As you think through the most effective communication strategy for your school to attract students, guide them through the admission process and retain them, could mobile apps help?

Whether yours is an independent K-12 school or higher ed institution, if you have an app or considered developing one, it’s likely for a very specific purpose.

Usually, a communication tool for existing students and their families is used to push out routine or emergency notifications throughout the school year, or remind students to re-enroll.

But mobile apps can be a highly valuable part of your enrollment marketing plan, too.

It’s all about creating a communications ecosystem in which you provide a curated, mobile-centric experience for your prospects, applicants and enrolled students.

Creating a Digital Ecosystem for the Student Lifecycle

The challenge for any enrollment marketer is to introduce the institution to prospects in an authentic way – to deliver a brand promise – and then keep that promise with a consistent experience.

I’m not just talking about the potential for disconnect between flashy marketing materials that paint one picture and a website that paints another, though that can be part of the problem.

Our focus in this article is on user experience. The disconnect in pre- and post-enrollment experience may not be in the messaging, but in the online environment.

Have you ever:

  • Been impressed by a branded email with relevant information, then clicked through the link to discover a website that looks completely different?
  • Clicked on a well-crafted ad on your phone, after which you were taken to a site that barely worked on mobile?
  • Received an invitation to an event by text and followed the link to a clunky calendar that was cluttered with irrelevant information?

What these examples represent is a lack of a consistent, mobile-centric ecosystem mentality.

Poor continuity of user experience is the problem.

When the Internal Experience Is Lacking

Marketing teams often put a lot of attention on external communications, crafting messaging that is both compelling and authentic as possible.

But those external comms usher prospects into a reality that might feel so different from the first impression, they may wonder whether they’re in the right place.

When the External Experience Is Lacking

The opposite may be true. 

Sometimes, the experience enrolled students get through a well-designed mobile app and/or mobile-centric communications doesn’t extend to prospects.

Mobile apps, as part of your digital ecosystem, can be part of the solution.

How Mobile Apps Help Support An Ecosystem

Many mobile apps for educational institutions are strictly tools for communication with users who are already part of your community, e.g. existing students and families.

They solve a certain set of problems specific to this group:

  • App notifications tend to get the attention of recipients better than email, which has so much clutter to compete with. 
  • For K-12 schools, it’s a direct line to parents that’s preferable to hoping students bring home printed newsletters.
  • Apps push important emergency notifications to college students they might otherwise miss if sent via email or text.
  • For athletics programs, apps provide spectators with information about teams and concessions, and with the ability to purchase tickets.

For example:

  • St. Andrews Catholic College, an independent P-12 school in Australia developed the “AndIE App” to foster communication with parents. It has a mobile-friendly calendar and notifications that keep parents up-to-date on important upcoming events.
  • Fresno State built the Fresno State Athletics App around the gameday experience, building in everything from ticket purchasing to navigating the stadium to social media sharing and more.

In both cases, it appears the app was developed primarily for the traditional purpose: to enhance the user experience for enrolled students, their parents or athletic spectators. Tools for existing members of a community, not prospective members.

However, when you look deeper, you’ll see a key difference between these two examples. 

One is part of a mobile-centric digital ecosystem that has the entire student lifecycle in mind. The other is not.

When I go to St. Andrews’ website on my iPhone, I see a mobile-responsive site that looks a lot like the AndIE App screenshots. 

St. Andrews screenshot
Fresno State, on the other hand, looks like this:

Fresno State screenshot
As someone outside these communities, a possible prospect, I suspect I’m getting a taste of what communication with the school will feel like should I choose to enroll myself or my child.

One is clear, streamlined, built around my mobile device preferences.

The other is busy, cluttered, built around everything the institution wants to convey to me.

I suspect the reason for this is simple. St. Andrews worked with a vendor, Digistorm (more about them below) that understands mobile apps don’t work best in a vacuum. They should be part of a mobile ecosystem.

Building that ecosystem could start with mobile-friendly website design (geared toward external comms), but it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes it starts with inspiration from a simple, well-designed app (usually a portal for internal comms).

