Digital student recruitment in the time of coronavirus

By Elise Hodge
shutterstock_1697168977Image: Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock
 

Alternatives to traditional student recruitment

 

With the coronavirus moving the higher education world entirely online, universities and colleges alike are finding themselves having to continuously adjust to the ever-changing landscape. One of the most fundamental areas that’s rapidly changing is student recruitment. Where recruiters have traditionally attracted new students through on-campus events and tours as well as in high schools and local communities, they must now shift focus to online activities.

So, what does this look like for your university or college? In this article, we’re exploring four alternatives to traditional recruitment activities that will serve you now and into the future, once the pandemic has subsided.

1.Shift your marketing budget to digital & boost it.

With a large proportion of the world currently practicing social distancing, many recruiting events for 2020 have been postponed or cancelled. This means now is the time to examine your marketing budget and make the necessary adjustments, if you haven't already. While adjustments are most definitely required, it is perhaps not the time to make drastic reductions to your marketing budget. Instead, look to increasing efforts on any activities that will mitigate or offset the impact of COVID-19 on future recruitment, and implement digital marketing to replace physical activities where available.

The universities that will see the most success during this time are the ones that continue to be consistent with the right marketing mix for the situation at hand, keeping their courses to the front of mind of their potential student audience in the most effective manner.

A study by Singular found that 73% of marketing leaders are increasing their marketing efforts during this time. The study found that they are reallocating 28% toward more online advertising, 18% for more content marketing, 15% on organic growth and 12% on social media marketing. With so many people using the internet more than ever before, a great place to start is to review your current online marketing strategy to ensure you continue to reach new students.

When it comes to advertising to an international student base, you will need to approach this slightly differently. First, consider the countries and regions that you have already successfully recruited from. Secondly, take into account any cultural differences to ensure design and wording are effective. Thirdly, tailor your message to the current global crisis. Include messaging about flexible learning options or opportunities to study from home for the first year, where available. Look to the needs of your potential students, and form a communications strategy to support this.

2. Enhance your email marketing and digital commmunication

As the physical become restricted, email marketing offers a great opportunity for direct access to prospective students and their families. With 76% of high school students ranking email as their preferred medium for communicating with colleges in the United States regarding admissions procedures, now is the time to pump it up!

You can kickstart your email database by offering website visitors a useful education "freebie" or download, such as an essential college checklist. From there, you can deliver a simple series of emails that introduce prospective students to your university. For example, one email could contain information about scholarships, the other about campus tours, the other could share current student stories, and the other highlight FAQs and invite replies. If you have videos to include, then even better.

3. Connect & be active on social media

While email is great for communicating important pieces of information, social media is where students like to "hang out" and spend a lot of their time. Instagram is a great place for universities to engage with prospective students, share alumni stories and provide valuable tips. The marketers behind the University of Queensland’s Instagram account are regularly sharing handy study-from-home tips, showing they are in-touch and empathetic to what their students are going through.

Indiana University is re-sharing videos from its students’ time at home, with one clip of a student playing violin amassing over 19,000 views. You can recreate this online experience by encouraging your students to share their study-from-home experiences and tag your Instagram handle in their Stories. This content can then be re-shared to your social media accounts to connect with prospective students in an authentic way.

4. Create virtual experiences 

Who says a campus tour has to be in person? While students can’t travel to campuses at the moment, many universities are hosting virtual tours. The University of Massachusetts Lowell is holding virtual welcome days for students and their families to learn about their majors, as well as internships, research opportunities and more. The interactive online event involves faculty and staff, so students can better understand the programs and options available to them.

Creating a virtual tour is not only beneficial for now, but it’s also a new system that will serve you in years to come, even after life returns to normal. Students and families who may not have normally been able to afford multiple trips to campuses, especially those interstate, will appreciate the ease of being able to familiarise themselves with the facilities and grounds from the comfort of their own home.

While it is crucial that higher education organizations pivot their recruitment activities to reach students in this unprecedented time, the impact of efforts may be diminished if messaging is not adapted to the situation at hand. Universities must not be afraid to convey empathy and understanding in their marketing efforts, because it is this genuine approach that will leave a lasting impression on new students both now and in the future.

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