Why online marketing is important for your school - Warren and Bridget talk. Graduation image.

 

22
November
2021

Online Marketing is important not only for your business, or your nonprofit. It’s also important for your school.

Bridget Willard’s and my third book, the final one in the three-book online marketing series, comes out in December, so we wanted to talk about online marketing for schools. Specifically, the three things that are important when thinking about your online marketing.

Online marketing for schools, one, two, three

These three marketing basics go for everyone: schools, businesses, nonprofits, even your lemonade stand.

  1. Generate Customers (via SEO/Social Media)
  2. Capture Customers ( via Website, but also could be Social Media)
  3. Nurture Customers (via Email, for example)

What are you going to do first? Right. You need to generate an audience, who will hopefully be potential customers. In the case of a school, students mostly, but it could be donors, researchers, partners – a great number of different people. In any business, you’ve got to generate leads. That’s the first thing.

Second thing, once you’ve generated those leads, you need to capture them. Don’t let them run away to another school offering the same programs at a lower price. Show people your school’s unique selling/service points (USPs).

And the third thing is once you’ve captured your leads, is to nurture them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a donut shop, a university, a nonprofit donut shop, or a nonprofit university. If you don’t take care of your customers, they will leave.

Sometimes email nurturing means someone who signed up for the Harvard Business Review, and from there signed up to audit an online class. Do you know what they do next? Right. They order a Harvard tee shirt and post a selfie wearing it on Instagram.

Build it and Some People Will Come

How do you first generate interest in your school and the programs you’re offering? You make sure you’re well covered in social media. You make sure you’re well covered for search engine optimization. Once you’ve got people’s attention, they’re going to go onto your website.

I want to mention that it may be different for schools that have a name and a reputation. That’s the same if we are looking for a favourite brand or well-known brand. We may go directly to Amazon or the Prada or the Nike website. If we already know a brand or a school, we don’t need to discover them. We just go straight to their website.

I think a lot of parents and a lot of students do this with schools as well. If they’ve got a school in mind, they’re going to go right to the school’s website and bypass looking for a program in Google or listen to what their friends are saying on social media.

Why Online Marketing is Still Important for the Big Boys and Girls

If you’re Harvard, MIT, Notre Dame, and schools of that size, then you don’t really need the discovery value placed on your website. However, if you’re Notre Dame and now you offer a new online MBA program, that would be different.

If you want to get people to sign up around the world then SEO and your website, together with social media, are going to be important.

With the huge shift to online education, we now see ads for universities far afield from our local ones. We maybe don’t know that they even have online programs. We’re seeing native ads on CNN, Social Media ads, as well as Google ads when we search for things.

Online programs have changed how schools market themselves. Price structures are different. Admission dates are different. You can take as many classes in six months as you want to, which is completely different than the traditional semester-based model. It’s very different.

Getting that audience, especially when a lot of employers are doing tuition reimbursement, means you want your online courses to be discoverable.

Schools have been the bigger piece of our attention for the longest time. A school is a brand that we’re going to be very involved with for many years. We might connect with brands during these years, but it’s highly unlikely that in all the years we are at school that we’re going to be involved with the same brands. We won’t. We will switch when there’s something trending. The one constant in our lives is the schools that we attend.

Using Email Nurturing as a Discovery Mechanism

Being discoverable can also be a part of the email nurturing process. As a school, you’re going to nurture season ticket holders to your events, whether it be football or your ballet. You’re going to also be nurturing the staff too. In fact, you’re an entire community. Sometimes that Email nurturing is simply someone who signed up for the Harvard Business Review, and from there signed up to audit an online class. Do you know what they do next? Right. They order a Harvard tee shirt and post a selfie on Instagram.

Social Media is Not Real Life

Like we need to tell you this. The scary thing is that often it feels like real life. Over social media, we may actually build relationships and activate our community when we engage with them on social media.

With online courses, the idea of a semester, or an academic year, is no longer important. That’s an important USP. When people are looking for an online program, or hear about one, this is when your SEO kicks in.  When they talk about your online courses, they’re doing that on social media.

