The turn of a new year is always an exciting time. It’s a fresh start, a chance to try new things and improve. And for enrollment marketers, it’s a chance to create an exciting digital marketing plan for 2021 that will take your admissions to the next level.

I’ve enjoyed sharing tips with you all year. Some of them are classic strategies that have led to success for myself and my clients. Others are newer, data-driven ideas I’m applying to my own digital marketing plan and in consultations.

What do you say we apply these strategies together?

Below is a list of my top 10 favorite tips from this year to help us all be more effective next year.

1. Reassess your website, the core of your digital marketing plan.

If you haven’t thought about your website in a couple of years or so, it’s time to take a fresh look.

There is one question that should drive your self-assessment: “Is this the enrollment website it needs to be?”

Sure, there’s something there. But it’s too much like a menu, a table of contents, a cover page to a student handbook. It provides information. It is not persuasive.

Everything else needs to fall in line behind the primary goal of attracting prospects and persuading them to learn more and take action. A few must-have features include:

  • Strong copywriting
  • Attractive photography
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Page loading speed
  • Quick and easy form submission

In other words, your website – at least the home page and other top-level pages – needs to be more than a repository of information. It has to be an experience that draws students in.

If it isn’t, you’re not focused on enrollment. Start your digital marketing plan there.

2. Start a blog or improve on the one you have.

Many things about blogging have changed since the first “weblogs” of the 1990s evolved into the core of content marketing strategy in the 2000s.

But one thing has not changed: For higher education – just as with any business that provides a high-value service – the blog remains as vital a digital marketing medium as ever.

It is never too late to get started. Here’s a simple step-by-step:

  1. Ask your webmaster what it would take to create a blog on your website’s platform. It may be relatively simple. Many popular platforms, such as WordPress, have this capability built in.
  2. Create a list of questions your prospective students and their families ask before they’ve settled on your school.
  3. Create an editorial calendar with topics that answer those questions, and commit to publishing content consistently. Include an image (original photography or purchase the rights to public stock photos) with each post.
  4. Commit to promoting that content on your existing social media channels and email lists.

Content marketing is a long-term strategy. It will take time to see most of the benefits (e.g. rising to the top of search engine rankings for relevant terms). But there are certainly short-term benefits, especially if you are sharing links to your content on an active social media account.

If you already have a blog, there are many ways to take it to the next level. This is a great time to take a hard look at your existing blog strategy and consider making improvements.

3. Create a video strategy or enhance the one you have.

Video is everywhere as we head into 2021. Traditional students, your Gen Z prospects, are engaging heavily with – and through – online video content. They expect you to do the same.

To say they “watch” YouTube videos is almost an outdated expression. This generation isn’t just consuming video. They’re used to connecting with content creators. Many of them aspire to become content creators themselves, if they aren’t already.

This is a huge opportunity for higher ed that enrollment marketers can’t afford to miss.

The key is to stop thinking of video as only a medium of presentation. Today, more than ever, it’s a tool for communication.

If you’re not already publishing content on YouTube, there’s no time like the present. And if you are, ask yourself how you can better leverage video to serve your enrollment strategy.

  • Get inspired. Take a look at what other schools are doing.
  • Engage. Be prepared to connect with users, not just present information.
  • Solicit. Invite users to go deeper with you – to subscribe to your channel and email list.

This can be done more easily and affordably than you think. And the upside? Huge.

4. Deliver virtual experiences.

In years past, it was enough to invite students to campus and then focus your energy on influencing their first impressions in an environment you can control.

Now, convincing them to take that step requires more than a warm invitation. It takes delivering some of that experience to them before they’ve ever set foot on your campus.

I’m talking about virtual reality. And it’s more realistic (no pun intended) to utilize than you think.

Virtual Reality Is Within Your Reach

Virtual reality is much more accessible than it was 20 or 30 years ago. It’s true that VR applications can still include big-budget productions, such as digitally recreated environments or simulated sporting events. But there are also big opportunities for small budgets.

Create Virtual Campus Tours

Virtual campus tours are built using the same technology Google has long used to produce its Street View capability for Google Maps. With a 360-degree camera that can cost less than $400, you can create a memorable, self-directed journey that gives them the lay of the land.

Submit to Google Maps for Free

You can even submit your 360-degree campus images and images of building interiors to Google Maps for free. The experience for users is seamless. They can find you while doing a local search and “tour” your campus just as they would “walk” down the street with Street View.

Beyond virtual tours, think about how you can deliver more experiences in general to your digital audience. We’ve already touched on using video for interaction. Next up, let’s talk about games.

5. Gamify your content.

As I recently wrote about in more detail, gamification is basically using elements of games to encourage interaction. The idea is to motivate your audience to engage because it’s fun.

This can be fairly simple:

  • Surveying social media followers about their favorite sports, then tagging them when you post the results along with a link back to your athletics page.
  • Quizzing email recipients about their interests and rewarding them with recommended majors before directing them to your admissions page.
  • Asking visitors to your campus life page to guess how many students there are on campus, number of buildings, square footage, etc. before giving the answers.
  • Using click-to-reveal elements to showcase programs or study abroad opportunities, maybe in a “What’s behind door #?” sort of way.

