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Written by What's the Word, Inc.
on February 01, 2018

Keywords: Digital Marketing, School Marketing, Enrollment Growth

The alarm is sounding across the board. Charter schools are fighting tooth and nail for every new student. College enrollment is dropping steadily, and private school enrollment rates have taken a nosedive off the high board. While some schools are thriving despite this painful truth, others are struggling to keep their doors open. 

Many have reached out to ask: what's the difference between a thriving school and a failing school in this difficult enrollment climate? Is it school choice? A rich history? Updated facilities?

In many cases, the answer is actually much simpler. 

If you've done everything you can think of, but still can't boost enrollment and grow your student roster, you may simply be presenting yourself wrong. 

The way prospective students and families research, discover, and compare their education options has changed significantly over the last 20 years. To be effective, the basis for any growth strategy must be digital. 

There are three reasons marketing your school to attract new students has become more difficult. 

Marketing has changed. Traditional marketing methods are no longer effective, even when presented online. Your commercials, billboards, and print ads are roundly ignored. And consumers are so invested in avoiding your disruptive online advertisements they're willing to pay to block them.

While traditional marketing is designed to disrupt and steal the attention of a broad audience, modern marketing is something altogether different. The updated marketer seeks to attract a highly targeted audience with helpful, relevant information.

Students have changed. Prospective students and their families are busier than ever before. Which doesn't leave much time to get to know your school in person before making a decision about who to trust. 

More and more, prospective students are dependent on the internet to get the personal insights into an institution that help them make decisions about their education. For most, your online presence is your first and only chance to make a good impression. And that's a competitive field. 

Expectations have changed. Digital convenience has become a cultural imperative. As free time becomes more and more a commodity, your prospects develop an ever greater need to be able to access helpful information at their convenience. 

Expecting prospects to call you during your business hours - their busiest hours - and hope you can tell them not only what to do, but what to ask to find out how to proceed is dysfunctional. It's inefficient for them, and it's incredibly inefficient for your school. 

There are five steps you can take to improve your marketing outcomes and boost enrollment right now.

1. Analyze your target market.

The first step in any marketing campaign should be market research. In this case, however, your job is to analyze your target audiences' painpoints both as they pertain to your school and otherwise. Because your goal is to develop a strong relationship with prospective students that nurtures them toward enrolling at your school, your conversations should span as many topics relevant to them as possible. 

The more you know about your prospects personally, the better you can create content they relate to. The better you prove you understand them, their needs, and their expectations. 

There are eight critical steps to creating buyer personas that really work. Learn more about the process here.  Once you know what your prospects need from day to day, you know how to relate to them on their terms. 

2. Align your message with their needs.

The key to an effective digital marketing strategy is value. You have a strong identity and you are proud of the great programs your school offers. So? How does that affect prospective students? Why are your offers valuable to your prospects? 

This is not an invitation to explain how great you are in greater detail. Frankly, it doesn't matter how great you are. What matters is what you can do for your students. 

Create a content plan that aligns with your prospects' needs. Start with a centralized topic, and expand on that topic in greater detail with supporting content. This method is an effective as SEO strategy as well. 

 

Click here to read The Digital Marketing Handbook for Schools and Educators

 

3. Present your message where they'll find it.

Ultimately, you want your prospective students to be able to find you online, which means a strong SEO strategy. However, your content should be prevalent wherever your prospects are active online.  

Once you've created something of value to your target audience, share it extensively on social media.  Be sure to repurpose your message for each platform. What makes a post attractive on Facebook may not resonate with the same audience on Pinterest or Instagram. 

Not everything you post on social media has to be about you. Remember, the point of leveraging social media is the advantage of real-time conversation. Share whatever your audience might find interesting. And be sure to get a conversation going around it. 

4. Tell them what to do next.

Everything you create, whether on your website or social media, should include a call to action (CTA) to guide your audience toward next steps. If you post a link to your new blog post on social media, clicking on the link may seem intuitive. But the extra encouragement of a CTA can help createa sense of urgency to nudge your audience toward taking immediate action.

Everything on your website should include a CTA for an appropriate next step. By "appropriate," we mean relative to the content at hand. If you share a video on how to fry bacon, a CTA to "enroll now" may not be appropriate. But a CTA inviting viewers to watch other cooking videos on your culinary arts program website might be ideal. 

 5. Align your marketing and recruiting efforts. 

In the steps up to this point you've learned to understand your prospective students, appeal to them through helpful, relevant content, and guide them toward beneficial nexts steps. All of these efforts can be summarized as nurturing. 

Your responsibility to nurture your audience from tentative prospects to proud students does not end when they schedule time with a recruiter. As a matter of fact, letting the ball drop in recruiting makes every other effort worthless. 

Aligning your marketing and recruiting efforts vastly improves your overall success. From the student's perspective, this alignment keeps your message and interactions consistent, which instills trust. 

From the institution's perspective, this alignment ensures the efficient use of resources between depeartments. 

But how can you tell if it's working?

Measuring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is vital. You want to know everything you can about who is interacting with your marketing content, how frequently, and the results of those interactions. 

Keeping track of this information can help you ensure you're focusing on the most effective marketing outlets. It lets you know if there's a step in the process where prospects are bottling up and how to change your strategy to get them moving again. Data can give you insight into how well your SEO strategy has been executed, and help you determine if your social media efforts are seeing results. 

Ultimately, the strength of your marketing efforts is only as great as the data they're founded upon. A great CRM and full stack analytics software can make all the difference in your marketing success. 

Have you been thinking about developing a digital marketing strategy but don't know where to start? Or perhaps you've got some pieces in place, and you're ready to bring it all together?

Read The Digital Marketing Handbook for Schools and Educators now, no download necessary. 

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