As digital marketing channels continue to elevate new ways of promoting user-generated content, higher ed marketers have to continue identifying emotional stories that will speak to their target audience.
This isn’t because higher ed marketers should be following all the latest trends in the marketing space; prospective students want to feel a genuine connection with their peers through real stories.
Authentic stories from real, live people cannot be fabricated by a content marketing team.
User-generated content is content that your current (and past) students create for you, telling their own stories in their own words.
Curating user-generated content is both an art and a science. It’s not always as easy as it sounds.
To help us understand how to implement this powerful content strategy better, we spoke with Nate Jorgensen, Senior Director of Strategic Academic Marketing and Communications at Miami University on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast.
Nate and his team have been leading the charge at Miami through user-generated content and are now seeing an almost unbelievable 90% open rate!
In this episode, Nate sheds light on the need for empathy in enrollment marketing and why showcasing user-generated content is essential to building trust with student leads.
Leveraging the Power of Personalization
About a year and a half ago, Nate and his marketing team began to decentralize their email campaigns to create a more personalized experience for admitted students.
One of the first things that we have been [doing] is to send program-specific or major-specific yield emails to admitted students.
It’s been a really fun process with our five different colleges. They each [created their emails in] a different way. I gave them the freedom to do it because all their jobs are so different.
Some of them sent a lot [of emails] and some of them sent just a few. Some were wildly successful, and others [not as much]. We learned a lot from [the email campaigns].
Allowing the various colleges to help craft the email campaigns helped Nate’s team to create diverse content that was personalized for each admitted student as the student was presented with info only on the various programs that interested them.
This level of personalized content is a powerful way to show prospective students that you are really listening to them, and that they are more than a number.
Giving freedom to the individual colleges also helped Nate identify “first-person student stories” to tell in their marketing.
Identifying user-generated content through email campaigns was only the beginning.
Nate’s team began a podcast targeting admitted students to showcase these “first-person student stories.”
We have a podcast that we’re really trying to do good things with to help incoming college students make the best decisions they can and know all the details that they should know going in.
We can kind of tailor the questions and everything based on [challenges that prospective students are dealing with]. [Then we have] the students answer without a script their answers to those questions and how they feel about those things and about their experiences at the university.
Through the podcast, Nate and his team empower their students to tell their stories in an emotional, empathetic way.
They also matched the stories to the students who would benefit from the user-generated content.
If [one of the episodes showcased] an art history major student, we were able to share that with all the potentially incoming art history majors. In that case, it really showed them how you can apply an art history major [to their future].
Starting with Empathy
As higher ed marketers, we’ve got to get creative in how we connect with prospective students.
And I believe that starts with empathy.
Nate shares how his experience on a panel with students really opened him to this realization.
At the American Marketers Association conference, I went to a panel discussion of current seniors at Washington, DC high schools.
So we were all talking to them the way that we do in higher ed marketing: What do you know? What are you thinking?
And what just kept coming back—which just slapped me right in the face—was that they are not sure. They’re scared. They’re uncertain. That was such an eye-opening experience for me.
Ever since then, I’ve been trying to steer some of our content (or at least find it when it’s available) to tell the story of students who were equally uncertain, equally scared, equally unsure of what their major should be.
[I try to find stories of how they] changed their major, or how things didn’t go as planned yet still turned out tremendously successful in what they wanted their college experience to be.
When we do marketing, sometimes we get so caught up on getting all the benefits in there, or all the details of the program.
But if we get caught up in the minutia and forget to remember just how it felt to be a high schooler going into college, we’ll miss the mark completely.
With a looming enrollment cliff just around the corner, higher ed marketers must identify and cultivate user-generated content that speaks empathetically to the feelings of the prospective students.
Let the Process Take Time
As I wrap up this post, I want to leave you with one final thing that came out in our conversation that is so important.
Identifying and producing user-generated content takes time.
Nate and his team are killing it when it comes to publishing first-person, authentic stories, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy—or quick—for them.
It’s so much harder than you think. It’s going to be [difficult] going in.
You always have these grand plans of “Oh! That’s going to be this blog by this student or faculty [member]!”
But it’s always so much slower moving than that.
But Nate tells us that it’s worth the wait for genuine, authentic stories for your marketing because…
No one wants to hear from me. No one wants to hear from a 43-year-old guy sitting in an office!
They want to hear from [a student] who’s experiencing it and knows what they’re talking about.
So please listen to our full interview with Nate Jorgensen to get even more insights into user-generated content!
When you listen, you’ll discover insights into:
- Identifying emotional stories prospective students will connect with (7:02)
- Why authentic content is superior to overly-produced marketing (13:46)
- Stretching yesterday’s brand guidelines to solve today’s problems (26:28)
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Featured image via miamioh.edu