How to Build Personas to Boost Student Engagement

According to Accenture, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that recognizes them by name, recommends options based on past purchases, or shows an understanding of their purchase history. And when it comes to reaching out to prospective students, this notion remains the same.

As personalization becomes more important, understanding, and indeed knowing, personas is key to student engagement. Students – both prospective and current – want to know that educators are tuned into their needs and are the best university, college or training provider for them as an individual.

This personal approach helps marketing and sales departments tailor communications and connect with different audiences in ways that will resonate while offering value, rather than bombarding them with content or outreach that drives little or no engagement.

So, how do educators go about developing these kinds of personas? This article will explore 5 simple ways to do just that.

1) Do your homework

Without conducting a satisfactory level of research, it will be almost impossible to understand who you're aiming your efforts at - so when it comes to creating personas, research is essential as it forms the foundations of the whole process. By researching a variety of stakeholders as well as channels, you can gain insight into who you should be targeting and how to achieve it.

Internal: By carrying out internal research, you can leverage existing in-house knowledge from the people that know your business best. As most of your resources and personnel will be based on-site or on campus, this process will be relatively quick and easy by holding focus groups, asking for opinions and insights via email, analyzing internal data or holding polls via the intranet.

Social media: With social media being such a powerful entity particularly for younger generations, it's a preferred method of sharing content, voicing opinions, making buying decisions and communication with peers. In fact, 81% of millennials check Twitter at least once per day. By adopting a social listening approach and holding a host of social media-based polls and surveys, you will be able to gain critical insights and data that will prove invaluable to the creation of personas.

Alumni: By tapping into people who have been there through email or social media and worn the proverbial t-shirt, you will be able to acquire knowledge about your institution's pros to its cons, as well as ways you can improve your communications with prospective students.

Existing students: Students that are currently studying at your institution will be able to provide you with first-hand and real-time feedback that will help you tailor your marketing efforts to future generations.

Tap into analytics: Data is all around us and if you and your institution are active online, you can tap into analytics to gain insight. For example, examine which blog posts have proven the most successful, in regards to views and conversions; the ads on social media channels that have performed well (or even poorly to understand what to avoid); the keywords that seem to have enhanced your search visibility, and any other stream of data or metrics that you feel will help you in your quest to boost engagement.

2) Create a persona template

Create a persona template

71% of companies who've exceeded their revenue and lead goal expectations have documented personas as a key element to their success.

Templates can not only help to gather all of your most valuable information in one place, but they will also serve to standardize the way data is collected and presented, meaning all personas are alike in terms of the information they provide.

By building your template in the form of a profile, you will be able to slot your information into the correct areas, humanizing your persona in the process. Doing this will prove a huge help when it comes to brainstorming campaigns and creating tailored content to share with your target audience.

Some of the key information to include is:

  • Name
  • Socio-economic background
  • Current location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Interests
  • Aspirations
  • Favourite blogs and publications
  • Core personal values
  • Prefered social media networks

3) Analyze outputs & brainstorm

With working personas in place; you will be able to look at what focus-based insights to squeeze from them.

What solutions can your institution provide to each persona? Which keywords resonate with a school leaver as opposed to a working professional? What language or subject matter is most likely to resonate with your persona and encourage engagement? 

Throughout this process, you will need to identify what each persona desires, the challenges they face and what their burning questions might be. These segments of information will prove priceless when it comes to brainstorming content and outreach ideas.

To do this, you can create real-life scenarios or map out engagement scenarios. For instance, conjuring up a day-in-the-life scenario based on your personal profiles will enable you to step directly into their shoes, as a result creating content that speaks to them on a truly personal level which in turn will boost engagement and build trust.

4) Create relevant content

Armed with personas, you now have a better understanding of how to target people and should create relevant content for each one; the kind of material that meets their pain points or provides valuable information that will engage them. In addition, while some personas will prefer to interact with an email, others may have a preference for mobile communication.

Make sure you know which method suits which persona and above all, analyze the impact of your content and of course, tweak your efforts if they're not working.

By conducting detailed market research and building a series of focused personas, Georgetown University created a centralized mobile app that includes unique or tailored editions for a host of different users and locations, aimed at alumni, existing students and prospective students.

Georgetown University mobile app

As a result of developing this app driven by the power of personas, Georgetown University was able to boost engagement in a huge way.

5) Continually revisit

While it may be a relief to have developed your living, breathing personas, much like the real-life people you're looking to engage with, these profiles are not static entities. A number of external factors can cause things to change with new personas emerging and old personas becoming outdated - and more often than not, these will be out of your control.

The key to sustained success is to continually revisit personas and tweak them as and when necessary, allowing them to grow and evolve with the world around them, as well as the new insights you will continue to acquire. Invest in processes that will help re-visit personas, methods such as a bi-annual survey aimed at students or alumni or regular polls and surveys through email or the various social channels available to you.

Above all, make sure personas feed into your content strategy and play a significant role in helping you achieve the results needed to boost engagement and attract the right students to your institution.

Today's students are more demanding, more discerning, savvier and more tech-wise than ever before, and if you want to attract the right people to your institution, you will have to understand their every want, need, goal and desire.

By taking the above measures to build personas, you can create content and launch campaigns that will not only resonate but help grow your institution and evolve with students, past, present and future.

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