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Awareness in #highered marketing

November 11, 2019

Campus Technology has a recent blog post talking about Eduventures research for respective students.

They report on awareness tools:

“…college e-mails were rated as the highest impact information source by 62 percent of the students surveyed, followed by word of mouth from family and friends (57 percent) and school websites (46 percent). On the other end of the spectrum, public transportation advertising (2 percent), radio or music streaming ads (4 percent) and billboard advertising (5 percent) were the lowest impact sources for raising college awareness.”


First, lets address “word of mouth.” Word of mouth is not a thing that exists in a vacuum. In order to tell someone about something I think they should consider, I need to clearly know about the thing, and have confidence in the thing to suggest it. This often comes from alumni of the institution, who tend to be the people who follow social media platforms. Look at the typical data fro a Facebook Page of a college, and the number of followers is mostly older alumni. Therefore, updating those alumni on the college is, in effect, helping word of mouth.

Second, lets address awareness as a whole. Awareness isn’t a this or that binary thing. One doesn’t become aware of something because of an email or a billboard, one can be more aware of the former because of the latter. I’m not saying that a billboard led to someone deciding to open an email, but all marketing is about owning a place in the consumer’s mind at the time of consideration. This is why Doritos does Super Bowl ads — not so people will buy them during the Super Bowl but instead so it can be considered when at the point of purchase.

Finally, this is just digital. A huge investment of resources is given to visits to high schools for a College Fair. As an awareness tool, that generates word of mouth from high school teachers and counselors.

Awareness then a deeper dive. 

This isn’t meant to just be a post that quibbles with research. There are many ways to generate an awarenesses for a school, be it the school visit, emails, word of mouth, etc. What happens next is probably something we all agree upon and that is a Google search for the school.

That search results in something called the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and it is something every college enrollment management professional should understand. The SERP is where awareness meets nurture.

When social media platforms are not on the SERP, or don’t have a good reason to apply message at this time, then there is little to no value to the enrollment process. Many enrollment management officers push enrollment only social platforms which clearly have an agenda. Thus, you get this:

“Notably, social media received a middling ranking from students — 35 percent of respondents said they use it in their college search — yet only 4 percent said they trust it as an information source.”

When there is one place with Alumni talking about ow great the school is, and prospective students are invited to that page, the result is digital word of mouth to the already aware.

What do you think? Where do you think Digital Media fits into the awareness cycle? Follow me on Twitter. Also, check out some 3 Enrollment events I’ll be at or running here including a 3EDigitalLab in Boston and a 3EDigitalLab in New York.  

The wisdom of the crowds and higher education

November 3, 2019

an ox plowing a field
One of my all time favorite RadioLab episodes is on the wisdom of crowds, and is called The Invisible Hand.

Basically, the theory is that crowds are smarter than people. The most famous example comes from at story in 1906 in England, where the crowd was asked to guess the weight of an ox. No one got it right, but the average of all guesses was exactly right.

The guy who ran the experiment was Sir Francis Galton, who also invented eugenics.It is a fascinating episode because it also talks about Google.

Google search is the Wisdom of Crowds. 

When a student becomes aware of a college, or when an already aware student wants to find out more about a college, they will go to our current version of a wisdom machine — Google.

Google has mountains and mountains of data. How people search. What people who search for College X do next.

If you search for your college, then immediately search for another one, Google will display the “wisdom of the crowds” and show you searches that match those two colleges.

When you search for a college, Google will add a section on the Knowledge called “People also searched for” and display a number of colleges that are based on crowd sourced data.

Even the “Notable Alumni” section is based on how people search for a school’s alumni.

Google is basically a wisdom of the crowds search engine and that is perhaps a good, or a bad thing.

In an episode from CBC’s Spark called “The case against predictability” they talk about what this means.

Plainly, it means that what happens next on Google depends on what scores and scores of people have done in the past.

Algorithms take our measure and influence our behaviour. But who’s interest does this serve?

It is one of my favorite podcasts, and this episode is why I love it. It makes me think, and wonder about our digital lives, and it is from Toronto and so am I.

