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The COVID-19 pandemic forced admissions and marketing professionals to adapt and evolve more rapidly than we ever have before. Our marketing messaging moved out of the mailbox and inbox into a new frontier. We are now fighting for screen time. While the ability to share, stream and simulcast has never been easier, the pressure is on to ensure that we’re creating content that’s actually worth watching.

Today, our marketing must strike a balance between being informative, communicating the value of a degree at our institution and helping a student find their fit in an increasingly digital world. The same way that a 17-year-old stays up-to-date on the latest TikTok trend or challenge, we must keep up with what our students want and how they want it. We can’t afford to remain static in how we market our institutions.

Adapting Content Channels to New Research Approaches

Recently, Encoura Eduventures Research published an updated summary of data from their annual Student Sentiment Survey uncovering distinct approaches (i.e., search strategies) students take to their college search. In a time when enrollment is down across the country, we don’t have the luxury to ignore what these students are telling us about what they want as they search. It is paramount to serve them content that not only aligns with, but exceeds, their expectations.

For example, if I see that almost 50 percent of students who begin their college search early like to go beyond the standard email, print and website options, and/or prefer digital engagement, my institution should provide easy access to video content that highlights the student experience and catches student interest early. At Western Connecticut, we give access to our current students and alumni through live and on-demand video content, supplementing our email, print and website beyond what students expect.

Adapting Content Features to Their Needs

Additionally, updated insights from summarize four personas based on research responses from the Class of 2022. The purpose of considering personas in your marketing messaging is to identify what content will best resonate with each unique group of students. Stop doing the same thing for everyone and figure out how to personalize at scale!

Of note, 78 percent of students who fall in the optimist persona category express an interest in attending virtual events. Even as we experience a return to campus visit programming and travel, a robust recruitment plan must include virtual engagement. For this reason, we have strategically planned 15 virtual event opportunities for students this fall, opportunities to engage with us beyond the campus visit or college fair, and opportunities we know will keep WCSU at the forefront of their college search.

Making the Connection

PlatformQ Education recently published key recommendations for building a virtual strategy. From involving your current students in the planning process to relying on storytelling rather than boring presentations, you need to think about how you will engage students with your brand and culture. At WCSU, we took this guidance to heart, hosting a virtual Kickoff to Fall Events where we could highlight all of the opportunities to engage, both virtually and in person, and increase anticipation of everything to come.

To increase our ability to offer virtual opportunities, without increasing resources, we had to consider which strategies were meaningful and which strategies did we need to continue (even if the ROI was low). The new engagement matrix offers a chance to consider not only the strategies you keep but how you present them -- we have the opportunity to reconsider which connections remain in person and what can be just as effective virtually.

My advice? Take a long look at what you’re doing and do it better. By doing so, you will develop a stronger presence at every stage of the student search process.

Jay Murray is the associate vice president for enrollment services at Western Connecticut State University. A recognized expert in student recruitment and engagement, he has presented on numerous virtual panels and at conferences including the National Association of College Admission Counseling national conference.