(Website) Content is Still King

As far as the website goes, the information there needs to be accurate, and it needs to be valuable. That’s why blogs are so important. Your website offers added value 24/7, even when you the school marketer are at home asleep.

Why am I choosing this institution for my master’s in accounting? What do you offer over anybody else? It can’t be just the price. Is it I’m making friends for life? Do you have a mentor? Who’s going to help me with the CPA exam? Can I do this with a full workload? Will you help me fill out my FAFSA forms or scholarships? A lot of schools talk about their job placement.  

These are the things people are looking for.

Your website can’t just be generic. It can’t just be, “this is our schools or classes”.  I think we really have to double down on the basics.

(New Products) Content is Now Queen

For schools what’s important, and that’s changed over the last few years specifically, when it comes to the academic year, is that the traditional academic year has been blown out of the water. If you’re looking at an online course, you can start any time. If I want to take a business course at work, and when I qualify and I’ve got the money, then I sign in from wherever I am and I can start the program pretty much when I like.

With online courses, the idea of a semester, or an academic year, is no longer important. That’s an important USP. When people are looking for an online program, or hear about one, this when your SEO kicks in.

Talking about these new educational products, well, there are endless possibilities for that on social media, whether you’re doing brand awareness or you’re using social media for regeneration. Online courses are very interesting for alumni, seniors, people looking to do further training. It’s completely open.

Your Homepage is Maybe Not So Important

We always say, don’t put so much emphasis on your homepage because that’s maybe like 10% of your total website traffic. Your visitors are spread throughout your website. For a university, this is important because you’re probably going to get students land smack in the middle of your website, depending on where you are on the educational ladder.

If you’re a top university you’re going to have students first landing on a microsite run by a researcher or faculty member who’s looking for candidates for their research group. At the first rungs of the ladder where you’ve got maybe a local primary school with a two- or three-page website. Maybe the first page people are landing is the admissions form because that’s the most competitive thing to worry about. People have to get started early, so they look for that page.

I think that school websites become very interesting because of all the things you can do with them, and all the different needs they answer.

Communicate. That’s it. That’s the Headline

Email is a personal, useful way to get information across, especially if this thing is going to be something to download or links. Don’t send me a PowerPoint presentation in the WhatsApp group. I want that in an email.

Email is often a neglected part of school marketing. For some reason, it’s still very neglected. I don’t know if it’s that people are concerned about data protection, or if they’re concerned about privacy issues.

As a parent, I can tell you that with all the technology available, we are more connected than ever.  We have a WhatsApp group, an online learning platform, a website, and an email address, as well as a telephone number. So, five ways of connecting with the school. There are still so many things that I’m not aware of because we’re not getting the right sort of information.

The number of emails that come through is not small, but the information in the email is information that would have been completely fine to add on one of the websites for parents. Email is being used, but it’s not being used effectively.

Email is a personal, useful way to get information across, especially if this thing is going to be something to download or links. Don’t send me a PowerPoint presentation in the WhatsApp group. I want that in an email.

Using the Right Tools for the Right Job

There’s still a lot always a lot of online marketing potential – whether it be for generating, capturing, or nurturing your audience. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about businesses, nonprofits, or schools.

I think schools have had the bigger piece of our attention for the longest time and should take advantage of this more. We will be in a primary school for seven years, in high school for five, and university, for four to seven or more. A school is a brand that they’re going to be very involved with and in their formative years.

We might connect with brands of clothes or brands of drinks or whatever, during these years, but it’s highly unlikely that in all the years we are at school that we’re going to be involved with the same brands. We won’t. We will switch every year, or at least when there’s something new trending.

The one constant in our lives is the schools that we attend. That’s a huge responsibility and a huge chance.

Tags – click for more posts on these topics

branding | content marketing | email marketing | marketing | nonprofits | schools | SEO | small business | social media | website

With thanks for the image to Adrian Dascal on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/@dascal