New Digital Trends Impacting the Student Lifecycle

The offline-to-online shift accelerated rapidly in 2020. Some experts say we’re probably 5 or 10 years ahead of where we would have been without COVID. 

What does that acceleration mean for digital trends that impact the student lifecycle?

Jennifer Garrett, Head of Industry, Education at Facebook, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss AI, test-to-learn, post-lead touch strategies, and new digital trends driving the student recruitment experience.

Two General COVID-Driven Macrotrends

  1. Marketing is shifting from an ultra-targeted approach to machine learning. Now, we’re starting with the business objective and then letting the algorithm do the work. If you think about the way that marketers have approached audiences since the days of the old show Mad Men, then you know this is a seismic shift. 
  2. Creative is playing a more important role than ever. That reality requires us to understand what each student’s motivations are, what the barriers are, and how to connect each student based on those motivations and barriers. A recent Nielsen Catalina Solutions study found that 56% of a brand sales lift from digital advertising can be attributed to high quality creative. 

Two COVID-Driven Trends in Higher Education

  1. Silos between marketing and operations are breaking down with marketing teams nurturing for leads but also optimizing media for applications alongside leads. That’s a change over the last couple of years, and it seems to be happening more and more. 
  2. The enrollment process is digitizing. But streamlining the application process overall, making it more mobile friendly, introducing bots, including messenger bots — all of that is taking place. There’s been a lot of talk about the application process transforming, and it feels like it’s actually happening right now.

Example of a Student Interacting With a University Through Facebook

Let’s say a student starts thinking about returning to school as part of a New Year’s resolution. 

The front door for that prospective learner is the institution’s Facebook page or Instagram handle. This is where the potential enrollee first gets a sense of student life and the culture of the university. 

This is the window that you, as the school, are using to share with your prospective student, and you want to keep it authentic and full of life.

You can do something called In-Stream Reserve, which is Facebook’s answer to television. It’s a brand-building tool that allows you to reserve inventory on Facebook. 

The prospective student might find an ad in their newsfeed highlighting a relevant program from your institution or the opportunity to receive more information. Then they may see a post on Instagram asking if they need help with their application, and if so, a Messenger bot could help guide them right to the information that they need. 

The Messenger bot here plays an important role because already 70% of users prefer to receive information via chat rather than through a phone call.


How to Build Relationships With Prospective Students Digitally

“We see use of Facebook Live, and frankly we would love to see personalities and academia bring students into their experiences even more,” Jennifer told us. 

The tools intend to do that in a digestible way. It doesn’t take a gigantic commitment, and it’s an incredible opportunity to build interest and establish credibility with prospective students. 

Consider a brand like a Peloton. 

Of course they’ve benefited from the fact that people are at home, but they’ve also made stars out of their instructors and built personality and stories around them. 

In the Peloton group at Facebook, there’s a real sense of community. 

It’s magical to see people backing one another up when they reach certain milestones or supporting people when there’s a tough day. Higher ed could replicate that spirit and model.


Next Steps to Developing a Digital Approach

“Take a good look at your student journey,” Jennifer said, “and make sure that you’re solving for the big picture, which I think for most of us is actually enrolling a student.”

Getting too caught on the lead can be very, very dangerous. 

Sometimes Jennifer actually opens meetings by saying, “We’re going to talk about everything but the lead. We’re not even going to mention the word ‘lead.’” It helps focus everyone’s thinking to other places and touch points, all part of the fun of marketing in education. 


“I would step back and try to look at the whole picture,” Jennifer said. “Stay very nimble when it comes to measurement, play in creative, play with video, play with color, play with logo, and understand the motivations and barriers to your students coming or not coming to your school.” 

Perhaps most important is to use the technology to help differentiate what’s special about your institution because there’s definitely something and it’s very hard for students to tolerate now.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Jennifer Garrett of Facebook. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.