It’s no secret that Graduate Programs, and Business Schools in particular, have seen steady drops in enrollment over the past few years. In GMAC’s 2017 admissions report, it found that 64 percent of Full-Time MBA programs saw declines, which matches the overall trend since 2014. 75 Percent saw declines in their international applicants. There are a variety of factors at plays in these numbers, but the outcome is the same – fewer domestic and international students are showing up year over year. In the face of such a decline, the need for aggressive, strategic marketing plans is higher than ever.
In a previous article in April, we covered some exciting trends in the Business School advertising world that utilized LinkedIn in these sorts of powerful ways. We interviewed Angela Bostick, Emory University’s CGO for the Goizueta Business School, who highlighted LinkedIn’s unparalleled ability to target not only the correct demographic for potential students, but the “right fit” students as well. In a market where the number of applications are declining from multiple vectors, there’s no time to waste on outreach efforts towards potential students who won’t make it through the entire process.
In the same spirit, what are schools doing now that can help to enhance these numbers, and how are they currently using LinkedIn to aid in those efforts? At the LinkedIn Education Connect conference last week, I made it a priority to find out exactly that.
In general, most of the conversations at the conference, both on and off the panels, were focused on addressing the full student lifecycle, and using LinkedIn as a strategic tool in all aspects of that process.
Most people in a marketing function these days will tell you about the importance of nurture campaigns or addressing every part of the funnel with equal tenacity. There’s still a lingering trend in Higher Ed, however, to focus with laser like precision on generating leads. Once a prospective student fills out a form, they’re given a barrage of emails with calls to action – and if they proceed down the funnel, there is less and less interaction with the program. In truth, the reverse should be the norm, but this isn’t often the case.
Amanda Karr, the Director of Enrollment Management at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University, led a case study session about their efforts to valuably engage with students with “concierge marketing”, of which LinkedIn is a valued contributor. Rather than just using the platform for advertising and calls to action, they’re utilizing the communications aspect of the platform to meaningfully engage with prospective students throughout the process, making sure that their needs are met from top to bottom. In her own words, they seek to find “The right student, the right story, and the right program”. After her session, I asked Amanda what she saw as the biggest change maker in her process:
“The biggest disconnect we see in targeting only the top of the funnel is seeing someone as a form to be filled out, and waiting for conversion. It’s much more complex than that.”
Aside from the philosophical change that many programs are going through with LinkedIn, a new version of Groups was recently released that had attendees excited. Karr noted that groups might be a great way to connect cohorts together – “Connecting alumni to new students can be a powerful tool, but the biggest influence we see on students is through their peers.” The new Groups function will fold into the existing app, and LinkedIn plans to mold the experience more around the user’s existing network and enhancing the communication experience by tying it directly into your feed. This makes it a perfect tool for cohort/student engagement.
Michael Steelman, the Director of Alumni Career Management and Professional Networks at William & Mary, noted that he was excited about the new Groups news –
“I use LinkedIn as a social hub to engage with our alumni audience, and it was helpful to see LinkedIn’s vision for the future in this vertical. Their commitment to re-investing in Groups and how it can grow was a great outcome.”
At the end of the day, I was thrilled that so many people seemed intent on growing out their marketing efforts to utilize LinkedIn from a holistic standpoint. We’ve seen the data behind how useful the social network can be for the top of the funnel, but we shouldn’t lose sight of using all the tools in our tool belt when it comes to engaging with every aspect of the student lifecycle. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see dipping enrollments as attrition claws away the prospects you’ve worked so hard to get.