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Higher Ed Marketing Memos by Rebecca Stapley

I’m Rebecca, a self proclaimed “Enrollment junkie” who has wandered into the new territory of Advancement and Alumni. After collaborating closely with our Alumni and Development teams over the last few years and even launching our first ever Giving Day in April, I decided to try on a new kind of conference this summer. At the end of July, I had the opportunity to attend my first RAISE conference by Everture and these are my top takeaways.

Humans first, Higher Ed Marketers second

RAISE ConferenceBefore the conference even started, I had the opportunity to connect with our customer success manager, Caroline.

I did not have to meet with her, but I wanted to.

Why? Because every email we exchanged before our meeting was personalized, authentic and had already created a relationship.

When we met in person, I was immediately welcomed, not as a client, but as a fellow human and friend. Caroline introduced me to other conference goe-ers from Cal Poly and before I knew it, I had a new circle of kindred spirits. We talked a bit about what we do, and the challenges we face, but we also talked about the things that light us up: travel, butter soaked lobster roll and jokes about millenials (okay, maybe that was just me–a self deprecating millennial).

Takeaway #1

It’s very easy to get caught up in whirlwind of data and goal-driven jargon, but at the heart of great marketing lies empathy and the ability to speak and connect as humans, not just prospects and conversions to be made. In marketing and life, it’s okay to let it be silly, authentic and non-linear. that’s how the real value shines through.

Lead with value

Mike Troiano, Partner at G20 Ventures charged us to “knock with our feet” and not rely on the crutch of nostalgia, but rather, lead with value, utility and relevance, especially in the context of Alumni outreach.

He stopped me dead in my tracks as I thought about the communication I receive as an Alumni: a large majority of systemic asks and very little authentic value.

Raise Conference Stage Sign

Takeaway #2

It’s time to get creative and move away from tradition.

Rather than asking only what our Alumni can do for us, we need to ask what we can do to create meaningful, personalized value for our alumni.

Just a few ideas from Mike: industry influencer events, career transition support and sponsored airport lounges. Alumni are remarkable makers, experts and dynamic individuals, it’s time to act as innovative connectors through the content, experiences and relationships we have the power to create. This one definitely got the creative ideas going.

Walk in their Pumas

Ann Unger of Puma asked “how do we meet consumers where they are?”.

We’re living in an age of marketing where knowing our audience on a deeper level is essential.
How and what apps are they using?
What do they care about and what influences their daily life?

For Puma, they have shifted their emphasis on Instagram, knowing that more consumers are finding the brand there first and seeking their website last (sound familiar, SM friends?). The point that made me say amen, sister! was when Ann said “our consumers have built-in BS detectors.” It’s so true and important to remember, especially in the landscape of Higher Ed with both alumni and prospective students.

Takeaway #3

So what does resonate with consumers?

Faces, and not the kind you find in stock photography. It’s content that looks, sounds and feels real.

Make sure your copy is approachable, if you read it aloud and it makes you cringe or laugh, it’s time to adjust.
Be human and think about how you connect to your audience and how they will connect with your college.

For Puma this includes tapping celebrity influencers on social. In my world, influencers are current students, alumni and breathing members of the campus community.
Give your influencers the creativity and space to be themselves and have fun.
Combine this with social listening and measurement you’ve got a winning formula.

Engagement is just the beginning

Evertrue CEO and founder Brent Grinna took the stage and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. A sales pitch, sports analogies intended to pump us up?

Instead, he gave an example of great organic social engagement (below) and asked “what happens next?” cue the crickets.

Engagement Tweet

In that moment he shed light on a very uncomfortable issue that I could feel in my bones was both true and relevant.

What do we do with the carefully targeted people who are raising their hands, liking our posts and connecting with our content?
It’s not enough to create and track engagement, how are we following through and nurturing these relationships?
How are we understanding our constituents and connecting the dots to create community, belonging and offer the highest value?

Takeaway #4

It’s time to do better.

It’s easy to get caught up in the important work of segmenting, targeting and engaging our online audiences, but it’s not enough.

In order to create true success we need to go beyond engagement and focus our efforts on what we are doing with it.
How are we fostering these relationships and responding with thoughtful action that aligns with our goals?

As Brent says, it takes a combination of strategy, people and technology. It requires us to flip the funnel and start with engagement, from there we can qualify and get to the important work of deeply connecting with our prospects on a personal, human level.

Let’s get to work!

I left RAISE feeling both inspired and motivated to put these new ideas into practice.

Rather than pretending I can “do all the things” I’ve decided to focus on these takeaways as the foundation to build what comes next. The steps to elevate my “social media team” of student bloggers and social content creators and thinking about how I can take our social engagements to the next level. Now comes the fun part: the brainstorming, sharing and wacky creativity that creates connection to bridge the gap between our goals and the amazing humans on the other side of the screen(s).

Meet the Author: Rebecca Stapley

Rebecca Stapley is the Assistant Director, Multimedia & Public Relations at Nazareth College, and a graduate of the Higher Ed Experts’ professional certificate program in Social Media Marketing for Higher Ed.

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