When you’re considering which online channels to use in your student recruitment efforts, there’s no lack of choice. You can focus on website SEO, take your pick between tons of study portal sites, publish great content on social media channels, ranging from YouTube to TikTok and from vKontakte to Instagram. And so on.
You can’t do all, or at least, you can’t do all of them well.
I believe there isn’t really one right way to pick online student recruitment channels. There’s more than one road that leads to Rome. But being strategic and deliberate in your choice of channels can drastically shorten the time till breakthrough.
How to pick online recruitment channels strategically was the subject of a webinar I did in partnership with DreamApply a few months back. Here’s my segment.
If you haven’t downloaded a free PDF copy of my book yet, you can do so here:
Search vs. Outreach channels
An important first distinction is between search and outreach channels.
Search encompasses SEO, Paid Search Ads and listings on student portal sites. YouTube is a borderline case: it’s the world’s second largest search engine but it’s also used as a social medium. Search channels are all about popping up when a prospective student is actively researching. So it is fairly passive: you don’t push your message out, but rather show up right when people are looking for it.
On the upside, it means that you reach people with a serious interest, at exactly the right time. So it’s a warm audience. People who come in through search channels are relatively likely to engage with you and end up as enrolled students.
The flip side is that you can’t search for what you don’t know. So search audiences are relatively small, and you have no control over who searches. They may not fit your ideal student profile.
Outreach is all about you actively engaging audiences of prospective students on social media (and traditional media as well). This helps to establish mindshare in places and among student populations that you’re eager to recruit. Since you take the first step, these people might not have given you, or the subject of study, any thought. So these audience tend to be colder than the audiences you reach through search.
But by doing outreach consistently, you will build a much firmer basis for your institution in the long run.
Organic vs. Paid
And then there are organic as well as paid varieties to both search and outreach.
Organic channels don’t require you to pay for exposure. Organic search is when your website gets found in the search engine results, because the search engine believes it’s a relevant result. Organic social happens when you post something on a social media site and it gets shared into peoples’ feeds. The strength of “organic” is that you don’t have to pay for impressions or clicks. On the flip side: online platforms are only interested in holding their visitors’ attention for as long as possible, so messages that are salesy or direct tend to not get much exposure. So organic traffic tends to be better for brand building than for directly driving recruitment.
Paid channels give you a lot more control. You can decide who gets to see your message, and you can be very direct in your messaging. As long as you have the budget, you can reach as many people as you want. But since the people you reach might not have had any exposure to you, paid social audiences can be colder – you will need to warm them up before pitching your institution to them.
Bringing it all together
Determining your mix of marketing channels is a bit like building a camp fire. You need thinner branches for kindling, and larger logs for continued heat.
I explain this metaphor a bit more in the video.
Hope this article helps you to come up with a channel mix that works for you!