Today’s post features a conversation between Tom Cakuls, Director of Strategic Research at EAB | Royall, and Emily Bauer, Managing Director of Program Marketing at Royall & Company.
Emily heads up a research team whose sole focus is vetting new and emerging student recruitment practices for potential inclusion in Royall programs—work that includes field tests of channels that we’ve determined to be the most promising.
Read on to hear her thoughts on enrollment opportunities at the digital frontier.
Tom Cakuls: We’ve seen a real spike in interest from our readers lately in what digital channels they should be using for recruitment. Any advice for them on that?
Emily Bauer: Whenever I’m having these conversations, I feel like it’s helpful to understand what we mean by “digital channels.” Strictly speaking, there’s a lot that can fall under that heading, from SMS outreach to CRM-based automation of communications flows.
But what I get asked about most often are things that stand out as being high-tech or new or different. Think geofencing, for example, or IP targeting. Different uses of social media would fall into this category as well, including content-based strategies and display advertising. Inbound approaches, like search engine optimization, would be another category.
TC: So it’s a kind of digital frontier you’re talking about. Should schools be placing bets here?
EB: Well, you definitely don’t want to ignore it. My own team tracks developments in those areas really closely. You have to if you want to arm enrollment leaders with the best tools possible. But a common mistake is to look at these things in isolation. The question is not whether search engine optimization will get you results. It’s about having a clear sense of which parts of your enrollment funnel you’re trying to impact with it, whether it’s a better use of resources than competing strategies, and how it helps or hinders the other core elements of your recruitment approach.
Free diagnostic: How does your digital recruitment practice stack up?
TC: So no silver bullet?
EB: No, and I think most enrollment leaders have an intuitive sense of that. But what many people don’t get is just how complex and variable implementations of any given digital channel can be. Like any tool, the effectiveness of digital recruitment marketing depends on how expertly it’s used.
TC: Can you give me an example?
EB: Sure. Take display advertising. You probably already know this, but it’s based on serving ads for your school to students through Google, Facebook, or other social networks. This includes, but is not limited to, approaches where students are shown ads based on their browsing history—if, for example, they visited your school’s website in the past.
TC: Sounds pretty straightforward. Where’s the wrinkle?
EB: The wrinkle is that pretty much any parameter you can think of will impact the response that an ad gets—something we know from testing we’ve done of display ads with our partner schools across the past year. The image used, the copy included, the call to action, which part of the enrollment season you’re in, which part of the enrollment funnel you’re targeting, which specific network you’re using to serve the ads (Facebook, Google, etc.), what technology you’re using for execution, whether the audience is students or parents—all these things can make the difference between an ad working or not working.
TC: That sounds like a lot to potentially go wrong. Is it worth the trouble?
EB: It is a lot to stay on top of. But in that way it’s not any different than work that my team does in more conventional channels. Whatever medium you’re in, you want to be constantly testing and evaluating to see what works and what doesn’t, and then focusing on what’s been proven to give you the best result. Based on the impact we’ve seen for display ads, it’s something we’ve incorporated as a standard part of campaigns. So, in answer to your question, yes, it is worth the trouble.
TC: Any final words of wisdom for our readers?
EB: Yes. I get the sense that a lot of enrollment leaders are uneasy about digital recruitment marketing—feeling pressure to get on board with it but also nervous about getting it wrong. I think people can rest at ease a bit and not feel pressured to jump the gun—your competing schools are not going to scoop you next enrollment season with their new digital bell or whistle. Hold out for strategies that have a strong underlying logic, clear evidence of impact, and transparency with respect to methodology and you’re bound to succeed.