Agency Secrets: Adopting Digital Marketing in Higher Education

After working with Higher Education clients for over 10 years, I’ve realized it’s not easy to get stakeholder buy-in.

Each university has its own hierarchy of decision makers that must be navigated carefully and politically. Some schools continue to have centralized marketing, while others have adopted a page from the for-profit world, hiring a CMO and Digital Marketing Manager. A majority of schools require buy-in from each program department.

Along the way, I’ve learned some secrets to helping higher education institutions adopt digital marketing tactics – and new ideas:

1. Start with Empathy

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Unless you’re James Dyson, ideas are not born in a vacuum. Or in this case, great ideas are not born in a dorm.

How many times have you had a great idea that you felt could move the University in a positive direction, only to be shot down immediately? It happens when you’re not taking the time to develop empathy for your audience. Developing empathy means understanding the personal and professional motivations through genuine listening.

Empathy with your team builds trust. Empathy for leadership gains buy-in. And empathy for your students, and even potential students, will build adoption. Start with Empathy.

2. Align with institutional-level goals

Your school has some form of institutional level priorities set forth by the university President, Provost, Vice Provost or CMO. These priorities are publicly available in some cases, and they’re always available if you ask for them. Aligning with what’s important to leadership will lead to adoption of your idea more effectively. For example, if one of your school’s priorities is to increase engagement with the general student population, a social media plan  can include this level of strategy.

3. Ask how you can help

Most opportunities that have been presented to me started with one simple question: “How can I help?” If you listen to others’ motivations and align with institutional goals, then you’re in the right position to ask how you can help achieve those goals. You will be surprised at how many opportunities come your way. Asking how you can help opens new doors and opportunities for your team, and it will ultimately support the leadership of the university.

4. Become a Thought Leader

Are you passionate about Web design? Paid search? SEO? Analytics? Content Marketing? Social media? These are some of the hottest topics at any institution today, and each aligns with any institutional-level goal. File this under “Just do it.” My suggestion is to start writing. Host a blog, publish links on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and develop a following. There are thousands of professionals looking for new trends, tactics, tools and the latest information. There are also a number of vertical conferences such as the EDU Web Conference  and HighEdWeb looking for speakers just like you. And as a bonus: If leadership sees that you’re a thought leader, more career opportunities will come your way.

5. Say “thank you”

In March 2013, Francesca Gina, an Associate Professor at the Harvard Business School published a study titled “The Power of Thanks.” In this study, Gino says:

“Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.”

These simple words expressed genuinely can gain adoption from your teammates and leadership and help motivate you to exceed expectations.

What do you think of these tips from my higher education marketing agency experience? What have you seen work when pushing your ideas?


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