Recruiting is an important part of any university’s lifeblood. Students (rightfully) see choosing the best school for them as a high-stakes decision that has to be made with careful consideration. Their high standards mean you have to figure out how to tell the right story to show them what your school is and why it’s a strong choice.
Your university blog can be a powerful tool for that.
Your university website already has to do a lot of work in providing prospective students the basic information they need, while also serving current students, faculty, alumni, and anyone else seeking information about your school. You don’t have a lot of room there to paint a picture for your visitors of what it means to be a student at your school. A blog gives you a chance to dig into the details and show prospective students more clearly what they can expect. And students today know blogs. As of 2007, almost a third of all teens had done some blogging themselves.
Having a blog will only help you with student recruitment if you use it well. Here’s how to make sure your university blog helps win students over to your college.
1. Focus on student interests and needs
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a university blog is making it all about what you think makes the school look good. You need to work on shifting your perspective to what your potential students are thinking. Talk to your current students. Talk to students who come for a visit to the campus. Figure out what they’re interested in and what kind of questions they have. Shape your strategy for the blog around what they tell you.
Colorado State University does a great job on their ValuEd blog at covering topics of concern to continuing ed students. A group of prospective students that may generally feel underserved in college recruitment, they’re an audience that has a lot of questions and concerns about the process of getting a college education late in life. With topics like “Why Waiting to Go to College May Be The Best Choice You Ever Made” and “Should I Pursue a More Practical Degree” they go straight to the issues their audience is thinking about and make a larger case for why college is valuable, instead of making it all about CSU (although they do slip a link to learn more about CSU’s offerings at the end of the first post).
Your blog posts can’t be all about you. They have to emphasize what your prospective students are thinking, feeling, and entertained by first.
2. Recruit student bloggers
Even at a young age, students know how advertising works. They recognize that the person working at a university that sings its praises is being paid to do so (even though they might mean what they’re saying). The word of a university marketer, in whatever form it takes, won’t matter as much to them as the word of someone like them.
That’s where student bloggers come in. Not only are they much closer to prospective students than anyone in your marketing office demographically speaking, but they’re also perfectly equipped to tell potential students exactly what they need to hear most: what it’s like to be a student at your school. In addition to the quality of education and resources the school offers, students want to be able to picture what their life will look like for the next few years. If you recruit a diverse array of student bloggers, their posts can show prospective students a lot of options for what that could be.
Cornell highlights the student blogs of students from different years, studying a variety of different things. From the Human Ecology and Nutritional Sciences major who writes about great restaurants in town to the Arts & Sciences and Government student who writes about her time studying abroad, the student blogs show the variety of subjects and extracurricular interests students at the school are able to pursue and brings some personality to a prospective student’s view of the school.
3. Feature your faculty
Student stories are extremely important to helping students picture themselves at your school, but one of the biggest components to what their experience will be like as a student is the faculty they work with. Invite your professors to contribute posts of their own that tell readers something about their experience, interests, and personality. Make sure these posts are written in a way that’s likely to appeal to potential students. A lot of the writing professors are most used to does require an academic tone, which you’ll want to avoid here. The posts shouldn’t just be about how much a faculty member knows or how many awards they’ve earned, they should show off the stuff that matters to their students – like their humor or ability to communicate what they love about their specialty.
Boston University has a section on their website called Professor Voices that collects opinion pieces, research updates, and videos where different professors provide their opinions on a random topic. Importantly, these aren’t dry, academic treatises. They touch on issues that many students are likely to care about, like gun control and gay marriage, and the school mixes up formats, using videos as well as writing.
You can fold faculty pieces like this into your main blog so they’re easier for your students to come by. You can also do posts highlighting a particular professor and sharing a bit about their background and current research. In that case, be sure to include more casual information like how many pets they have, their favorite movie, or the best vacation they’ve ever had alongside information on their academic work, so your readers get a more casual and human look at who they are.
4. Tell alumni stories
Your students can paint a picture of what potential students’ lives will be like once they’re in school. Your faculty will help shape their lives during that time. Your alumni though, they’re the picture of the possibilities that will open for them once they finish school.
24% of students in a recent survey cited alumni as some of the people most influential in their decision to attend a college. Alumni content shows students the various paths people have taken after getting an education at your school, and it shows that graduates are happy enough with their experience there to continue participating through the blog in the years after.
Forward-thinking students will be quick to pay attention to stories of how alumni are doing now, how they felt about their experience with your school, and any advice they might have to offer for those interested in pursuing a similar path. The University of Vermont has a series called Alumni Advice on their blog. Each entry in the interview series describes what the alumni is doing now, gives them the chance to talk about the process of getting to that point, and includes any advice they have for current students.
That’s content that’s both useful to students in a tangible way – particularly any students hoping to go into one of the professions a highlighted alumni is in now – and that demonstrates the role the college plays in helping students develop and achieve their goals.
5. Make sure your blog is optimized for mobile
Nobody reading this will be surprised to hear that teenagers spend a lot of time on their mobile devices. 67% of teens have smartphones and about 46% of the time they spend on any device, they spend on their mobile devices. Even if the main audience you’re hoping to reach is adults interested in continuing education, nearly a third of all internet traffic now happens on mobile.
While the content you include on the blog is extremely important, the kind of experience your prospects have when they land on your mobile website matters too. Many of them will now be coming to your blog on mobile devices and you need to make absolutely certain that they can read the posts you publish without too much effort, or they’re more likely to give up on the content than continue, no matter how great it is.
6. Encourage and interact with comments
Blog comments are the best way for readers to interact with the content you create. Not every blog post will inspire prospective students to leave comments, but when they do, make sure you’re paying attention and ready to respond. The ideal for a blog that’s used for recruitment should be to develop a community that has an ongoing conversation. For there to be a chance of that happening, you have to be part of the conversation.
Your blog comments could become a valuable resource for providing insights into what your future students are thinking. What kind of topics do they care about? What questions do they have? How do they feel about your university and the content you’re putting out there? Pay attention and let those insights guide your blog strategy as you go.
7. Promote your blog on social media
Most teenagers are on social media. You knew that already. There have been enough trend stories written on the subject that pretty much everyone does. If you want people to find the content you put out there, you have to do the work of promoting it. If you want the people you’re trying to reach to find it, then you have to meet them where they are in your promotion efforts.
For most universities, that means social media. Don’t just push out the content and leave it there. Keep an eye on how people respond. Some of the comments you get will be left on your social media platforms rather than on your blog. The same rules apply. Respond and interact. Having a conversation with prospective students in the spaces they’re most likely to hang out in should be seen as a valuable opportunity.
Blogging is one of the most frequently used tools for all sorts of marketing today. For universities, which are full of strong writers and out to reach an audience that spends a lot of time online, using a blog as a recruitment tool is just obvious. Make sure you keep your prospective students top of mind at every stage of planning, writing, recruiting writers, and publishing. By focusing on audience first, you’ll be far ahead of a lot of the blogs out there.
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Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.