There is more than enough people on Facebook for you to leverage your marketing strategy but people have to know about the page. Facebook advertising is one great way to get the word out there and like Google Adwords, advertising with Facebook has tremendous flexibility and it could be used to advertise to prospective students and parents fitting the target audience.
Advertising can be as general as looking for enrolments or more specifically advertising an Open Day. You can target parents in a particular age group that live within 20km from your school. Of course the advertising gives you exposure and will build your Facebook following along the way, which gives you more shots down the line.
LinkedIn is a social media tool with the key aim to provide a vehicle for professionals to network online. It doesn’t sound relevant does it? Give me a minute and I might just convince you that it has a place.
LinkedIn has launched company profiles and this provides a great opportunity for a school or college to create their own profile. It will be great for your search engine performance and a school is a great way to encourage individuals to connect, bringing me to another key benefit.
Starting a school or college LinkedIn group and encourage ex-students to join. If this LinkedIn group can help to bring ex-students together in a professional manner then it will strengthen the relationship with the school and help to improve its image and brand.
Email newsletters are low-cost, mass distributed promotional and communication tools. Whilst not providing the real-time information that is available through search engines and social media, email newsletters provide a subtle promotional/communication tool. Email newsletters should be monthly, provide value to its subscribers and importantly provide the option to unsubscribe. Do it properly and go through a service provider such as Mail Chimp.
8. ONLINE VIDEO
Online video is one of the most powerful communication and promotional tools available. Whilst up-front production and editing cost is involved to produce a professional video, it can be distributed to a mass audience with no ongoing costs. When compared to the costs involved with a print advertisement (incl artwork) and the fact that print has a short lifespan, video is a more affordable and effective alternative.
Upload your video to YouTube and start your own YouTube channel, upload it to your Facebook and LinkedIn pages, use QR Codes to encourage more viewing or send it out via an e-newsletter.
Let’s just say you didn’t get both parents to the Open Day and Mum goes home having been convinced of the experience, what does she do? She gives Dad a heap of your (expensive) brochures but does he get the same experience? No. But what if you showed him a 90-second video? It is more powerful and more effective.
9. OFFLINE/ONLINE INTEGRATION
Whilst I have chosen to focus on the online opportunities, it is imperative to integrate online and offline by using your current communication tools to promote your online efforts. Tip: If you’re going to advertise in the local newspaper then at least include your web address.
For instance, promoting your Facebook page, your e-newsletter, your LinkedIn profile and group and your online videos. Here are just a few suggestions:
- All significant outdoor signage should have your website as a minimum, it wouldn’t hurt to have a ‘Find us on Facebook’ logo
- Envelopes going out to parents could also have details for Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and Blog
- Communication going out to parents should have an option to subscribe to the e-newsletter
- Utilise QR Codes on printed material to gain ‘Likes’ on Facebook, send parents directly to a specific landing page on the website and more..
There are so many ways in which a school or college can help to integrate the online and the offline. Once it’s done properly you will be amazed at how quickly you get results.
Perhaps more relevant to secondary schools, blogging is the perfect tool for establishing knowledge in the marketplace and it provides a valuable tool to improve search engine performance.
Posts specific to various education topics could be contributed by the Principal, whilst staff and students could be engaged to write guest posts. The blog posts can be utilised to address any issues that prospective parents may have with the college and be used to further promote progressive policies.
Imagine the opportunity to assist in developing students’ journalism prospects and the promotional value in having students published.
I seriously had so many ideas for schools to capitalise but these are the ten that made the list. At the end of the day, as a school looking to influence parents and encourage students, you must communicate better than you have in the past. You have to be more creative and more innovative.
If you have any comments to my ideas, love them or hate them, or if you have any other ideas then please comment. It’s always great to hear from people within the industry and hear their thoughts and ideas.