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5 Questions to Ask Before Starting your University’s Student-to-Student Marketing Program

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By now, I think it’s safe to say that the university marketing world is on board with student-to-student content. Some embrace community marketing more than others, but the trend is there: having prospects speak to current students is good for business.

But your initiatives aren’t automatically effective. There are a series of questions you should ask yourself before diving into student-to-student marketing. Think of this as a guide that will help shape your vision and make it more attractive to the students you are trying to recruit.

1: What is your students’ “why”?

It’s important to focus on the “why” and not the “what” of your program.

“We’re going to do a student blog!” Yes, but there are already thousands of others just like it. What is your point of differentiation and do you want your student content to be known for?

“Purpose” is often an insurmountable topic, so it’s easier to think of your “why” as an editorial statement or narrative that ties your efforts together. Structure it using the following steps:

  • Identify your target audience
  • What you will give them
  • How they will benefit

For inspiration, the popular business newsletter Category Pirates has a solid statement:

“Category Pirates newsletter is for those interested in creating legendary marketing and category design. It’s Harvard Business Review if it was written for and by pirates.”

Audience: Those interested in marketing a category design

What they get: A newsletter with a different view of business

How they will benefit: They can access complex ideas easier

Author and business coach Simon Sinek (the godfather of finding your “why”) takes a similar approach:

“Our purpose is to inspire people to do the things that inspire them so that, together, each of us can change our world for the better.”

Audience: People searching for change

What they get: Inspiration

How they will benefit: Access to community

For a university template, we recommend checking our University of Utopia example where we outline how a digital ambassador program can be used to spur community on campus.

In real life, check how Vanderbilt University anchors its own mission with its student voice. It’s a strong example of a university knowing what it wants to be famous for, each of the university’s principles being supported with a relevant student testimonial. It’s true to itself and clearer in its mission as a result.

2: What partnerships can you leverage?

If you can, you want to partner with relevant campus societies and outside organizations to improve the reach of your student-to-student marketing program—otherwise, it’s going to be a while before you see a return.

University of Illinois partnered with the College Tour, an Amazon Prime show that produces documentaries on college campus life. Their model seems to be “digital open events for the subscription age.”

The YouTube video alone has had close to 150,000 views, having only been published in May. Such reach wouldn’t have been possible without the halo effect of College Tour’s media arm.

When identifying partners, ensure that:

  • They speak to the same/similar audience
  • They have the reach or can tap into the desired niche
  • You have a strategy for how to turn the partner’s audience into your own. There’s no point doing this stuff if the audience doesn’t stick around afterward.

3: What metric will show success?

If you’re using a platform like Unibuddy, it’s easy to measure things like the no. of messages, inbound topics, and day-to-day traffic—but this can only prove efficiency, not effectiveness.

To make waves and prove the success of your program, you need to focus on big ticket items like subscriptions and yield.

The University of British Columbia has an impressive 29.3K subscribers to its YouTube channel. That may not sound like much in the context of University of Oxford or Harvard, but for a mid-size institution, it punches well above its weight.

How does it do this? Its digital ambassador program is focused on producing video content that gives users a reason to return to its YouTube channel. The “This Week at UBC” series sees a video published every Sunday about the week ahead at UBC.

Publish valuable, consistent content that fulfills a student’s need and subscribers will follow. Build a loyal audience and they’ll be more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Yield and conversion rate from student-to-student activities is a cornerstone metric. It’s proven: students who speak with other students are more likely to progress through the marketing funnel and turn up on campus.

  • St John’s University: 49% of their deposited students attended at least one event hosted through Unibuddy during the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 semesters
  • Fordham University: In just 6 months, more than 500 student-to-student conversations lead to 20 prospects making deposits
  • University of Southampton: 35% of applicants that spoke with a student enrolled at the University

St John’s University: 49% of their deposited students attended at least one event hosted through Unibuddy during the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 semesters
Fordham University: In just 6 months, more than 500 student-to-student conversations lead to 20 prospects making deposits
University of Southampton: 35% of applicants that spoke with a student enrolled at the University

By deciding your program’s success metrics early on, it’s much easier to focus on what matters and prove effectiveness further down the line.

4: How are you going to attract the right students?

Every student-to-student program needs a top team of digital student ambassadors. If you haven’t seen our 4 tips on writing job descriptions that attract the best, now would be a good time to check it out.

But even the best job descriptions need to be advertised. Aston University in the UK had a nice take on this when recruiting ambassadors to manage its social channels.

You don’t need to read the job description to get a good idea about what the job will entail. If you’re a person looking to carve out a career in social, this will naturally appeal to you as 1) you’ve happened across it in your social feed 2) it’s showcasing students doing the job you want to do 3) it leaves enough room for the imagination to fill in the gaps of what is possible, and 4) there’s plenty of prompts and CTAs to get students to apply.

What’s the best way to engage the type of student you want to work with? What format will you use? Is there a more creative avenue than just sending out another student email?

5: What one thing will you do… great

Other than publishing content consistency, the reason student-to-student marketing fails to meet objectives is diversifying channels too quickly. Just because you’ve had some success with your student blog doesn’t mean you need to run full tilt into a podcast series. Niche down and get good at a handful of complementary channels before introducing new ones.

The book Content Inc. shares a useful framework. Building on the “why” foundation we discussed earlier—when starting out you should only have:

  1. One key target audience
  2. One mission (your “why”)
  3. One primary form of content (the podcast, blog, video, image)
  4. One core platform (blog/website, Snapchat, TikTok etc.)

This same model is followed by some of the most successful businesses, digital media startups, and niche content creators:

  • Amazon only sold books for three years before it dove into CDs and digital media
  • Matthew Patrick of the channel The Game Theorists built an audience on YouTube before venturing out to start his own consultancy helping other influencers
  • Internet culture scholar Ryan Broderick built a newsletter audience before starting a co-hosted podcast

Get good at one thing and you’ll be known for it. University of Limerick in the UK focuses its digital ambassador efforts on TikTok. By creating constantly funny or creative content about student life, it’s built a loyal audience of 22K followers and regularly has breakout hits in excess of 10K views per video. Mastering one channel has paid off.

One final question

To ensure your program’s distinctiveness, the ultimate question is how you complete this sentence: “Only we…”

For example, “Only we share daily 30-second videos from students about their life on campus.”

“Only we have a weekly campus newsletter that is written by students and tailored for subscription preferences.”

“Only we have a weekly podcast run by students that talks about the latest developments in social media.”

By combining a unique take, a single content type, and your powerful “why,” your student-to-student program will be on the right track before your competitors have got their ambassador job ads out the door.

Did you find this useful?

If you did, you should probably subscribe to The Chat, our fortnightly newsletter about community marketing and how to create belonging.

In each edition, you’ll learn how universities are building student-to-student marketing and recruitment strategies, and receive conversational insights from 10 million+ messages sent via Unibuddy Chat.

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– Words by Kyle Campbell, Content Marketing Manager

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