In light of a world where Google and the crowds are in charge of what happens digitally, any rebranding or change, or repositioning will be eclipsed by the actions of people in the past.

Can you rebrand your SERP?

That’s the question, right? People redo their .edu, make a new logo, add a tagline, but here’s the question: can you rebrand yo

ur SERP (Search Engine Results Page) in an age where the crowds are in control of what a prospective student sees next?

I think the answer is yes. I think schools are able to throw resources at the place that really matters.

Take a listen to the two shows above, then hit me up on Twitter with your thoughts.

3EDigitalLab – a full day look at the digitial presence

October 30, 2019

3EDigitalLab slide

This article in the Chronicle asks five people to take a look at the state of enrollment in higher education. The first is Jon Boeckenstedt (, who you really should follow on Twitter. He wrote:

“The ecosystem of American higher education today is like an aging baby boomer who has never exercised: Years of neglect, ignored warnings, and doing things we know we shouldn’t do may finally be catching up to us.”

As a life long marketer (but a relative newbie to higher ed) here are five things that I think are opportunities to improve how higher education goes to market digitally. This post talks about the problems. At the end, it offers some insights into how these problems might be solved.

1. Athletics is a complete silo.

The scores are on a .com, athletes are celebrated for their on-field accomplishments on digital media channels that rarely, if ever, talk about the classroom. Athletics is a complete and utter silo, often with different purposes.

It is like having a companion product, but selling it down the street, with a different website and logo. It confuses the marketplace. At every school I speak to, they say, “what about athletics? How does athletics fit into student enrollment?”

It is a valid question. Athletics departments are their own departments, operating their own websites and social platforms. It means that the main digital presence of the school lacks athletics, and athletics lacks talk about in the classroom.

The school’s website is a .edu, the athletics website is a .com. Most schools even have a separate YouTube channel for athletics. It is siloed out and should be brought back in to one site.

(Note: some schools worry that actual athletes are separate from the school. They are always hanging out together, and aren’t part of the school in the same way. That is probably because they are recruited differently and see that digitally they are different.

2. Faculty and classes are not good at telling

Often, the top entry pages for newly aware people to a .edu are faculty bio pages. Indeed, faculty and their classes are the reasons people are paying up to a quarter of a million dollars for a year year degree. Try and find those classes taught by professors on a website. Try and find a class description that even explains what the class is, or why people should take the class? Find a place explaining – in the professors own words, what a student will get out of a class with a professor.

The syllabi that faculty create is awesome, so if it did exist it would be a good message. But often finding information on a class is almost impossible. One must go to to find out what a professor teaches.

Faculty need to be involved in the process of recruitment. One day, recruitment might be part of the tenure process – since tenure doesn’t matter if there are no students. In the meantime, it would be awesome if faculty cared about their digital presence and their own SERP.

3. The SERP (Search Engine Results Page)

Jon again on higher education:

“We measure quality by easily quantifiable inputs, not by more nebulous outputs; we take stock of the opinions of consumer magazines and newspapers more than of knowledgeable educators; we refuse to let competitors surpass us. If students once saw real differences between Carleton, Grinnell, and Oberlin, those distinctions faded as the sector became commoditized.”

The Search Engine Results Page is what people see when they Google a school. For most schools the SERP order is:

  • the .edu,
  • Wikipedia,
  • US News and World Report,
  • then one of Niche, Princeton Review, and/or Forbes.

The separate athletics website is usually lower on the list, joined by one or two social platforms like Facebook or Twitter — depending upon how those are run on campus.

In most SERPs I’ve looked at half is made up of review sites that pit things like rankings and class size stats against each other. This schools is ranked 22 and this one is 24? Is the first school two better? What does that even mean?

It is confusing. There is too much choice and not enough clarity.

4. There is too much choice and noise or “the pitfalls of chasing platforms and technology”

An athletics website. Athletics Twitter. Athletics Instagram stories. Dean of College Facebook Page. A typical school offers at least 100 Facebook Pages and groups for people to join. There are dozens of Twitter feeds. Still dozens, maybe hundreds more Instagram feeds.

