Digital Strategies for Any Higher Education Institution During a Pandemic

The Blog

Melissa Ross
Digital Content Producer

Digital Strategies for Any Higher Education Institution During a Pandemic

While there are countless industries that have struggled since the beginning of the pandemic, one industry that’s facing major challenges and seismic changes is higher education. These institutions have been forced to completely rethink how they’re marketing to potential and current students. Whether it’s navigating new COVID restrictions, rolling out virtual learning, dealing with students opting out of college all together and decreased marketing budgets, they are struggling to connect with their end users. 

Here at G/L, we work with higher education clients who are faced with all of these challenges.  Based on our experience, we’ve gathered some strategies that we believe should be incorporated into any higher education marketing strategy. And guess what? They’re all techniques within the digital space…and they don’t cost a fortune.

First and foremost, any marketing strategy, especially that within a higher education space, needs to be reaching the right audiences (Gen Z and millennials mostly) where they’re already at — on their phones and online. And the best part is that digital marketing, especially social media marketing, is one of the most budget-friendly options out there. But before you start worrying about your advertising budget, this first recommendation will only cost your higher education institution time and effort. 

Audit your digital experience 

Take time out to evaluate every aspect of your digital presence. Start with auditing your online programs, your class registration process and your payment tools. Make sure that these processes and experiences are simple and easy to use for all involved. Next, make sure that your website is easy to navigate via mobile devices. According to Statcounter Global Stats,  54.25 percent of people worldwide are using their mobile devices to access the internet. Without a mobile optimization, your website is only accessible to less than half of the population. 

Lastly, incorporate customized experiences into your strategy. Not only is this a trend in the digital space, but it’s expected from higher education institutions by prospective students. Whether that’s creating custom landing pages for your different student personas (ie. international, first-years, etc.), utilizing a personalized student portal or employing personalized digital ad and/or email campaigns, these digital tools will build trust between your brand and your audience.

Don’t skimp on your social media

Since the onset of COVID-19, social media usage worldwide is up by 44 percent, and 40 percent of consumers are spending longer on social media sites due to a lack of in-person connection. Not only are your prospective students on social media, but it’s also one of the most budget-friendly marketing tools to use. However, with varying platforms and strategies, it’s hard to know what tactics a higher education institution should take. Here’s what we would suggest:

Utilize chat bots

This is another great way to bring that personalized touch to your brand without a lot of labor. The pandemic has restricted in-person appointments, however you can still have those personalized conversations answer questions and concerns by using chatbots. Using this streamlined method can also help your prospective students through the enrollment and application process. Try chatbots with LinkedIn Conversation ads and FB Messaging ads. Check out how we did this for our client, Lindenwood University here.

Utilize TikTok + Instagram Reels

Since its launch in 2016, TikTok has rapidly grown to be the seventh-largest social media platform. As of 2020, 62 percent of users are between the ages of 10-29 and nine out of ten of these users open the app multiple times a day. On Instagram, there’s a reported 1 billion monthly active users as of 2020, 70 percent of whom are under the age of 35. Overall, 29 percent of teens say TikTok is their preferred social platform, and for Instagram it’s 25 percent. All of these statistics say that it’s a no brainer for a higher education institution to have some sort of organic strategy for short-term video across both platforms. At the very least, it would help increase brand awareness, brand recall and new student acquisition. 

Utilize Influencers

Morning Consult reports that “72 percent of Gen Z and Millennials follow influencers, and teenagers are more likely to follow many.” Taking advantage of the reach that well-known alumni, professors, and distinguished students is a great way to reach your audience the way they want to be reached – via those who they seek out daily for information and opinions. 

Increase your video content output

Video is a crucial part in any higher education marketing strategy for the simple fact that your students and prospects can’t visit and experience your campus for themselves. So it’s up to the school to create an immersive experience representing the atmosphere of their campus and curriculum to those students at home in front of their computers/mobile devices. It’s imperative for marketers to make those experiences come to life through video in order to drive prospective students to enroll. Some video content ideas could be:

  1. Campus tour videos (check out our work for Ursuline Academy)
  2. Speakers
  3. Day-in-the-life videos
  4. Meet the professors
  5. Department spotlights

Obviously, every school needs their own strategic, brand-driven marketing solutions that are tailored to their specific goals and brand, which is something we can help with. Let’s chat and see how Geile/Leon Marketing Communications can help your higher education institution build a marketing plan that will get you the most return on investment. 

