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January 4

COVID-19 Messaging for Education Marketing [Part 1]


COVID-19 looks like it’s going to be evergreen content for education marketers. How can you optimize your COVID-19 messaging so that it keeps everyone safe while boosting enrollment?

As we launch into a new year, one thing is painfully clear: The coronavirus pandemic is not going away anytime soon.

And over time, this public health crisis has caused a significant marketing crisis as well.

For many of us, this is the very first time our marketing departments have been used to distribute health care and prevention messaging. 

Most public health messages came from the desks of people in the Ad Council or the CDC.

Now, every education marketer has to add this to the list of messaging campaigns in their marketing strategy.

How does COVID-19 messaging fit into your greater enrollment marketing strategy?

How can you be effective at helping students and faculty stay safe while signaling to future students that your campus is safe?

Perhaps the biggest question of all is, how do you show that your education institution is safe, not tyrannical?

Strangely enough, you and I have a part to play in this whole public health scenario, so let’s look at how we can make steps to optimize our COVID-19 messaging.

1. Clarify your administration’s COVID-19 policy.

This may be difficult to understand due to the severity of the global outbreak. 

But not every educational institution is going to see things the same way when it comes to coronavirus and how to stem the tide on the number of infections.

Some administrations will be more risk averse while others are more risk tolerant. 

Many of these differences come down to geography. 

Private colleges, universities, and independent schools in rural settings may not adopt the same policies as those in urban locations, for example. 

So the first task to craft your COVID-19 messaging is clarifying your administration’s public health policy.

Clarity is vital here. The good old “W” questions can help with that. 

  • What programs, classes, or buildings will you open back up to the public? What facilities or programs will remain locked down, closed, or virtual space only?
  • Where can prospective students go to get information on your administration’s COVID-19 messaging? Do you have a website? What about your social media?
  • When will classes or programs open back up?
  • How will you keep people safe on campus? 
    • Do students have to wear masks in their private dorms?
    • Do they have to wear masks during athletic events?
    • What are the policies for eating in the cafeteria?
    • How will you handle quarantines in the event of a coronavirus outbreak?
    • Will students be allowed to come and go from the campus as they please without any restrictions on their outside social activities?

Perhaps more importantly, you need to clarify why your administration has this policy in place.

If you’re opening up or locking down certain programs or spaces, your marketing needs to present the facts, statistics, or expert opinions that are backing up those decisions.

You need to show your audience a solid case for why you’re either opening, shutting down, or maintaining your current policies.

The important thing is to remember that your institution is probably going to have a different policy than other institutions.

This makes it vital to have a comprehensive presentation with the what, where, when, how, and why clearly explained. 

Prospective students who are looking at a wide range of institutional responses to the pandemic need to understand quickly where you stand.

2. Determine your audiences’ view of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, marketing campaigns nationwide involving COVID-19 messaging have been politicized – and many more have been downright confusing.

This means that whatever you say about the coronavirus and public safety on your campus will be met with mixed reactions, depending on how people view the pandemic.

Reviewing your marketing personas can help mitigate the pushback you might receive.

Here are some key questions to ask as you craft your COVID-19 messaging:

  • How concerned is this audience about COVID-19?
  • To what extent have they changed their daily habits due to the pandemic?
  • What political affiliation are they likely to have?
  • What voices or influences have they been connected to during this health crisis?

I highly recommend getting to know your audience’s view of the pandemic before crafting your COVID-19 messaging. 

By now, everyone has had time to form an opinion or perspective on the global pandemic. 

While almost no one denies the reality of the pandemic, certain populations are simply tired of drastic lockdowns.

COVID-19 messaging can help students who are frustrated by the lockdown measures.

One example of this phenomenon is an L.A. Times article which laments that “Health officials are up against a fatigued public…” as they describe the backlash to Los Angeles’ severe lockdowns during the holiday season.

It’s important as education marketers to keep our ears close to the ground to know how our audiences feel. 

No matter how you personally feel about the pandemic, keep a finger on the pulse of your audience. 

Are they sick of lockdowns? 

Or, are they anxious and want everyone to get serious about flattening the curve on another outbreak?

By understanding where they’re at, we can create more effective COVID-19 messaging.

 3. Show how much you care. 

This probably doesn’t need to be said. 

However, since we’ll be going on a year through this pandemic come March 2021, I think we should pay even more attention to the emotional toll COVID-19 is taking on Gen Z students.

ReGenerations, a company that studies generational trends, considers the coronavirus pandemic Generation Z’s “defining moment.”

“Rites of passage such as graduation and marriage are delayed or reconfigured, and this generation is worried about falling behind in their schooling (50 percent), their job prospects (67 percent) and financial stability (80 percent). Forty-one percent think they will be worse off when the pandemic ends, according to a ReGenerations survey of more than 500 people from 29 states and six countries.” – SHRM.org

That’s a lot for a young generation to experience in just one short year.

With that in mind, think through ways your messaging can show appropriate empathy to your Gen Z prospective student

Biola University is doing a great job of showing their care for students who’ve been going through the hardships of coronavirus restrictions and fear.

At the same time, I recommend that all messaging be set in a positive, forward-looking tone.

Your prospective student needs to understand that despite the challenges of COVID-19, they can still have a bright future. 

And that future starts by investing in a good education with you.

You can see how Biola makes that bright future picture clear within the videos even as they touch on the sadness of these Gen Z students.

More to Come

So this was my first post of the year 2021, and it’s the first in the series of two blog posts on how to optimize your COVID-19 messaging.

There are more practical ways you can attract prospective students even during this ongoing trial we’re all walking through.

In my next post, we’ll cover specific things you should be doing on your education website during this pandemic to attract new students and keep your current students safe.

In the meantime, for more helpful strategies on taking your enrollment marketing to the next level, please contact us today!

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