Content Marketing Popularity
While content marketing has long been a popular tactic for organizations in B2B and B2C industries, the practice has been much slower to take hold among higher education institutions. That may be changing.
As student demographics continue to shift—several studies indicate a severe drop in traditional 18-year-old college applicants by 2032—many institutions are focusing on non-traditional undergraduate students as well as increasing enrollment in graduate, professional, and continuing education programs.
The problem with targeting these students is that common admissions tactics, such as list buying and college fairs, aren’t viable options for building a student prospect pool.
For starters, adult undergraduate students are less likely than their high school counterparts to attend college fairs or take a standardized college entrance exam like the SAT or ACT, a theme that will undoubtedly become more common as more schools become test optional.
Today, 79 percent of prospective students turn to search engines first to research their college options, according to a joint report from Wiley Education Services and Ranku. And two out of three students use search queries that are non-branded, or don’t include the name of a specific college.
At the graduate level, many programs are waiving GRE requirements. DePaul University, for example, offers over 175 graduate degree programs, many of which do not require the GRE or GMAT exam. That trend is partially fueled by recent challenges in attracting international students to the U.S. But many institutions, including highly-selective business schools, are facing a shift in demand, as more students are interested in shorter, specialized graduate programs at the expense of traditional programs, like the two-year MBA.
Of course, even for the traditional undergraduate and graduate student market, conventional marketing tactics have become less effective. Fewer students provide data when taking standardized tests and those who do provide incorrect data on important questions. If the family income is incorrect, schools might be marketing to students who aren’t actually in their target audience.
Just as importantly, students are more adept at ignoring unwanted messages and performing sophisticated independent research. Today, 79 percent of prospective students turn to search engines first to research their college options, according to a joint report from Wiley Education Services and Ranku. And two out of three students use search queries that are non-branded, or don’t include the name of a specific college. The same report claims prospective students are searching early and often, and completing 3,000+ digital touchpoints before submitting a single lead form.
In our new digital reality, the key for higher education marketers is learning how to resonate with students while ranking in Google. And while many schools optimize key web pages, like academic program pages, for SEO, leading institutions like the University of Notre Dame, University of Oregon, Northeastern University, and Harvard University go above and beyond by using content marketing to increase their organic inbound traffic.
Wait, What Is Content Marketing?
Naturally, the definition is different depending on who you ask. One definition that hits the mark for us defines it as “The creation and distribution of journalistic, helpful, audience-focused material that ultimately increases customer acquisition.”
There are three key phrases in this definition that are important to consider: journalistic, helpful, and audience-focused. Successful content marketing isn’t a sales pitch in disguise and it isn’t boastful in nature. It has genuine value, shared in a compelling way, and provided altruistically to your target audience (The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook is an example of content marketing). Hopefully, the content ultimately increases customer, or student, acquisition, but not in the same way a direct-response search ad or email campaign does.
The Key to Developing a Content Marketing Strategy
A successful content marketing strategy relies on audience insights. After all, if you don’t know what your audience cares about or struggles with, it’s hard to write about it.
Content marketers typically rely on formal research methods to uncover content topics. That starts with primary research, such as user surveys, focus groups, and qualitative interviews. But often, those activities are supplemented by interviews with front-facing administrators and allies, like admissions counselors, financial aid professionals, tour guides, and guidance counselors.
These primary research activities are incredibly useful in identifying core topics and questions to guide your content marketing efforts, but they also contain fundamental flaws. From selection bias to questionable sample sizes to filtered feedback and subjectivity, clean data can be hard to come by, despite your best intentions.
How to Use Social Listening for Audience Insights
Using social listening can provide you with a goldmine of content ideas. The information obtained is authentic—these ideas are not self-reported through formal, controlled environments—and relevant, since the data collected is happening in real-life and real-time. So how can you use social listening to gain insights?