Trending from G/L: Instagram’s Hidden Like Count Test

The Blog

Melissa Ross
Digital Content Producer

Trending from G/L: Instagram’s Hidden Like Count Test

Instagram is positive. It’s happy. It’s bright. It makes the users ‘feel good’. But, is the pressure to align with Instagram’s “happy” culture causing users to actually be less happy “IRL?” While no one’s questioning Instagram’s impact on users’ purchasing decisions, a recent test by Instagram could change the way advertisers and influencers use the platform altogether.

Let me explain.

Twitter is known in the social media community as probably the best way to directly, in real time, engage with your audience. But, it can also be a catalyst for bullies. Twitter is a notorious hotbed of abuse, so much so that the social platform has recently abandoned its previously “reactive” approach towards abusive content, and begun to take action on how to be proactive and preventative when it comes to abusive content. On the other end of the spectrum, Instagram looks to be the friendliest of the social media platforms. The visually-led community cultivates positive and motivational messaging, where posts that go viral tend to have a positive message, and where many of the most famous accounts are of dogs and cats.

But some mental health experts say that this positivity presents a unique problem. It encourages its users to post upbeat and staged photos that others could be misleading to others and potentially harmful. Scarlett Dixon is a primary example.

The fashion blogger posted a promoted photo of herself having breakfast, with the intention of promoting Listerine mouthwash. The photo was quickly screenshotted and posted on Twitter, where users called out the inauthenticity of the image. The user stated, “Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnIlqUShl31/?utm_source=ig_embed

The tweet took off, with more than 111,000 likes and almost 25,000 retweets. Dixion even responded to comments calling her fake, saying, “My feed isn’t a place of reality. I mean, who spends their time in such a beautiful city, perched on a ledge, ice-cream in hand and smile permanently affixed to her face? It’s staged, guys.”

It’s for this reason alone that experts are looking at how harmful Instagram is to its users mental health. In a 2017 survey by the Royal Society for Public Health, 14- to 24-year-olds scored Instagram as the top social platform that most negatively impacts their quality of sleep, their fear of missing out, and their body image.

“It’s a reward cycle, you get a squirt of dopamine every time you get a like or a positive response on social media,” explains psychologist Emma Kenny when speaking to Cosmopolitan about the effect of social media likes on one’s mental health.“It’s like a hit, similar to the way you feel when you have a drink. The social media like triggers that reward cycle and the more you get it, the more you want it.”

Now, Instagram is testing out a way to possibly combat these negative effects on its users, but it might be at the expense of its advertisers, and more specifically, its influencers.

Imagine an Instagram where no one but you can see how many likes or followers you have. That’s exactly what Instagram is currently testing internally. Researcher Jane Manchun Wong discovered the change in a beta view on her Instagram, and Instagram confirmed the testing with TechCrunch.

“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who share a post will see the total number of likes it gets,” says Instagram in a pop-up message about the feature test.

An Instagram spokesperson said that the testing is a result of the company trying to find ways “to reduce pressure on Instagram,” which is likely their way of addressing how this validation culture has been shown to hurt mental health and self esteem.

With influencers’ income solely dependent on their engagement rates and likelihood of a post “going viral,” this change can directly hurt their business. By hiding their engagement on posts, influencers could find it harder to get deals with businesses for sponsored content. Brands need to see engagement on content before tapping an influencer to rep their product so that they can gauge their ROI. It would also make it near impossible for users to figure out which posts are popular on the platform, and therefore, influential. For a social media specialist like me, it will be harder to learn what kind of content is resonating with the Instagram community.

As this testing concludes and impacts possible changes on the platform, it will be interesting to see how Instagram social media strategies change across the board for influencers, businesses and advertisers alike.

If you’re in the market for the creation of a social media strategy to fully optimize your business’s digital footprint that will directly improve sales, brand awareness, and engagement, let’s chat.

