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Student Recruitment and Digital Marketing–What You Need to Know

by Sirley Carballo · May 02, 2022

Colleges and universities have always needed a process to attract prospective students to the campus community. After all, existing and prospective students have many choices when it comes to where and how they attend post-secondary education. Recruitment is a way for institutions to distinguish themselves from other schools and to showcase unique offerings.

A group of students sitting on the grass, looking at a computer screen and smiling.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges have had to rethink and revamp traditional student recruitment strategies. Without as many in-person gatherings, a modern and virtual student recruitment process has become essential. Digital marketing tools have allowed recruitment staff to adjust strategies while meeting the needs and expectations of a new generation of students.

In this post, we’ll shed light on recent trends in college recruitment. We’ll also explain how you can leverage some of the most effective marketing strategies to increase your recruitment numbers and meet key enrollment goals.

What is student recruitment?

Student recruitment is the process by which higher education institutions find and attract new students to a given college or university. 

Recruiting students can take place in a general sense by publicizing the school to a large number of potential students who might be interested in attending in the future. Recruitment can also occur in specific scenarios in which a school aims to reach students who fit a very niche profile or interest.

The current state of college recruitment 

It’s no surprise that in the past two years, colleges and universities have had to adjust their recruitment initiatives in the midst of a global pandemic. According to Stuart Mease, an Executive Director at Wake Forest University, modern recruitment trends include the following activities:

  • Diversity recruitment (particularly in partnership with HBCU)
  • Virtual student interviews
  • On-campus recruitment for smaller brands
  • Virtual recruitment for large-scale universities
  • Student mentorship or coaching

Acknowledging these trends, and how they can help schools adapt to a post-COVID world, is essential. In the face of recent enrollment challenges, understanding the current recruitment landscape is a vital first step in overcoming potential admissions problems.

Additionally, higher education leaders like Ellucian have pointed out how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered students’ perceptions about future enrollment possibilities. These emotional and academic responses are reshaping the way that college recruitment staff members conduct normal work.

Why is digital marketing crucial for student recruitment initiatives?

Digital marketing is a major factor in your school’s future recruitment success. 

Not only are current students more “plugged in” to digital outlets and online platforms (particularly social media), but new technologies like AI and predictive analytics mean that colleges and universities need to up their game in order to stay competitive.  

To put it simply–digital marketing is the future of college marketing and recruiting. 

While traditional and in-person tactics have had their rightful place, it’s digital solutions that will enable recruitment staff to learn more information about new students, personalize experiences, and stay competitive through the use of updated solutions and processes. 

A student looking at his phone and smiling. Text bubble graphics surround him.

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Tips for recruitment marketing success

Digital marketing can be a powerful catalyst for new recruitment initiatives. Fortunately, you don’t have to start with a blank slate. 

In the following sections, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite, foolproof ways to incorporate digital marketing strategy into your next recruitment drives.

Know your student market and target audience

Having a defined target market is foundational for any good inbound marketing strategy. Inbound marketing acknowledges that the customer (or in this case, the student) journey is unique and customizable. The purpose is to attract strangers with compelling and relevant messaging and to raise awareness about potential benefits.

Ask the right questions

You can accomplish this goal when you have a keen awareness about your ideal student audience. As we mentioned before, recruitment can be general or specific. To understand how and where you’re directing your marketing efforts, ask your recruitment team the following questions.

  • What is our general student profile?
  • How can we showcase specific academic programs or programmatic offerings?
  • How can we highlight niche programs like sports or extracurriculars?
  • What demographics are most important to our digital marketing efforts?

The answers to these questions shed light on which students you’re trying to reach with your core brand messaging. While you can of course reach and recruit students who fall outside of these definitions, knowing your target market allows you to educate your recruitment staff and equip them with more relevant communications.  

Use research tools to create better digital marketing ideas

The backbone of your digital marketing toolkit is reliable and organized data. This data comes from sources such as:

  • New sttudent questionnaire
  • Enrollment survey
  • Internal staff feedback 
  • Heat-mapping of important student communications or enrollment touchpoints
  • General marketing research (often applies to the broader community)

Compile the results from these sources and brainstorm with internal team members and leaders. 

What do the results say about the content your marketing team shares online? What do the answers reveal about the strengths and weaknesses of your digital marketing efforts?

A solid research strategy helps your team funnel more resources, time, and money into the marketing avenues that are most effective from a recruitment perspective. Instead of wasting valuable resources, it’s better to know where you’re hitting the mark and attracting incoming students.

Leverage popular apps and messaging services to reach modern students

Recent data shows that students from Gen Z are communicating through messaging apps instead of traditional formats like email. 

College recruitment staff should capitalize on new communication tools that help reach prospective students where they are.

Tools and apps like WhatsApp have the potential to change recruitment outcomes, especially for schools that are failing to hit key metrics with email or phone messages.. 

Moreover, modern messaging platforms are a key factor in recruiting international students, who may not have access to domestic or standard phone communication. These possibilities underscore the importance of knowing how minority students communicate with brands (and schools) that they trust. It also means providing equal opportunities for more students to engage with recruitment staff.

How does a CRM platform help?

A CRM platform like Element451 provides a full-scale overview of your recruitment workflow. When you need to attract the right students at the right times, a smart and intuitive platform helps by offering the following features. 

  • Automated workflows with predefined touchpoints
  • Personalized student journeys–from recruitment to enrollment
  • Responsive segments that offer solutions prospective students need
  • Analytics based on real student data

Today’s student recruitment is being shaped by having access to the best and most relevant data. As a result, recruitment staff members need to have the right tools and resources so that they can make decisions and design strategies based on real data.

Improve your higher ed recruitment strategies today

In a post-pandemic higher education culture, colleges and universities must leverage digital marketing to drive recruitment success. There’s never been a better time to upgrade your efforts.

This recruitment season, bring in new students, reach new audiences, and take your internal growth goals one step further.

Book your Element451 demo today to learn how the right CRM platform can take your marketing efforts to another level.


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