You might not expect something with a title that dry to be thrilling for me to write, but it is.
[Note: This post may read as a bit of a “stream of consciousness” on the state of higher ed communications, so please forgive the tangents. Speaking of tangents, here’s a running list of things I’ve worked on since I began working in higher ed communications four years ago.]
Four years ago I was completing a project I had been working on all summer – brainstorming ideas, scripting questions, location scouting, casting, and interviewing compelling characters for a video series at Mount Allison University. I had just completed my first social media audit (sorry, it’s cover only because the full report has some proprietary information), and wanted to put my recommendations into actions. With some general oversight (and videography done by a co-worker), I went about helping to create a video series for incoming students in hopes of reducing summer melt by quelling their fears and answering some of their questions without them having to ask. We made a total of 20 videos and shared them over the month of August.
While it’s not easy to connect watching a video to a certain action (as Google’s various attribution models would attest even for simple transactions), we did set up a systematic approach to sharing the videos (via the website, social channels, and yes, even old-fashioned emails) and reporting on the effectiveness of the campaign with some basic metrics. Before long we attracted the attention of Academica Group, an equivalent Canada has to mStoner with their Top 10 emails going to thousands of leaders in higher ed research and marketing. [Here’s the reaction from #PSEweb leaders. It was pretty cool to see a project I worked so much on get a positive response.]
[Side note: It was four years ago at Mount Allison that I began working professionally in higher ed marketing and when I could first verbalize why knew I wanted to do it as a career.]
Expectations of digital marketing efforts of college-bound students, (as described in the industry-standard E-Expectations report) he internet has changed dramatically since 2011, video becoming a more and more useful source of information for prospective students. Colleges and universities, then, have (and have to) become more thoughtful in the way they measure the effectiveness of campaigns beyond number of views. I wrote about how one can infer quality, relevance and other important insights from a video’s metrics (with YouTube’s video analytics).
In addition to improved video metric reporting over time, social media campaign effectiveness has come into the spotlight. As prospective students turn to social media (with 60% of seniors seeing it as a reliable source of information), thoughtful engagement (and, of increasing importance, conversion) strategies and analysis have become more sophisticated.
To really stay ahead of the competition online, schools need to reach beyond their immediate circles and learn from the experts in the field, which often means going beyond your industry. I for one, have been doing my best to learn from that advice. I’ve read analytics, content marketing, and analytics books and blogs from beyond the silos independent school and higher ed marketers can find themselves in. It’s not a matter of becoming a coder or taking on another category of job duties, but taking the best advice from people who do digital analytics for a living. Beyond day-to-day reading to inform how I keep organized and efficient, I’ve also made a commitment to never stop learning.
Since starting at FCS and helping to launch our new website, I’ve taking advanced Google Analytics training from LunaMetrics, learned what the top CASE colleges and universities in the region are doing through a CASE D2 Scholarship, reviewed and became re-certified in AdWords ahead of the Fall admission ‘season’, and am currently reviewing HTML and re-learning CSS to make sure our landing pages are the best they can be.
Competition for students among private schools is not forecasted to lessen any time soon. As higher ed has had to adapt to changing realities, the responsibility of having a effective web presence has moved from being an IT webmaster’s problem to more of a communication issue. Do any search of what used to be one job in communications, say, “writer”, and you’ll see the role has become a “Web Writer and Content Strategist” who, in addition to “developing and implementing institutional social media strategy”, now is required to have an understanding of different content management systems, HTML, and Google Analytics.
Indeed, at some institutions, the responsibility for the website has been entirely subsumed by admissions and is placed into the hands of a Manager of Online Recruitment and Web Communication. This is no doubt a writing role, however, the requirement of having “strong copywriting and editing skills” coming 9th to others, including working with a CMS, experience in online marketing, PPC advertising, and HTML.
All of the above and more is why I’m proud to work at an institution that is aware of the changing nature of web development/communications/enrollment marketing and invests in a position like mine to ensure that the school’s mission is heard above the digital noise. While the ‘disruption’ seen in higher education is not going to be experienced the same way in independent schools, I’m glad to be learning how to stay ahead of whichever curve we’re on by learning from higher ed marketing experts at EduWeb Digital Summit in Chicago in a couple weeks (thanks to the school and a conference registration fee waiver provided by the conference organizers).
I’m excited to learn more about how best to keep telling our institutions’ stories in ways that reach and engage our target audiences where they are. I think sessions like “”How to Use YouTube and Hangouts on Air for Creating Differentiated Video Content” will help us get the most out of and improve upon what we’ve already done with Hangouts on Air (like our live-streamed Hour of Code Assembly).
What are you doing this summer to do things better this fall?