Trending from G/L: Brands Taking a Stance

The Blog

Melissa Ross
Digital Content Producer

Trending from G/L: Brands Taking a Stance

In overwhelming numbers, today’s top brands are beginning to take stances on certain issues and stepping up on a soap box to make those positions known. In recent years, we’ve seen many businesses take positions on social and even some political issues. The conventional thought has long been that doing so runs the risk of 1. alienating some of your audience, and 2. opening your brand up to even harsher criticism of the campaign in question, but with time we’re seeing more and more companies and brands shift their strategies towards embracing the potential positive impacts of commenting on political and social issues.

Maybe it’s companies beginning to cater to Millennials, or maybe these companies have deemed 2018 as the perfect time to begin a conversation about more than just their brand. A recent study from Weber Shandwick, a PR agency, found that 51% of Millennials would be more likely to buy products from companies that have a CEO that have taken a stance on a controversial issue.

In recent weeks, we’ve all seen the Colin Kaepernick Nike ad campaign pop up in social media and on the news, with everyone from the President to your grandma weighing in. But during that time, a few other brands make social statements that demonstrate how doing so can go very right, and sometimes not so right.

Animal Crackers, a Nabisco product, has a new look, embracing a packaging change that animal rights activists have long fought for. The Barnum’s Animals packaging makeover now shows the familiar animals from the original box out in the open, walking freely in the wild as opposed to in cages or circus tents, as previous packaging depicted. This change comes a little over a year after the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Company closed due to poor attendance that was at least partially brought on by criticism of the company’s treatment of animals.

Mondelez International

Kiichiro Sato/AP

Even PETA weighed in on the Barnum’s Animals packaging change. “The new box for Barnum’s Animals perfectly reflects that our society no longer tolerates caging and chaining exotic animals for circus shows. No living being exists simply to be a spectacle or to perform tricks for human entertainment, yet all circuses and traveling shows that use animals treat them as mere props, denying them everything that’s natural and important to them,via NPR. 

And in a culture that has seen a hefty spike in vegetarianism relating to animal rights, as well as an ever-expanding market for pet owners (in 2017, pet owners spent $69 billion on their furry friends), Nabisco knew that it was the right time to make this change. While there will always be someone somewhere who is crotchety about change, this packaging re-design was a virtually no-risk move that helps the brand align with consumer values.

Another recently released ad was the new Land O’Lakes She-I-O campaign. While the campaign was aimed at bringing awareness to the women farmers out there, it missed the feminist mark that we believed it was going for.

Land O’Lakes is a consumer brand best known for producing one of the world’s greatest gifts: butter. What consumers may not know, however, is that the brand is also a member-owned agricultural cooperative made up of 1,791 farmers  And, according to the company, many of these farmers are women. In celebration of Women’s Equality Day in August, Land O’Lakes honored female farmers through a video that also served as the kick off to their new “All Together Better” campaign, which is aimed at creating awareness around the crucial role women play in an industry that many assume is dominated by men.

From a production standpoint, the brand and its agency, The Martin Agency, killed it. The overall message, concept and visuals are spot on. The video is beautifully produced, featuring real female farmers in real farm environments. All the pieces are in place to make this a truly effective video…except the music.

Teaming up with country music singer Maggie Rose, Land O’Lakes developed “She-I-O”—a new, progressive take on Old MacDonald that sought to transform the song from an antiquated nursery rhyme to an anthem of female empowerment. Now, I’m no music critic, and perhaps it’s the childish nature of the original, but the song feels hokey and nearly comes off as a mockery of the thoughtful and relevant message. As this Jezebel article points out, “…they cannot get any more specific about what she or we can do, other than working really long hours. In the service of what? Under which conditions?” Maybe that’s too much to ask for a three-minute video, but perhaps a different approach would have garnered a better reaction.

At the end of the day, will the brand’s reputation be hurt by this song choice? Likely not. The overall message is authentic and one they can truly stand behind. But it is one more lesson to be learned about the ways brands should (or shouldn’t) participate in social commentary.

Trending from G/L: Engagement is key to Instagram’s new algorithm

The Blog

Melissa Ross
Digital Content Producer

Trending from G/L: Engagement is key to Instagram’s new algorithm

Back in March of 2016, the world flipped upside down when Instagram put an algorithm in place to change how our content was delivered to us. Previously, posts were shown in chronological order, but with the new algorithm, content became prioritized based on the likelihood that you would engage with it.