Enrollment Marketing as Mobile App Onboarding

For institutions that have seen the benefits of mobile apps for internal comms, here’s the central question: If this is an effective means of capturing your community’s attention, why wait until enrollment to introduce them to aspects of the experience?

The most basic example of this is what I mentioned above. A mobile-friendly website geared toward prospects, but with a similar clean look, easy navigation, speed and responsiveness of the app your enrolled students use, is a no-brainer.

Beyond that, a healthy mobile ecosystem is one that integrates as many functions of effective external and internal communications as possible.

To determine whether you have such an ecosystem in place, consider these questions:

  • Do you publish blog content on a platform that is not designed for mobile, but communicate with your community via text, app or other mobile-centric ways?
  • Are you promoting your school via social media and linking back to landing pages built for desktop viewing, but offering an internal portal that is built to be mobile-responsive?
  • When you promote events, do you use external applications such as Eventbrite, but have a separate, mobile-friendly signup app run through your own digital property for students?

These examples of a disconnect in the external vs. internal user experience are very common. Often separate teams or departments select the tools, build the comm flows and run the messaging separately.

But when comms come into alignment around a mobile-centric ecosystem, it opens doors to utilizing a mobile approach earlier in the student lifecycle, enticing them with the quality of your mobile ecosystem well before they’ve enrolled.

Expanding Mobile App Utility

The utility of mobile apps for educational institutions don’t have to be limited to closed communities and internal comms. 

In many circumstances, you can motivate external audiences to download your apps, get onboard your comm flow and start enjoying your mobile ecosystem.

Here are a few examples.

University of Oregon – Be a Duck

With this app, prospective families have everything they need to take a self-guided tour of campus. It includes a built-in map that tracks the user with GPS, information about campus visit events, campus life information, etc. Everything they need to know to become an Oregon Duck.

California State University Northridge – CSUN

This is a great example of an app designed for prospects and enrolled students alike, as it has both internal modules, e.g. View My Grades and View My Test Scores, and indoor maps, videos, academics and financial aid information included to aid the decision-making process.

Georgetown University – Georgetown Mobile

This app includes an events module called This Week @ Georgetown with inclusion of prospects and current students in mind. It includes information about everything happening on campus, such as campus tour days, and engaging stories about community members.

Not surprisingly, these institutions all have mobile-responsive websites as well.

That’s because they understand their mobile apps to be more than communication tools for the campus community, but part of their overall approach to modern, mobile-centric communications.

That approach works best when comms are aligned to serve all audiences consistently, on campus and off. And having a single ecosystem as a foundation for it all has the added benefit of being easier for you, the enrollment marketer, to utilize.

Building and Managing the Mobile Ecosystem

As you build a mobile ecosystem, you open the door to managing all comms in a mobile-centric, user-friendly way more easily and consistently.

The key is integration. The more you run through a single mobile-friendly platform – your content marketing, event promotions, calendars, enrollment funnel system, etc. – the more you can automate and simplify your comms. And it may make sense to start with a mobile app.

As I mentioned above, the app for St. Andrews was developed in partnership with Digistorm. I’m a fan of their approach, which really goes beyond single-purpose app development.

Instead, they create the kind of ecosystem I recommend, one that supports consistent, mobile-centric communication across the board: 

Mobile apps are great, but if they’re not integrated with the tools you use to manage your website and enrollment funnels, you won’t get nearly as much out of them as you could.

Given the time and cost that comes with mobile app development, you definitely want to get the most out of yours!

Think beyond developing mobile apps. Work with Caylor Solutions to build an effective mobile-centric ecosystem.

Building a mobile-centric digital marketing strategy for 21st-century enrollment marketing is definitely a team effort. 

My team and I not only partner with marketing departments for independent K-12 schools and higher ed institutions, we often bring in partners like Digistorm to create innovative strategies for next-level enrollment marketing.

If you’re interested in mobile apps for your school, let’s talk about that. But we may not want to stop there. 

Let’s take a look at the overall health of your mobile ecosystem. Let’s make sure the environment is in place to ensure your new mobile app or other mobile-friendly tools will be effective at driving enrollment and retaining students.

Ready to start that conversation? Just reach out.


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Featured image by Alessandro Biascioli via Adobe Stock

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