It’s official. Back-to-school season is upon us; congratulations to the enrolling class of the 2018-2019 school year. For months now, university and college admissions departments across the nation have been reviewing applications, sifting through test scores, and conducting in-person interviews to find the ideal students. For many institutions of higher education though, fall enrollment is just one opportunity to capture new students. The spring enrollment push is fast approaching and with it, a new marketing tactic for driving student enrollment: advocacy marketing.
What is an Advocacy Marketing Program?
Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens of universities and colleges from around the world, supporting their advocacy marketing programs. Some universities use the SocialToaster advocacy marketing platform to support their Giving Days, while others use it to bolster student athletic programs. Even more, university and college admissions departments use advocacy marketing to help drive student enrollment.
And it works.
Prospective seniors and juniors are more likely to consider attending institutions that utilize email, test, or social media in their communication strategy. They want to attend schools they see as being familiar with current technologies. An advocacy marketing program combines multiple levels of desired communication to help your educational institution reach prospective students through their favorite communication mediums.
But what exactly is an advocacy marketing program?
Advocacy Marketing 101
At its simplest, an advocacy marketing program is a formal marketing program that supports and empowers your school’s biggest fans to share your latest marketing content.
Interested fans join your program (usually managed through a third-party tool like SocialToaster) by signing up with their preferred social media profile. Once they join the program, you’ll be able to send them new content pieces that they can then directly share onto their personal social networks. The platform handles the creation the post, your advocates just have to give permission to have the post published to their networks.
We’ve found that each advocate is connected to between 500 and 600 individuals; this means that for every 1,000 advocates in your program, you have the potential of reaching up to 600,000 individuals with your marketing messages.
For enrollment, that could mean hundreds of thousands of potential new students.
Top Reasons Students Transfer Schools
Roughly one-third of students at a two- or four-year educational institution will transfer to a new school. Before you go marketing to all these potential spring transfers, you first should identify why someone would change universities or colleges in the first place. While every student’s transfer situation is unique, common reasons for transferring schools mid-year include:
- Costs: Transferring to a lower cost (or sometimes higher costs depending on scholarships) institution
- Homesickness: Being too far from family and childhood friends
- Social Scene: Maybe the student is having a hard time developing a social network in their current school
- Academics and Degree Support: The student may not be challenged by their coursework or may have decided to switch to a major that their current school doesn’t support
For students that aren’t transferring, but simply opting to begin their first year at a university or college in the spring, the reasons could include:
- Taking a bit more personal time before committing to a degree
- Saving money to afford spring tuition
- Assisting with family-related matters
Once your admission department’s marketing team understands the in-market trigger points for choosing to enroll in spring, you can create an advocacy marketing strategy that speaks to those points.
Launch a University and College Admissions Advocacy Program
So your team has crunched the numbers, done the research and is ready to move forward with implementing an advocacy marketing program. What now? Below are four key factors to consider when putting your program into effect.
1) Program Launch Timing
Typically, it can take 30-60 days to launch an advocacy marketing program, though at SocialToaster, we work hand-to-hand with our university and college clients to launch their program as quickly as possible.
This means that if you start building your program in September, you’ll be able to start sending content through your advocates as soon as October, which gives your university and college admissions department plenty of time to start sharing your marketing messages with potential spring enrollees.
2) Program Launch Recruitment
When it comes to choosing which school to attend, prospective students rely on several outside influencers including:
- Current Students
- Career Counselors
For your advocacy marketing program to be successful, your university and college admissions department should focus on recruiting advocates from these core audiences. After all, in an advocacy marketing program, your efforts are targeted towards not just your advocates but their extended social networks.
Current students are more likely to be socially connected with other peers of a similar age, making them an ideal source for driving school transfers and new-student spring enrollment.
To recruit your first wave of advocates we recommend leveraging a few marketing channels including:
- Email – Send emails advertising the advocacy marketing program to alumni organizations, student organizations, and any other trusted list your organization has access too.
- Social Media – Publish information about the program to your institution’s social media profile(s).
- On-Campus Magazine – Don’t be afraid to take your communications to the real world. Take out an advert or a blurb in the school paper.
- Word-of-Mouth – Use your RA’s, counselors, and professors to build awareness of the program through good ol’ word-of-mouth marketing.
Try one or try all; there is no one way to drive fans into your advocacy marketing program.
3) Program Launch Content
An advocacy marketing program is only successful as the content it’s fed. As a best practice, you should create content that directly aligns with your university and college admissions goals.
If your goal is to drive spring enrollment, your content should focus on addressing the key trigger points that underly a potential student’s decision to enroll during the spring. Here are a few examples to help get your content wheels turning:
Create Videos That Highlight the Social Life of Students
We’re not saying to bust into a #GreekLife party with a film crew, but nothing communicates excitement like a video. Remember, a chief catalyst for a spring transfer is that a prospective transfer feels socially bored at their current institution. Give your university a bit of sizzle by showing this prospective transfer what they’re missing by not attending your school. Potential marketing videos could include:
- Fun footage of students competing in intramural sports
- Behind-the-scenes shots of drama/dance/music majors gearing up for their next performance
- Video of students interacting with each other on the “quad” or other communal space
Give Current Students the Microphone
For many potential spring enrollees, hearing first-hand accounts of a university straight from a current student can be a powerful enrollment tool. That’s why we recommend mixing testimonial pieces into your overarching advocacy marketing content plan.
These could be blog posts, videos, or even a simple captioned photo. The format itself doesn’t matter as much as the earnestness and transparency the content conveys. Give your current students the mic and empower them to be your finest “salesperson”.
Make Vital Information Front and Center
College is expensive. With so much at stake, prospective students need to feel confident that their chosen university is the perfect option for them. Any unanswered question is another check in the “no” column.
Don’t bury your vital enrollment content. If you’re expecting potential enrollees to dig their way through your website to find the answer to a critical question, don’t be surprised when they abandon their search (and opt to enroll in a different school).
Look at the most common questions being asked by prospective spring students; chances are that for every single question you get asked, there are 10 (or more) prospective students who have that same question but didn’t ask it. To that end, have your advocates promote blog posts and other content that:
- Clarifies your credit-transfer program
- Communicates application deadline dates
- Drives awareness of key financial aid information
At the end of the day, provide content that makes prospect’s decision easier to make!
4) Program Launch Incentive
Providing an incentive to participants in your advocacy marketing program can go a long way to supporting recruitment and content distribution. Rhetorical question, but what college student doesn’t love the opportunity to walk away with a free hat, frisbee, or koozie?
For universities that want to take their program rewards to the next level, consider higher-tier prizes. This could include tickets to sporting events, on-campus events, gift cards to the school bookstore, or exclusive VIP opportunities.
Spring-board Your Admissions
For many university and college admissions departments, spring enrollment is just as critical as fall enrollment. This year, leverage the sharing power of your university’s biggest supporters to help drive your spring recruitment efforts.
SocialToaster stands ready to support you in making this year’s enrollment numbers one for the record books! See for yourself why dozens of universities and colleges choose SocialToaster as their marketing partner. Want to get started today? Email or give us a call at 855.62.TOAST – or request a free demo today!