How to Attract College Students with Content Marketing: A Case Study

Quinlan

Did you know: 80 percent of prospective college students (the most connected generation ever) uses Facebook. Yet, 25 percent of those prospective students actually view a college’s social media profile. Why? Because universities struggle to produce compelling content that connects.

Brochures, newsletters and leaflets are all great forms of content to attract college students. But while students continue to change how they receive their information, many schools have yet to adapt. While it’s still important to focus on things like flyers and newsletters, it’s even more important for colleges to build effective content marketing programs in order to stand out.

Our agency experienced this same type of challenge with one of our higher education clients. Here’s how we utilized content marketing to attract college students.


Set measurable goals and objectives. 

Although the endgame for content marketing and higher education is likely to increase enrollment, the first step is to decide what exactly you’re looking to achieve. Aside from lead generation, are you looking to see forms filled out on the website? A boost in social media engagement? An increase in website visitors? Content marketing strategy needs to go hand in hand with goals and objectives.

The situation: Trocaire College exists within a competitive higher education marketplace in Western New York and, like many colleges, it was beginning to see a decline in overall enrollment. The school also lacked a serious content marketing strategy. Our campaign set out to do several things: to build an effective content program, to reach new and diverse audiences in the Buffalo metro area, and to ultimately increase student enrollment.

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Understand your audience.

When it comes to content marketing, it’s not about reaching the greatest amount of people, it’s about reaching the right people. What are they interested in? How do they spend their time? What social media platforms are they using?

Trocaire is a private college geared mainly towards nursing students. While it may seem obvious to target high school students, the school actually had a large non-traditional enrollment — with mainly transfer and adult students making up the majority of the population.

In order to attract these audiences, we had to do two things: understand the demographic and find a way to speak to them. We had to propose value that specifically targeted students looking for higher education and adult students looking to advance their careers.

Look beyond leads: Craft a story that sells.

While the ultimate goal for higher education content marketing may be to increase student enrollment, your content shouldn’t be strictly sales based. You have to create content that tells stories, builds trust and creates relationships. What is your unique selling proposition? And how will you use that story to guide your content efforts?

“The challenge is not how to be successful, but how do we figure out how to matter. And the way we matter is by connecting with people through a story,” notes Seth Godin. “A story that resonates, a story they care about and a story they’ll tell other people.”

So that’s what we did. We focused on what makes the school different — like its nontraditional student enrollment, affordability and flexible scheduling. We built Trocaire’s Trailblazer blog around content that would remain relevant to college students, nontraditional students and alumni, such as:

  • Most frequently asked college application questions
  • Most important dates and events at the school
  • History of Trocaire and downtown Buffalo
  • Personal success stories from alumni

These topics gave us the ability to provide visitors with attractive, compelling content which ensured shares and engagement.

Share and promote your content.

Once you’ve found your story and overall strategy, use that information to share that authentic brand voice across the right social channels.

Some interesting statistics from EnVeritas Group:

  • Nine out of 10 students use the internet to research college and course options
  • Four out of 10 students search for education options on their mobile phones
  • More than six out of 10 students use social media to research colleges

No matter which platform applies specifically to your target audience, make sure you provide enough information and entertainment through social media to draw in prospective students.

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Quinlan, for example, created content focused on success stories of Trocaire alumni. We implemented twice-weekly blog posts, daily updates to Twitter/Facebook and an email newsletter program to allude to Trocaire’s relationship with nontraditional students and first-generation college attendees. This not only shows prospective students how wonderful a career in nursing can be, but it strengthens the relationship between the school and its alumni (not to mention broadens our reach once the alumni share our content).

Leverage paid promotion.

Once you’re ready to share and promote content, remember that paid promotion can go a long way. In fact, the average reach for organic Facebook posts is only 2.6 percent. In order to reach your audience, it’s necessary to take advantage of all the benefits paid media has to offer.

“It’s not enough to create great content anymore,” notes Malorie Benjamin, our media director. “We have to make sure that the right people are exposed to the content. This is where paid social promotion comes in. It gives us the ability to reach the right audience with the right information in an extremely targeted way.”

For this program, Facebook became a major driver of blog visits. We worked to create content that would appeal specifically to the audiences of the key programs that Trocaire was looking to fill — like computer network administration and men in nursing. From there, we created target audiences through promotion that matched these profiles and we saw huge success in engagement with the content:

  1. Cost per clicks under $0.30 on many campaigns
  2. Over 500 clicks per post with modest spend
  3. Increasing page likes with one post by over 20

Continuously measure your goals.

When setting up an effective content marketing program, setting up your campaign is only half the battle. What is the goal for your blog? What is the goal for each social platform? Whether it’s views, shares, engagements or enrollment, have a plan in place to measure your success.

For the Trocaire campaign, we utilized Google Analytics to monitor traffic growth and identify most-viewed content. We also implemented email address collection on the blog and launched an email newsletter program.

The result: Over a 10-month period, Trocaire shifted from having no content marketing strategy to having a solid content program, brand, and engaged influencers.

  • 6.25% of blog visitors also visited the Admissions or Academics pages
  • Facebook likes grew 15% and total reach increased 32 times
  • Twitter impressions grew from 9,000 to 363,000

So, it’s pretty safe to say we accomplished our goals: we developed a solid foundation for a content marketing program, increased website traffic, increased social media engagement and saw an increase in enrollment.

It’s also safe to say that content marketing is a necessity when it comes to higher education. All it takes is goals, objectives and a strategic plan.

How have you utilized content marketing for college students or higher education clients? We’d love to chat. Tweet us @QuinlanCompany.