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July 17

Embracing the Power of ChatGPT and AI in Higher Ed Marketing


I talk with marketing professionals in higher ed all over the country and in many different types of institutions. These days, there’s one topic that always comes up: ChatGPT.

I’ve noticed a range of reactions in my conversations. Some people are excited about the possibilities; others feel something closer to panic. I’m going to put my cards on the table right up front.

I think ChatGPT and other AI-powered tools present an incredible opportunity for higher ed marketing teams. 

In this post, I want to share why I think you need to be embracing these tools and how you can position yourself to take advantage of the profound changes that are coming to the world of digital marketing.

Bigger Than the Internet?

One common response I see when it comes to tools like ChatGPT is to simply ignore it. It isn’t easy to learn new ways of doing things and it is tempting to think something like this: “ChatGPT is interesting and it’s fine that others are using it. But I’m already good at what I do and I don’t need a new tool.” 

Here’s the problem with that way of thinking: you might not want to learn to use AI to empower your marketing work, but your competitors are. Like it or not, those who don’t learn to use these new tools will increasingly be at a disadvantage. 

We recently had marketing legend Guy Kawasaki on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast. When we asked him about the significance of ChatGPT, this is what he said:

“I think that AI/ChatGPT and similar things are as big a deal as personal computers, the internet, and social media. You might even get me to say that I think ChatGPT — and again, I’m using the general concept, not just one particular company — I think it’s a bigger deal than personal computers and the internet and social media.”

Maybe you’re old enough to remember when the internet first took off. Back in the early 90s, when I would talk to schools about a website, many didn’t see the need. Those who appreciated the significance of the internet at the time had a huge head start on those who didn’t. 

It reminds me of a quote I think captures such an important lesson for us:

”The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler

It’s time to learn. Tools like ChatGPT are here to stay and they are only going to get more powerful and more useful. I truly believe they offer an incredible opportunity to leverage your resources to expand the quality and reach of what you are doing with the people and budget you already have. 

More Powerful Than You Think

Another type of response I hear about ChatGPT goes like this: “I tried it out, but I just wasn’t that impressed. It might be useful for very basic tasks, but it isn’t useful for me.”

In my experience, people who reach this conclusion usually have minimal experience using the tool. The key thing to understand is that, just like most tools, you need to learn how to use it to get the most out of it. 

You’ve probably heard of “prompt engineering.” That’s the discipline of figuring out how to prompt ChatGPT and other AI tools to get optimal results. It is a skill you can learn — and need to learn if you want to experience the true potential they offer.

One of the key principles, for instance, is to be as specific as possible. I’ve found it helpful to specify an area of expertise (“Act as a higher-ed professional at a small, liberal arts college”), clearly define a task (“Give me 5 headlines for our webpage for a new cybersecurity program”), and provide some details about the audience (“Make it resonate with working adults”).

In case you’re curious, here’s what I get with that prompt:

  1. “Elevate Your Career with Flexibility: Enroll in Our Cybersecurity Program Designed for Working Adults!”
  2. “Secure Your Future: Our Cybersecurity Program for Working Adults Unleashes New Career Opportunities!”
  3. “Balancing Work and Study? Discover Our Cybersecurity Program Tailored for Busy Professionals!”
  4. “Take Charge of Your Path: Join Our Cybersecurity Program Catered to Ambitious Working Adults!”
  5. “Achieve Excellence in Cybersecurity: Our Program Empowers Working Adults to Thrive in the Digital Age!”

None of these is ready to use as is, but this is a useful starting point. You can play with the prompt and generate lots more variations that can help you zero in on the language that works best for your context. 

Another thing to realize is that there is an incredible variety in the kinds of tasks you can use ChatGPT for

For example, it can function as a powerful editor. Recently, I was working with a college to create a job description. I pasted what we had into ChatGPT and asked it if anything was missing. 

It pointed out that the job description was for a faith-based school and yet it didn’t mention anything about alignment with the school’s mission. It was a significant oversight — and something the HR department and I had both missed in our initial consideration of the job description. 

I estimate that ChatGPT saves me around 10 hours of work in a normal week.

It helps me summarize video transcripts, draft text from bullet points, edit content for length, and even create legal language for contracts. 

Once you learn how to use tools like ChatGPT and discover their abilities, I’m confident you’ll find lots of elements of your workflow that they can help make faster and more efficient.

Reason for Panic?

Even if you agree that these AI-powered tools can be useful, you might have your worries. Indeed, many are worried precisely because of how powerful and useful they are. 

The most obvious concern is about jobs. Is AI going to replace marketing professionals? I am not going to pretend AI won’t disrupt some jobs. It is already doing so. But I resonate with a quote I heard somewhere recently: “AI isn’t going to take your job. Someone using AI will.” 

The human element is still necessary. Your experience, judgment, and skills matter and tools like ChatGPT are practically useless without them. But, to stay competitive, higher ed marketing teams are going to have to adopt these technologies. With their help, you’ll be able to accomplish more than ever before.

Besides, new technologies always disrupt some jobs but at the same time create new ones. There is no reason to think this time will be different. 

Another worry is specific to the higher ed context. We are already hearing from professors that students are using ChatGPT to write their papers and complete other homework assignments. What does this mean for education?

I don’t have a simple answer to that question. Certainly, we’ll need to make adjustments. But this doesn’t mean the end of learning and thinking, any more than the invention of the calculator meant the end of math. 

Rather, just like the calculator, ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI are amazing new tools that will empower human creativity and production in numerous areas, including marketing. 

Next Steps   

I’ve made the case that ChatGPT and similar tools represent a significant innovation that is already changing the world of digital marketing and will continue to do so in the future. 

Higher ed marketers should neither ignore nor be afraid of this new technology. Rather, it is an amazing opportunity to improve the efficiency, quality, and reach of your work.

Suppose you’re convinced. How can you learn more? 

I’m putting together a virtual conference designed specifically for higher ed marketers that will walk you through some of the tools that are out there as well as how to best incorporate them into your workflows. You’ll get practical, hands-on content that will show you exactly what to do. 

The conference is coming this fall. If you’d like to be notified when it’s ready, just add your email to the list here.

In the meantime, if you or your team would like help getting the most out of ChatGPT, let’s talk.

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