It’s all about creating a small challenge and providing an immediate reward. It doesn’t have to be more complex than that.

Of course, if you or your faculty are utilizing gamification in even more immersive, engaging ways (such as video games), explore how you might leverage that content in marketing.

6. Start a podcast.

Will 2021 be the year you unleash the power of the human voice?

That’s what podcasting is all about. As much as I recommend you utilize more video content in your digital marketing plan (see #3 above), I recognize video is the most labor-intensive medium. There may be legitimate limits to producing as much as you want to.

And for those who are strong in video content, podcasting can be a great supplement to it.

  • Video substitute: If you’re unable to keep up with video, podcasts remove the challenge of producing visual content while retaining one invaluable component: the power of the human voice to communicate emotional truth.
  • Video supplement: If you are already producing discussion-based video content, you have a ready-made podcast. Consider converting it to audio content to supplement your video strategy.

Podcasts allow your audience hear your passion, enthusiasm, concern – everything that doesn’t always come through in text, more simply presented than in video.

Consider launching a podcast to engage with admissions professionals, administrators, faculty, students, anyone who can help you answer those same questions you’re trying to answer in your text-based blog (see #2 above). There are some great examples to inspire you here.

7. Recruit influencers.

Influencer marketing is a social media-enabled phenomenon that may not seem applicable to higher ed at first glance. But it very much is. It just might require adapting your thinking to implement it.

Today’s influencers are hard-working sales, marketing, and recruitment professionals. The closest word in traditional academic circles to this concept is “student ambassador.”

That term doesn’t quite capture all that influencers do, however. While an ambassador might have a message, an influencer has a strategy for delivering that message, measurable goals, and a mechanism in place for tracking results.

For example, you might consider recruiting an influencer (possibly a professional one, but not necessarily) to run an Instagram takeover.

Doing it right should look something like professional recruitment:

  • “Hire” them for a specific period (a day, week, etc.).
  • Set engagement goals.
  • Set expectations for conduct.
  • “Run” them by monitoring in real time, providing support, etc.
  • Consider paying them (possibly in swag) for their work.

Because they know how to relate to your audience in a personable and strategic way, influencers can be hugely effective assets in your digital marketing plan.

8. Personalize, personalize, personalize.

Is three times too much? I don’t think so, because this is easily as important as that old adage in real estate: “Location, location, location.”

There are many ways you can and should personalize your digital marketing plan for 2021 and beyond. 

  1. Leverage your enrollment CRM tool in email marketing. You can seriously increase your response rate when you stop e-blasting the same message to all recipients and begin segmenting by available data: location, age, ethnicity, etc. Use what you have.
  2. Personalize your website experience with geotargeting. You have students from all over the country, maybe the world. With software like GeoFli, you can adapt what they see by their location, just as you would adapt an in-person presentation by region.
  3. Send high-touch email to applicants with BombBomb videos. This software allows you to easily create highly personalized video messages to lock in applicants and put them over the finish line.

These are just a few examples of many ways you can go farther down the path of marketing personalization than ever before. 

With today’s automation software, all you have to do is think through how you would speak to each prospect individually if you had the time – and then set the system in motion so you can.

9. Recycle more content.

Coming up with new content all the time to feed your blog, social media, podcast, video feeds, email, newsletters and every other channel you control is difficult.

So don’t do it. Not all the time, anyway.

This particular New Year’s resolution is about saving your sanity. Embrace content recycling. I don’t mean slapping a new pub date on an old blog post. I’m talking about revisiting important points you’ve made in the past and building on those ideas.

(You know what I mean … I’m doing it right now, in this post!)

It doesn’t just save you time. This strategy can also be highly effective. When you revisit the same ideas and link back to your own previous content on the subject, it helps you build authority on those topics.

If you’re adding something new, it’s not like readers will feel like there’s any less value. In fact, you’re adding value to your library of content in this way. It’s a win-win.

10. Purchase traffic – strategically.

This one is last on the list because you should first do everything you can to earn as much traffic organically as possible. But, assuming you’ve optimized your website, it may be a good idea to set some of your budget aside for pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns.

Google ads can be a highly effective way to drive traffic to your site. Traditional text ads go straight to the top of the search queries you’re competing for. You can also set up responsive ads that change based on user behavior.

But only do this once you’ve laid a strong foundation. PPC should be icing on the cake – and the cake is a solid overall digital marketing plan.

Your digital marketing plan for 2021 is going to be outstanding.

I know it will be, because you’ve gotten all the way to the bottom of this post. That means you’re interested in trying new things. It suggests you’ll adopt at least one of these New Year’s resolutions.

And that gives me a lot of hope for the future of higher ed.

Let me know if you have questions about any of these or need help executing them. I can’t wait to see what we can come up with together.


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Featured image by Natali_mis via Adobe Stock

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