When you break it down, higher education is a product. And like many products, consumers (in this case, students) will seek out positive reviews and an idea of reputation before deciding on where to study.
In the same way brands invest in influencers to promote products – with nearly a third of Marketing Managers believing it’s the fastest growing online customer acquisition method – educators need to promote their institution in a positive light.
In this age of peer reviews and endorsements, alumni can prove invaluable in helping an institution stand out from the crowd. In this article, we explore the value of integrating alumni into a digital strategy and how educators are doing it effectively.
Alumni form the largest and only permanent audience within your university's communityTweet This
First Things First - Know Your Alumni
Before we explore ways to engage alumni, one of the key things in connecting with alumni is knowing who they are. Making contact in ad hoc ways may only serve to alienate them as a recent report found that 85% of alumni in a professional field believe that universities and colleges are coming up short when it comes to engaging alumni, particularly those of the younger generation.
To ensure you are targeting the right people with the right message, a well-managed CRM that integrates information across departments is key. This not only allows tracking but enables personalization of communications that will prove far more successful than a one-size-fits-all approach.
A CRM can keep track of where alumni are now. For example, are any entrepreneurs or in senior positions in companies? It will also provide access to information such as what they majored in and what types of events they participated in along with geographical location, role or industry.
All of this can be made easier through automation, particularly in busy times. By creating workflows you can avoid replicating time-consuming tasks such as updating information and processes through systems such as Active Campaign.
So, with a great CRM in place, your institution can now concentrate on how to use alumni as part of your digital strategy to shine a light on what is on offer and why it’s better than others on the market.
1) Create Ambassadors
Past students with a great experience at your university, college or training institution are prone for engagement. Creating an ambassador scheme provides alumni with the opportunity to share their past experiences and knowledge along with their life post-education. This not only promotes your brand but also engages prospective students.
Take the University of London as an example. Their Alumni Ambassador scheme involves graduates who can assist prospective and current students through their international programs. Part of the role involves advising students on how to manage their studies and find out ways to balance study with life and work commitments.
The scheme enables students to find ambassadors by both country and subject and are encouraged to participate in open days and in social media activities.
2) Video Marketing
According to HubSpot, 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week while 43% of people want to see more video.
Needless to say, video can have a huge impact on an audience and for many, if the preferred way to consume information, promotional and otherwise. As an educator looking to engage with a range of demographics, video can present huge engagement and brand awareness opportunities.
In using its alumni in its video marketing, Northwestern University tapped into the trend of James Corden’s hugely popular ‘Carpool Karaoke’ by using high-profile past students in its ‘Cats in Carts’ video.
Featuring trustees and accomplished alumni, it gives a potential student insight into why alumni love Northwestern and why it should be considered as a place to study. It also uses humor to engage with a younger generation of alumni that may have proved hard to reach so far.
3) User Generated Content
Alumni that engage are invaluable to colleges and universities as they put a human face to your institution. User generated content can be anything from blogs to videos to a social post on a network. No matter what the contribution, it is all valuable.
With millennial trusting user-generated content 50% more than other media and 86% saying it’s a good indication of the product, tapping into your alumni base can prove hugely rewarding.
At Bentley University they took to Snapchat to showcase their alumni and give them a platform to share through a ‘takeover’ series.
Using Snapchat, alumni shared stories of where they now work following graduation and what their working life is like along. It also provides insight into what their current role involves providing an insight into life after graduation.
4) Community Causes
The wonderful thing about being part of something like a university or college is the ability to give back to that community. The University of British Columbia tapped into this and launched a ‘Your Evolution’ project that invited their alumni to submit projects to make the world a better place.
Out of 300 submissions the university selected 10 finalists. In cooperation with a non-profit, a prize was offered that enabled winners to have their projects immortalized in video along with mentoring session with the UBC Presidents and successful alumni.
The result was greater brand awareness and huge engagement with alumni about their life post-graduation that was used across various channels from the alumni magazine, to their website to ads on social media.
As a past member of your institution, alumni are already engaged in what you have to offer. A survey is a great way to engage with alumni – both active and lapsed – to ask them for a few minutes of their time to answer some simple questions that can provide your team with key insights.
Key things to find out are:
- Time at role
- Further education
- Professional activities
- Thoughts on their time at your institution
At the Digital Marketing Institute, we use surveys to connect with alumni and see the value of our digital certifications. Based on the feedback we have used the results across a range of marketing activities such as website, re-engagement emails, a mini eBook and also across social media. They have proven very valuable in engaging prospective students and have increased our mindshare across B2C and B2B channels.
6) Success Stories
When seeking education, students are looking for a course or certification that can transform their careers and make them specialists in a certain field or area of interest. As such, the opinions and success of alumni shows the value of studying at your institution.
There are a few formats you can use to showcase success stories on a variety of online channels:
Oberlin College does a great job of showcasing and engaging its alumni through imagery. Using Pinterest it showcases its alumni using photographs and images on a board called ‘Oberachievements’ with a tagline ‘Students and alums doing truly great things’.
These images feature alum across genders, decades and backgrounds gives a human face to the college and shows the people who have benefitted from studying there.
In conclusion, making alumni feel like valuable stakeholders in your institution is vital to a successful engagement campaign. So, when developing or revising your digital strategy, ensure alumni are included as they can be hugely effective in fostering loyalty and help raise the brand of your college, university or training institution online.