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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.”


One Comment leave one →
  1. February 18, 2020 11:12 pm

    Ye need to ensure always with best.

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