Since then, Instagram has been continuously tweaking the algorithm, especially after they found that about 70% of posts were being missed due to an increasingly massive amount of content. Their goal was and still is to bring increased likes and comments to posts, but a lot of brands started seeing a decrease in activity – which bring us to today.

Though Instagram doesn’t publicly release exactly how the algorithm works, they have released key influencing factors on how content is delivered to the end user.  These factors include: how much engagement you’re getting on posts, how long your content is viewed, the time when you post, the type of content, who searches for you and how often, and if your posts are shared via direct messages.

Putting it in layman’s terms

All of these factors revolve around engagement. Engagement = more engagement – it’s a continuous cycle. Once a user engages with a brand, it is more likely that that user will be fed the brand’s other content too.

If you’re not at the point of getting engagement on your brand, then you’re negatively impacted by this algorithm. But we’re here to help with that. Of course, better content will help immensely (don’t know how to take your content to the next level? Let’s talk.), but so will a couple of additional key focuses. AdWeek lists 5 ways of ensuring that your posts are hitting these engagement marks.

  1. Schedule posts for optimal times: When your engagement happens is important. According to studies, photos that receive immediate likes shortly after posting perform better in the long-run.
  2. Call-to-action before the line break: Later, an Instagram marketing platform, suggests that the caption to the photo is almost as important as the photo itself. Be sure you’re prompting both your followers and new visitors to take further action from the get-go.
  3. Hashtags are important: According to Adweek, posts with at least a single hashtag average 12.6% increase in engagement. But don’t go overboard!
  4. Use the newest features: Take advantage of Stories, videos, carousels, Boomerangs, etc. Distribute your content creatively to gain more interest.
  5. Utilize paid advertising: With a successful paid ad strategy, you will be able to build a targeted audience that will ultimately build better engagement.

Don’t go at Instagram marketing alone. Our team can help build your brand a strategy for optimal results. Give us a call.

Trending from G/L: “Black Mirror” Episode Comes To Life

The Blog

Ben Schwab
Art Director

Trending from G/L: “Black Mirror” Episode Comes To Life

Fans of the popular Netflix series “Back Mirror” are no strangers to its delightfully dark, prescient perspective on the human condition, our cultural relationship with technology, and how those things will often come to odds with one another. One episode in particular, Nosedive, imagines a world where people can rate each other from one to five stars based on every interaction they have. However, unlike gaining or losing followers over social media, this social credit system directly impacts an individual’s socioeconomic status.

Social Credit System IRL

This may sound like an over-exaggerated interpretation of our personal investment/obsession with social image and acceptance, but it carries an added weight after discovering that this concept may not exist purely within the realm of science fiction. In fact, a form of this big brother monitoring is already rolling out in China.

First announced in 2014, China has begun testing what is essentially a social credit system. This system is currently handled through local councils and non-disclosed tech platforms, and exists to reward those who exhibit anything deemed as positive behavior and punish negative behavior. Individuals would carry a score based upon their observed behaviors and this number can dictate how a person is treated in everyday interactions.

The potential repercussions of these social punishments include such things as denied purchase of plane tickets or hotel rooms, having your Internet access throttled, denied opportunities for better jobs, and even the possibility of open public shaming when labeled as a “Bad Citizen.” While on the positive end individuals can expect perks for high scores such as increased boosting on dating apps, reduced energy bills and better interest rates from banks.

Marketing Takeaways

While we may cringe at the notion of a social credit system applied to human beings, the concept really isn’t all that foreign to brands, PR professionals, marketing professionals and the like. Everything that a brand does, says, tweets and hashtags has an affect, from minuscule to massive, on their overall perception. A run of bad press can destroy a brand’s good standing with consumers, just like a series of positive press can improve a brand’s standing. Say the right things, and a brand’s social credit can earn more loyalty, improved partnerships, etc. But say the wrong things, and face a long, uphill climb to regaining the trust of your audience.

In today’s digital world of screenshots and databases, it’s essential to carefully maintain a consistent message, personality and presence in the market. Just like a product recall can have long-lasting affects on consumer trust, screenshots of deleted tweets can spread like wildfire and have the same long-lasting affects on a brand’s reputation. That’s why it’s important to regularly affirm both, internally and externally, what your brand stands for and how that is communicated.

Looking to evaluate your brand and improve its “social score?” We know a few people who can help with that.

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