A few weeks before posting this article, I was part of a great conversation with George Olesen, CEO of The Ambassador Platform, about empowering a school’s student ambassador team.
(Check out our interview with George on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast here!)
He brought up a survey his team had recently done with over 800 prospective students across the globe. The survey asked them to rank, “What sources of information did you find most useful when researching your study options?”
I think every higher ed marketer should take note of what George had to say about the results:
“It won’t surprise you to know that the [most popular] answer was the website, but a very close second was talking with real students. I mean, really close second. For some categories of students, it was actually the first.” — George Olesen, CEO of The Ambassador Platform
It should be no secret by now that prospective Gen Z students value personal relationships. That means your school’s student ambassador team is your most prized frontline marketing asset.Click to tweet
Peer-to-peer marketing is a proven strategy, but you must ensure your students have the resources and support they need to be successful evangelists for your institution’s value proposition.
1. Define Your Internal Messaging
The first step to building a student ambassador team should be identifying their goals and aligning everyone with your brand’s message.
Your marketing team has clearly defined objectives (hopefully!), so it should be the same for your students:
- Are you using them to recruit prospective students directly or improve brand awareness?
- Who is your target audience? Where can your students find them?
- What language should they use when discussing your brand?
Remember, these are student volunteers, not marketers, so you don’t want to get too bogged down in directives.
After all, the core purpose of ambassadors is to build authentic relationships with future students.
Yet by giving your student ambassador team some rails that give them clear direction when engaging with prospective students, you can protect your school’s brand.
2. Train Your Student Ambassador Team
It’s not enough to give students a copy of your school’s marketing SOPs and a pat on the back on the way out the door!
You need to give your student ambassador team practical training and resources they can use to confidently — and safely — engage with prospective students:
- Tools: Introduce them to useful applications, like Unibuddy, that they can use to connect easily with other students.
- Resources: Compile training videos, webinars, or articles they can easily access.
- Social media: Show them how to interact with people on digital platforms safely.
- Roleplay: Offer interactive workshops so students can practice and develop their in-person communication skills.
Not only will additional training bolster your students’ soft marketing skills, but it can also help your team determine which students are the right fit for specific tasks.
3. Assign Roles to Your Student Ambassador Team Members
Like with your school’s marketing team members, not every student ambassador may be cut out for every responsibility.
Evaluate each of their strengths and weaknesses (a personality test might be helpful with this) and allocate responsibilities accordingly.
Depending on the goals you’ve already outlined, possible roles can include:
- Social media ambassador
- Program mentor
- Student government representative
- Campus tour guide
- Event planner
- DEI advocate
- Athletic ambassador
Once you’ve given an ambassador their assignment, you can designate specific tasks for each one, such as:
- Write blog posts for the school website
- Post social media content
- Take pictures and record video at events
- Participate in student focus groups
- Coordinate student-led tours and Q&As
- Contact prospects by text or email
- Host an applicant on a student shadow day
As you can see from some of these examples, you don’t have to limit your student ambassador team to prospect engagement. Your students can also be invaluable sources of authentic original content and program feedback!
4. Incentivize Your Student Ambassador Team
So you’ve set your ambassadors up for success by setting the tone of your school’s brand messaging, training them, and doling out responsibilities.
That’s great, but how do you ensure they want to continue representing your college or university day in and day out? What’s going to keep them invested?
Going back to our conversation with George Oleson, he said this about a study The Ambassador Platform had conducted when I asked him about incentivizing student ambassadors:
“Our hypothesis was that payment and career benefits [were] going to be the top reasons that… students wanted to become ambassadors for their university. And actually, the number one reason was that they wanted to help. They wanted to help other prospective students [who] had been like them…
The second reason is they wanted to represent. They wanted to feel a part of the community and represent their university.”
As George points out, most student ambassadors just want to help prospects avoid the same pitfalls and friction points they dealt with in their early college experience.
And by intentionally promoting a sense of student community through clubs, events, and social media, you will encourage future students to take up the mantle as your ambassadors graduate.
That said, the easiest way to determine your student ambassador team’s desires is to ask them!
5. Recruit Students From Underrepresented Groups
Your student ambassadors will engage with different personas from all walks of life, and many of those prospects will anticipate representation for their demographic.
Part of the beauty of higher ed peer-to-peer marketing is the flexibility to recruit ambassadors from a large, diverse student body.
Diversifying your student ambassador team isn’t a contrived political play. It’s common sense.
Lee Wilhite, Vice President at Biola University, echoed that sentiment when discussing his school’s approach to recruiting influencers on The Higher Ed Marketer:
“We were looking for students [who] were advocating for diversity and inclusion, wanting to make sure that they had a broad reach in terms of influence.” — Lee Wilhite, Vice President at Biola University
Your ambassadors’ influence will be greater and your school community all the stronger when every group has a voice.
By giving student ambassadors from underrepresented groups access to prospective students, you will show your school’s community that you care about advancing engagement and cultural competencies.
Put Your Best Foot Forward for Your Student Ambassador Team
With tools and services like The Ambassador Platform, Unibuddy, and Zeemee, higher ed marketing teams have more convenient access to peer-to-peer marketing than ever.
Even with those digital assistants, the authentic engagement your school wants to invest in still comes down to relationships. So if your student ambassador team is floundering, or you haven’t drafted one yet, invite a few students to a focus group.
Every relationship begins with a conversation, and trust me when I say students will tell you everything that’s on their minds. You just have to ask the right questions.
If you’re not sure what those are, we can help. Reach out today so you can kickstart your student ambassador team!
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Featured image by Nicolas Micolani via Adobe Stock