For the last decade, keynote presenters at conferences have said “you should get a Facebook Page because that is where everyone is.” Then it was Instagram because that was where everyone is now. Then everyone moved to Snapchat. Oh no, now everyone is on Tik Tok and schools are scrambling to find someone to do Tik Tok because someone said that’s where everyone is.

It is easy to turn on a new channel. It is really, really, really hard to market effectively on social media. Really hard. Keynote presenters never talk about how hard the next steps are. They only talk about how awesome school X did on platform y.


It isn’t repeatable because the act of being there isn’t actually doing marketing. Doing marketing is doing marketing. Turning on a Tik Tok is wasting resources. I wish conferences had “why you should turn off Instagram” session. But they don’t.

5. Conferences are siloed.

There are too many conferences and they are all siloed. NACAC, Higher Ed web, EduWeb, Case, are silos for the marketplace. NACAC is all admissions and college counselors. Higher Ed Web is possibly the .edu and a bit of social, and often retention. EduWeb is also website and digital and social. Case is advancement. I don’t know where athletics people go, but it is probably sponsored by Sidearm since they seem to do all the athletics websites.

I’ve been a speaker at Case, Higher Ed Web, and EduWeb, and this is not meant to be a knock on them. They offer support to people, and they offer knowledge.

To be clear, this is an industry problem, not a conference problem. Different people attend difference conferences, as if the goals of the university aren’t aligned.

The conferences I have attended talk about digital in a really specific way: “How Facebook can increase enrollment.” or “how Facebook can impact giving”.  The people race back to their schools and start a new thing to do their thing at the school.

To paraphrase Jon again, the industry is like an aging baby-boomer who is like, “but this is how I’ve always done it!”

So, what are the solutions?

It is one thing to make a blog post that talks about the problems, it is another thing to offer solutions.

This is where the plug comes in. At 3 Enrollment Marketing, we built a Digital Lab to address all these things and more. We talk about how to involve faculty, we talk about athletics, and we talk about the SERP. Those all lead to being where you need to be, and not being in other places. It means using less, but doing it better. Where do you need to be? Well, that’s covered in an 8-hour session.

(It will also be covered in Sunriver, Oregon in 2020.)

One #3EDigitalLab is in Boston on December 12th.

The second #3EDigitalLab is in New York City on December 17th.

I’ll be doing both.

I promise a day of learning, laughter, and advancing the digital presence of your school.

We don’t have all the answers, but we know some of the questions. It is time to think differently about We think we can work our way out of this, but it will take more than just one faction of the school. That is hard, we know.

That said, we’ll arm you with the insights, plans, strategies, and words to start making a difference on your campus.

At the end of it, you’ll be saying “we got this.”


An enrollment conference for 2020

October 20, 2019

I’m not a huge fan of higher education conferences. I think they are too siloed, and too broad at the same time. Which I get is weird.

NACAC is for enrollment professionals. HighEdWeb is for website professionals. EduWeb is also for website pros. Athletics go to their own conferences, probably run by Sidearm, and advancement people go to Case and things like Raise.

The America Marketing Association has a higher education version, and so does Salesforce. Then of course, there is faculty, who go to the most amazing conferences in amazing locales, and talk about things that have almost nothing to do with the business of higher education — even though research and tenure are meaningless if there are no students.

Point is, there are a lot of conference.

The Institute for Strategic Enrollment Management Sunriver, OR will take place June 29-July 3, 2020.

It’s predecessor, the Snowmass Institute, shaped the careers of enrollment leaders—and the profession itself—for over 30 years.

Particularly amid the changes and challenges today’s enrollment leaders face, the need for such an encompassing experience is stronger than ever. Snowmass alumni Chris Ferguson, Associate Vice President of Enrollment at Occidental College and Patricia Maben, President of 3 Enrollment Marketing, spent several years working to bring this incredible opportunity back for emerging enrollment leaders. They built a team, including several alumni and Snowmass faculty Joe Merante and Jim Scannell, to build a new Institute.

“The Institute is an amazing experience not just for the education, but also for the space and time to reflect on what you’re learning, the opportunity to commiserate with and bounce ideas off seasoned pros, and the ability to leave with a comprehensive strategic enrollment plan.”

