4 Ways to Turn Students into Brand Advocates for Your School
One of the most compelling ways to convince your prospective students of the value and quality of your school’s programs is to have those who know best what it’s like—current students—to share it. Not only can this provide prospective students with a unique, trusted, and convincing brand advocate, but it can lessen the burden of your marketing and admissions teams.
It’s important to mention that there are risks to employing students for your front-end marketing efforts. Therefore, it’s necessary you mitigate these risks with an intentional plan of collaborating with students. Like with anything that is student-generated and associated with your school, you need to make sure students clearly understand what is and isn’t appropriate to share, as well as how to stay on brand.
This means conducting interviews to check for student maturity as well as offering training sessions to familiarize them with your brand and marketing best practices. You certainly don’t want to be to be overbearing in this regard—the point is to let students express their creativity in unique and genuine ways that will resonate with prospective students—but it’s important to make sure students will aid, and not diminish, the perception of your brand.
With that in mind, here are four ways to turn current students into effective brand advocates for your school:
Get Students Involved in Social Media
Who better to communicate through social media to prospective students than their “digital native” peers? Whether it’s sharing photos of the campus at sunset on Instagram or an athletic cheer at the Homecoming football game on Snapchat, current students likely know better than you what is compelling, interesting, and worth sharing on social media.
The key is to recruit one or more students (with monitoring by staff, of course) who already demonstrate an active social media presence and are willing to lend their services to your school. It might be worth posting an intern position for a handful of students for this sole purpose.
Perhaps you can have a student who likes to attend football and basketball games be in charge of covering athletics? Maybe a student who is a member of several on-campus social groups can regularly share photos or comments about club events and social outings? For example, Colorado State University has a detailed strategy for a Snapchat takeover, where students are recruited to host the university's account to engage their audience in compelling and effective ways.
Not only does this help your office by delegating some of the responsibilities to a student intern or volunteer, but it gives students a great chance to learn about social media marketing and to build expertise.
Recruit Well-Known Student Personalities
Some students on campus may already have a huge following on YouTube or Instagram. It is not uncommon for students to post videos offering advice or thoughts on a regular basis to thousands of followers. If your campus has a few students who fit that bill, it can be worth forging a relationship with them.
Find out if these students would be willing to feature video content about their experience at your school and share it with their network. They could answer common questions prospective students have or provide “day-in-the-life” segments giving prospective students an “insider’s” glimpse of campus happenings. This student Vlogger from Chapman University provides a great example of how a student with a large following can play a compelling role in your marketing strategy.
While you’ll definitely need to make sure the content they are already producing is appropriate and doesn’t conflict with your school’s brand, it’s important to again make sure it’s an authentic expression of the student’s experience. It should be collaborative, meaning that while you may have some ideas for them, they should be allowed to maintain their creative and personal flair.
Not every student will be compatible. But if you can forge a relationship that works for both you and the student it can be a tremendously effective marketing strategy.
Maintain a Student Blog
Perhaps you already have a blog (or did in the past)? If so, then great. But many schools have attempted to do this with little success. While a blog featuring articles from current students is an effective tool for communicating with prospective students, a good blog requires consistent and regular activity. This means finding a team of dependable students who are willing to write regularly and meet deadlines. There are few things less compelling than a blog where the most recent post is from three years ago...
But if you have the capacity and resources to manage a small team of students, then it can be a valuable piece to your marketing strategy. The students you select should make a diverse group with respect to year, major, ethnicity, gender, and so on. It’s also important that your blog features photography, so finding writers who are willing to take photos of their experiences (or find them) is important.
For example, Harvard University has a very helpful, up-to-date, and compelling student blog that covers topics like choosing a major, securing summer internships, getting through finals week, and things to do in Boston. While this is certainly helpful to current students, it’s also an effective way to give prospective students a glimpse of what life is like on campus.
It can be challenging to check in on students, edit their work, and make sure they are writing on a consistent basis, but if you can make it work then it’s a great way to let your current students do the talking instead of those in the marketing or admissions office.
Connect Current Students with Prospective Ones
This one can also be difficult because it requires recruiting students who are willing to have phone conversations with prospective students or meet with them in-person when they visit campus. Since it would be nearly impossible to offer that to every single prospective student, you could offer it to ones who have been accepted but haven’t committed yet.
A 20-minute conversation with a fellow physics major or first-gen student could make all the difference in pushing a prospective student over to accepting a spot at your school. The University of Washington, for example, recruits Undergraduate Ambassadors. These ambassadors are made up of current students with online profiles. Prospective students can email them directly to have questions answered and gain valuable insight.
Of course, it’s important that the current students you recruit can be counted on to not flake out on their appointments or calls. Also, someone who doesn't like the school is not going to be a good option (they would likely decline your invitation anyways). But you want to recruit students who can speak honestly and those who are reasonably knowledgeable about the school.
There are also other ways to connect current students with prospective ones. For one, you could have certain types of students lead tours for prospective students with similar interests. For example, maybe prospective students (along with their parents) considering a STEM major can go on a campus tour led by a student majoring in physics or engineering. Stonehill College has taken this idea even further, actually offering a STEM Academic Preview Day for prospective students interested in those disciplines.
Another example of connecting prospective students with current ones is offering student Q&A panels that correspond to specific student types or interests during campus visits. This might include a panel of students with diverse backgrounds, first-gen students, out-of-state students, and so on.
It may require some logistical planning, but prospective students will certainly appreciate the personal touch of connecting with a current student as they attempt to make the important decision of selecting a college to attend.
Considering these four approaches (and adding your own ideas)—Your best brand messengers may be closer than you realized!