Prospective students expect it. Social media and digital technology enable it. Improving the effectiveness of higher education enrollment marketing hinges on your ability to increase personalization throughout the admissions cycle.

Gone are the days of boring acceptance letter templates sent snail mail to admitted students or static admissions websites that are more informational than interesting. Standing out in today’s hyper-competitive world of higher education admissions requires a highly individualized, personal approach.

From experiencing a “day in the life” by connecting with current students on Twitter or Instagram, to live-streaming video with your admissions team to answer questions about the admissions process, to private Facebook groups, reaching and engaging with your target audience in new and creative ways will have a direct impact on the quality and quantity of your applicant pool.

Marketing Personalization Starts with Strategy

The colleges and universities that are most effective at creating a highly personalized applicant experience start by developing a complete view of the admissions process from the eyes of a prospective student and then identify the best mix of technology and marketing tactics to bring their strategy to life. Here it’s not about using technology just for technology’s sake but finding a way to augment your overarching admissions strategy by seamlessly integrating social media, live video, and other real-time interactions.

A great example of leveraging digital technology to drive engagement with newly admitted students can be found at the University of Pittsburgh. Instead of traditional acceptance letters, they created a personalized acceptance video that is easily accessible from a smartphone—something that is more likely to generate excitement and encourage social sharing.

Developing relationships with prospective students is very important to enrolling students who are successful future alumni. Combining personalization and video, both expectations of Gen Z, our admitted students feel valued from the moment we offer a spot in the Panther community. Based on web analytics, we know that the video is being shared and viewed multiple times by many more people than the students who are admitted. This helps raise our brand awareness in a significant way.

Kate Ledger, Director of Marketing at University of Pittsburgh Office of Admissions

Personalization can’t be something that gets buried eight clicks deep on your website. If you want your admissions team to be easily approachable or you want to encourage applicants to follow current students on Twitter, you need to make sure the information is front and center and consistent across your marketing channels. What’s the best way to make that happen?

Gather Timely Feedback

While the admissions process is still fresh in their minds, look for opportunities to solicit as much feedback as possible from current and prospective students. You want to develop a clear understanding of their decision-making process including what information was most important to them and how easy it was for them to find. Since they’re also the ones that are most familiar with the latest social media platforms and technology they’re using today to interact with their friends and family, you can use those insights to help shape your strategy for the next admissions cycle.

With higher education engagements, we always include students in our information gathering process. We partner closely with the admissions team to develop highly targeted questions tailored to their unique goals and current challenges and then organize small group discussions to glean actionable insights. After the meetings are complete, we quickly distill the information down and identify possible trends which we then report back and review with admissions staff before moving onto strategy formation.

Empower Current Students

Once enrolled and on campus, students can also serve as an invaluable extension to your admissions team—especially for those with limited bandwidth. With the right structure in place, current students can contribute to blogs, engage with prospective students on social media, and capture their student experiences in ways that would otherwise not be possible.

Make Connecting Easy

Seamlessly fold student stories/profiles, blogs, and social media engagement into your admissions process while also making it incredibly easy for prospective students to connect and share online. This is another area the University of Pittsburgh does exceptionally well. For example, their “Student Voices” dashboard provides a live feed of tweets and Tumblr posts from current students all in one convenient place.

With rising tuition costs, increasing competition from online and traditional academic programs, and changing demographics resulting in fewer high school graduates, the admissions process is only going to get more and more competitive. Given the substantial investment of both time and money, prospective students want to be reassured they’re making the right decision. For that to happen, they’re looking for more than letter templates and online brochures—they want something personal.