With the student firmly positioned as the buyer and universities fiercely competing to attract new students, we're taking a look this week at the impact celebrities and influencers can have on degree programs and how institutions can connect with influential alumni to attract new students.
We've previously talked about how institutions can supercharge their engagement by connecting with influencers This is exactly the type of activity that has propelled brands outside the HE space such as GymShark, Audible and Huel to prominence in recent years.
Institutions, meanwhile, are still exploring how best to leverage influencers. And no more so than notable alumni that can raise the profile and desirability of their university.
The digital transformation of alumni engagement
As far as experiences go, university is the ultimate place for memories and life-enhancing moments. While students likely learned plenty about their industry and built employer-friendly skills at university, they also build a deep relationship with their institution based on many experiences, and that typically develops into an ingrained loyalty.
For universities, the love and commitment of alumni can be a powerful tool for marketing, brand building and, of course, fundraising. But to tap into those benefits, institutions need to find a way to maintain the relationship built when they are students well beyond the time they receive their degree.
In the past, alumni engagement typically revolved around phone calls, conferences, reunions, and direct mail. Now the digital tactics used to engage influencers are becoming more applicable to alumni engagement.
Here, we explore four tactics that are designed to help you connect with alumni and influencers to aid student recruitment and alumni network growth.
#1 Use social listening to identify trends, influencers, and alumni connectors
It's no longer enough to simply monitor conversations relevant to your institution online. Instead, forward-thinking institutions are turning to social listening.
Social listening gives your marketing team clear insights into what alumni are saying, and what your competitor's alumni think across social media and the web.
Comparable to social media monitoring, it's a process of tracking conversations around specific topics and keywords. But unlike social media monitoring, it involves frequent analysis to gain deeper insights and results in actions that will move your institution forward.
Here's how you can use social listening to connect more deeply with alumni:
- Monitor hashtags and keywords alumni use when speaking about your university. Using these, you can track, analyze and respond to alumni conversations about your university online.
- If you notice someone who seems to be particularly invested in your organization, you can identify them, and reach out and ask them to become an alumni advocate.
- You can discover the kinds of content that those who follow and mention you enjoy by reviewing their posts, shares, hashtags, photos, and content. Then, you can use this to create relevant content that matches their tastes and will ultimately draw them into your brand.
#2 Create personas to successfully target alumni influencers
Does your institution use personas as a strategic marketing approach? If so, you can use these in conjunction with your high-level objectives to guide which audiences you want your influencer alumni to connect with.
You must take into consideration alumni's social media presence and whether their engagement is genuine, as well as which social networks they are most active on.
Through your influencer programs, you can speak on different levels to large targeted audiences.
Get into the mindset of your audiences to understand what content they are interested in, what conversations are relevant to them and which social networks they use.
#3 Harness the activity of prominent alumni on YouTube
University-related content posted by influencers has seen views increase by 20% in the last year.
And it's not just students who are producing influential education content on YouTube – graduates and academics are too. The Guardian newspaper recently featured Simon Clark, for instance, a 29-year-old graduate of Oxford and the University of Exeter, who uploads physics, science and climate-based content to his 245,000 subscribers.
Many of the graduates who produce content relating to their course or university experiences, view their institution favorably and want to engage with people on behalf of the institution. Reaching out to connect with them could be valuable.
It's hard to build a large audience on YouTube, so it makes a lot of sense to work with students who already have thousands of followers.
Temple University in Philadelphia, for example, is looking to expand its collaborations with influencers. The communications team approaches them to ask if they might be interested in creating content for the university's YouTube channel and organizes student takeovers on Instagram and Snapchat, where students take control of the channel for a day. Paid positions have been created for video bloggers who typically work for a semester at a time.
#4 Leverage celebrity scholarships, endorsement, and honorary degrees
Hillary Clinton led a seminar with the first recipients of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Global Challenges Scholarship at Swansea University's Singleton Campus last month.
The university launched the scholarship program in partnership with Sky earlier this year, and five exceptional individuals were selected over the summer and granted a fully-funded, postgraduate, one-year scholarship to study at Swansea University's Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law.
The scholarships aim to support the next generation of leaders committed to addressing urgent global challenges, including the rights and protection of children online, the climate crisis and cybersecurity.
Will.i.am, Eli Manning, Rihanna, David Letterman, Jay-Z and dozens of other celebrities have also created scholarships to help university students.
Celebrity endorsement can have a lasting impact on student recruitment.
Will celebrity and influencer endorsement be the next big thing to attract students to courses?
Retail brands have been connecting with influencers and sponsoring content on Instagram and YouTube for years, but higher ed has been relatively slow to enter this space. Some universities are compiling lists of students with large social media followings, but some are still unsure how to work well with them for the best effect.
However, uncertainty about how institutions should pay alumni and graduate influencers has caused some trepidation. And there are questions too about how best to disclose the relationship between institutions and influencers and how to bring in an element of control to content without losing the influencer's creative freedom to speak with their own voice.
Celebrity alumni and graduate influencers can supercharge student recruitment efforts and build up loyal alumni networks. It's early days and the rulebook is being re-written each week, but watch this space.