Of course I’m biased. But I think this is an Enrollment Management Conference you want to attend in 2020.

What is your Instagram strategy?

October 5, 2019

In a recent article on Inside Higher Education, higher education was told to get on Instagram.

The subhead said: “Instagram is better than Facebook for reaching today’s students, EAB study finds.”

More people aged 13-17 are on Instagram than on Facebook. Okay, that could be true. Millions of teens watch the Dolan Twins videos each Tuesday, too. Should you promote your school there with the twins?

Probably not.

The point is, just because people are there doesn’t mean it is a good tactic for marketing. Here are two things that make it not awesome for marketing.

First: it is rarely on the search engine results (SERP) page for a school. The SERP is what newly aware people look at it when they are thinking about a school. They Google the school. Since most people use Google logged in, and Google knows they are a 16-year old (thanks to gmail or YouTube) then Google knows what they are up to when they search for a school. Instagram is rarely there. Now, again, that doesn’t mean it can’t have value. But it does mean it has less value to the newly aware when it isn’t on the SERP. (Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter tend to be there.)

Second: it is obviously not good at generating behavior. Since Instagram decided to have no links in organic posts, an organic post is more like a billboard than any of the digital media tactics. It can’t really be measured. Long ago, John Wannamaker said the following about advertising: “I know that half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”

With Instagram, the equation is something like this: I know that half of the resources I use on Instagram are wasted, I just don’t know which half.

Unlike other digital tactics that can be measured. If a goal for digital media is to drive people to the .edu (since that is where one can register for a tour, and, you know, apply) then Instagram is pretty bad at measuring behavior. No one ever clicks link in bio.

The EAB study had another graph that talked of the  promise of digital media platforms: “The percentage of students who said that they “discovered” a college on social media grew from 19.2 percent to 25.8 percent.”

Okay. Two questions: 1. What do you mean by social media? 2. what do you mean by discovered?

Start at the first question, what do you mean by social media? Because the chart below, from the same report, includes YouTube. As the second-most-used search engine on the internet, of course people “discover” videos.

Also, the next question is discovered. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are awesome at status casting for students. Meaning, a student who attends college X will post about move in weekend at College X. That is status casting.

Just me, at this college, being an adult and awesome.

If a rising high school senior sees this post, and they are likely to see this post because status casting posts get liked a lot, then they will be made aware of the school via social media.

However, and this is important, it is rare that an organic post by the school is the thing that makes people aware. That would take a lot of magic, and a lot of luck. Because a brand page and an individual profile work differently on the platform. We could get into how, but that isn’t the point of this post. This post is about social media.

Back to how people become aware. They see a status cast in August of “one week until I move into College X.” Today I am moving into College X. I’m attending College X. These posts will be on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and possibly even YouTube (yes, the student has a channel and people subscribe to it.)

Newly aware of the school, the student will then do one of two things: search the platform they are on for the school, search Google for the school. If they do the former, they are consciously saying, I only want to see this platform’s take on the school. If they search Google, they are saying, I want to get a big picture look at the school. When it comes to college searches, they are more likely to do the latter because the results are better.

Now that the student is aware, they will look at the school’s SERP. What they find there will determine whether they keep the school on their list. Instagram is almost never on that list.

The takeaway: thanks to status casting, which is a thing all age groups do (look at me, I’m at the airport about to fly to Maui because I’m awesome), high school seniors and juniors can become aware of a school. Upon being made aware, they are likely to Google to the school. What they find on the SERP determines their next digital steps.

More posts on Instagram don’t impact any of the above.

What do you think? Where does Insta fit in your digital strategy?

We’re hosting a week long event called The Institute For Strategic Enrollment Management at Sunriver. It is a weeklong event in June 2020 that is designed to move the industry forward.  Take a look at the agenda


Why silos should break down in higher ed

September 18, 2019

I worked in many different marketing communications agencies in my career as a marketer. Every single one of them had silos. In the ad agency world, they’re called departments, and they are set up just like department stores. There was a media department. A PR department. An internet (or interactive) department, a creative department. Each department concentrated on a different section of the process.

