discover your most powerful college recruitment tool – right under your nose

July 18, 2012 by
college recruitment & student testimonials

Are you missing this crucial piece of the recruitment puzzle?

So maybe the fruits of your digital recruitment efforts are a bit disappointing at the moment.

You'd probably like to see a larger applicant pool, or perhaps a better fit between applicants and your school's core strengths.

To solve this problem you could:

  • Spruce up your website.  Give it a more contemporary look, including some video material and links to your social media channels.
  • Make sure it features your most recent awards, sporting achievements, and scholarships.
  • Do your homework on your target audience(s) and ensure that your web copy speaks directly to their most pressing needs, worries and desires.
  • Use that same target audience intel to refine your email and mobile communications.

And you'd be right to do all those things.  You probably already do - when resources and time allow.

But you're still not getting enough of the right people to sign on the dotted line and pick you.

What's missing?

college recruiting's secret sauce - student testimonials

In a word - trust.

Applying to college is a huge leap that entails a lot of excitement and even more angst.

In order to step off the cliff, applicants need to know what it's like to experience your school.  And they need to trust you.

Trust requires proof that you're the real deal.  And no one is in a better position to provide proof than the people who know you from the inside out - your current and former students.  By definition, they've got the authenticity factor in a way you never can.

So put students voices to work for you.  On your website, in active social media channels, in email communications, in your print materials.  Not only will it increase trust in your institution, it will also give prospective students a clear idea of whether your school is a good fit for them.

It's an incredibly powerful strategy, but one that's chronically under-utilized.  So here are a few ideas for how you can employ student testimonials in your digital marketing strategies.

7 ways to use student voices online

  1.  Embed videos of/by students throughout your site.  A previous post on using video on your college website gives a few ideas on how to do that.  Make sure the content is a good match for the page where it's located, and that the format makes it easy to view, expand, or watch on YouTube.  Don't be shy about adding lots of videos, but make sure they're not on auto-start so that viewing is optional.
  2. Provide detailed written testimonials.  This strategy is most appropriate on the pages where prospective students are seeking in-depth information (e.g., admissions or academic program pages).  One approach is to have current students reply to a series of interview questions about what they like, what is challenging, why people should consider your school/department, etc.  And make sure to add some open-ended questions too (such as 'anything else people should know?') to capture things that might not turn up otherwise.  Avoid having an editor summarize what students say  - use the students' own words so that readers don't interpret it as high-gloss PR.
  3. Student blogs.  Giving current students free rein on blogs is a great way for them to document the culture of your school.  You'll need to moderate posts, but do that with a light touch to keep it real.  If you over-control or over-regulate, it will show and you'll lose the authenticity factor.  You can expect things to get gnarly from time to time, though.  See Patrick Powers' recent post on 'How to Handle Social Media Comments' [link no longer valid] for how to proceed when they do.
  4. Let visitors 'ask a student' like Connecticut College does.  They can send emails to any of 6 current students to ask anything they want. A good range of disciplines is represented, and the ease of email makes this very accessible.
  5. Make students a full-fledged part of your admissions team like the University of Puget Sound has done.  These folks not only answer emails, but are involved in tours and interviews as well.
  6. Encourage strong engagement on Facebook and other social media channels.  They're a handy news feed, but that's only a very small piece of what they can do for you.  The more you can get students to comment, like, favorite, tweet, etc., the better.  You're creating an (accurate) impression of an active and interested student body, as well as allowing current students to draw a picture of what life is like at your school.
  7. Curate other people's content on your channels.  You're likely to have lots of students creating and posting YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and tweets about your school on their own channels.  'Favorite' the videos and photos you'd like to feature and they'll show up on your channel.  You can also monitor your school's Twitter hashtag(s) so you can retweet the tweets you like.

How has your school featured student voices in your digital channels?  What kinds of challenges have you encountered in doing that?

Photo credit: Creative Commons License Willi Heidelbach via Compfight

1 Comment

  1. [...] more tips on creating great student testimonials, check out  Julie Wuthnow’s great article. We especially like her “Ask a student” button [...]

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