The Silos of higher Education

higher Education takes silos to a whole new level. There are academic departments, admissions department, comms or marketing departments, athletics departments.

These silos with different missions, educate students, enroll a class, manage the brand, win games and generate spirit. On the whole, they do their own thing and ignore the overall mission of the school. Okay, that’s not true. They embrace the mission of the school while doing their own thing.

But in the 21st century, we’re past that now: do you think of as a department store?

In the age of digital media, all it takes is a Google search. Google collects all the information put out by a brand into one place. Google is the silo breaker. When delivering the SERP, it doesn’t go and find the 15 different Facebook Pages made by each department, it shows one. The one that someone told it to show. It often shows two web properties, the .edu and the sites.

But it doesn’t brother with things not relevant. like the English Department Facebook Page.

So what is the answer?

I think the answer lies in rethinking job titles and departments, and the SERP. I think asking honestly, if our department makes this webpage, will people find it — is a good way to move forward.

Higher Education will always have departments, it probably shouldn’t, but it always will have an English department. On the admin side, it might not need a separate admissions and advancement department. I know, right?

Can you imagine?

It just needs people with skills. Some people might be really skilled at presenting, while another person is skilled at making video presentations. Those people don’t need to be in departments, but they do need to be connected. How enrollment talks a prospective student will impact how that student is a student and an alum.

In this way, higher education could think about connecting people by skills and interests.

It is controversial, I know. But Google already has stripped your school of digital silos. So the time is coming. Might as well get ahead of the SERP.

10 things you can do with QR Codes in higher education

June 11, 2019

3E QR Code Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a post about what you could do with a QR code. They are decently awesome things that died on the vine for two reasons.

The first was an infrastructure problem. People had to download QR Code Readers — which often cost money, but certainly cost time and effort. That’s all changed now that cameras are QR code readers.

The second was dumb marketers used QR codes to drive people to websites, often not even mobile friendly sites. I even saw someone use a QR code to drive people to a PDF. That’s like inviting people to a party only for them to find out it is an AMWAY party and there’s no free booze. It makes people question parties.

However, QR Codes are back. So I’m bringing back my list, updated for higher ed.

Ten things you can do with a QR Code:

    1. Use it on the road to exchange contact information. Have the QR code automatically download your data into someone’s contact folder. A student is more likely to take your information than your brochure.
    2. Drive someone to a mobile form. If you want more details from us, go here.
    3. Have the QR code be a simple Facebook like. That’s it, scan this to like our page. Do it at school visits, on campus, on the bottom of the viewbooks (CTA could be “see the whole album,” on the side of your website. We already know people don’t click the follow us on Facebook ‘F’ logo. This is easier and people might do it.
    4. Have the QR code initiate a call. Yes, really. Do you have questions about the process? Call us. Way easier than making a 10-digit call.
    5. On the viewbook, a code to the video of the thing they are reading about. Place your camera over this to watch a video of students moving in.
    6. Send an e-mail (with subject and content). If you got really fancy, and did the work in advance of travel, this could be “email a student from your high school, state” and ask them about fit. You could get a prospective student and student talking.
    7. Add an event to a mobile calendar. On the acceptance letters, add the visit days as an event. Get them into people’s phones asap.
    8. Link to the alumni outcomes on LinkedIn. See what our alumni are up to (for now, you must have a LinkedIn account to see them, but parents could.)
    9. Deliver a wallpaper via QR code.
    10. On the summer tour, use them to add context to the buildings. Showcase faculty research on side of a building. Once you make one, it can updated all the time so make it elegant and frame it. Then update as needed.
When thinking about this list, consider the actual reasons people scan a QR Code. These are classic “get more information” and can be used to nurture the already aware. Everyone has a phone. Everyone has a QR Code reader.
We can do this again. This time better. Use them wisely. Don’t screw this up, or people will hate them again.
This will be covered in the day-long session on using digital media.
Matt offers seminars and digital media roadmaps with these ideas and more. Shoot him a text with the code below.
Matt Hames V card
We’re hosting a week long event called The Institute For Strategic Enrollment Management at Sunriver. It is a weeklong event in June 2020 that is designed to move the industry forward.  Take a look at the agenda