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Unibuddy Higher Ed Digital Marketing Guide: What You Need to Know in 2023

Unibuddy Higher Ed Marketing Guide -Brochure Cover Graphic

Executive Summary

As digital solutions continue to shrink our physical world, they create crowded market conditions where standing out is difficult. These effects are verified by the behaviour, preferences, and emerging demands of Gen Z, the first generation of digital natives.

So how do you cut through the noise and leverage digital solutions without feeling overwhelmed? As a higher ed professional, you know how hard it can be to hold the attention of prospective students. Mixed with contemporary digital demands and you have a downright difficult task. A task which can seem just out of reach with set budgets, set staff headcounts and legacy technology to boot. 

Use this guide as a tool for planning your 2023 higher ed marketing and student recruitment strategies. Each section addresses different challenges encountered along your digital journey to attract, recruit, and retain more students this year. We’re not here to tell you how to market, we’re here to provide insights and trends data for your team to consider for more efficient, more effective, and more ambitious plans.

1.0 Digital Marketing Overview 

1.1 How is digital marketing different?

As marketers, we know the conundrum well: the goals of digital marketing often mirror offline equivalents. In practice, however, digital methods can feel like a totally different game. But is digital marketing in higher ed really that complicated? Or is it just a matter of perspective. 

As an introduction, we propose that digital marketing leverages all the familiar set-pieces of a traditional marketing kit. Any differences lie in measurement, visibility, speed, and application. Within the context of this guide, digital marketing refers to all digital efforts undertaken by your higher ed team – from introductory drip emails to student-generated content to running digital advertising campaigns.

1.2 Common challenges to digital marketing in higher ed

Common digital challenges facing higher ed marketers and recruitment teams often stem from issues of scale and adaptability. While digital tools increase reach, they also increase amounts of data, audiences, and, as a consequence, competition. 

Some common digital challenges for higher ed marketing and recruitment teams include:

  1. Scaling Existing Tech Resources

    Higher ed marketing and recruitment teams are being asked to get more out of existing legacy tools and technology resources. They need non-intrusive supportive solutions to help avoid complicated or expensive bandaid workarounds. 

  2. Avoiding Team Burnout 

    The 2020 global pandemic put unexpected strain and weight on existing digital teams and resources across all industries, including higher ed. Subsequent employee burnout levels are causing higher ed leaders to push for workplace cultural shifts.

  3. Gathering Valuable Data Insights

    Higher ed marketers and recruiters want data insights to create informed data-driven programs. But they need the data baselines or proper collection tools to begin. 

  4. Managing Multiple Channels

    Social media. Video. Blogs. Emailers. Website copy. Paid ads. There is no shortage of digital tools available for higher ed messaging. But marketing and recruitment teams need more bandwidth to cover all of them. 

  5. Adapting to Changing Student Demands

    At Unibuddy, we have access to piles of student data. We know how volatile this market is, and how quickly student demands change, and how hard it can be to pivot quickly to meet them. 

  6. Standing Out in a Crowded Competitive Market 

    Digital tools enable higher ed marketing and recruitment teams to expand their nets. But these tools also enable competitors to do the same. They need solutions which stand out in crowded digital markets. 

  7. Working within silos

    The structure of a higher ed institution is not often a single linear line. They might be made up of any number of colleges, schools, faculties, and departments – each with their own distinct marketing and recruitment goals and targets. Coordinating digital efforts in this environment can be challenging. 

  8. Fine tuning information loads for students

    There is a fine line between providing students with the information they need to be successful and information overload. Higher ed institutions have just a few moments to capture a prospective student’s attention – they need to make them count. 

2.0 Planning Your Digital Marketing Campaigns

2.1 Understanding your audience: Overview 

Without the right digital tools and market data, understanding digital audiences can be tough. It’s like throwing a dart at a board blindfolded – you need more visibility to hit a bullseye. 

Here are four trends to consider when building a more visible digital audience:

2.1.1. Digital Language Trends

Is your language and tone of voice consistent across all digital assets? Are you speaking a language which reflects your brand and brand personality? Are you speaking the language of your target audience? Does your tone of voice give off “good vibes” or is it cold and institutional? 

Gen Z relies on digital assets to make informed impressions about what your school has to offer. In fact, according to Unibuddy trends data, 72% of prospective students rely on your website for initial research. Compare this stat to the 42% of prospective students who attend in-person events first. Meanwhile, the same data set tells us initial encounters with Gen Z need to be authentic familiar experiences. 


graphic highlighting stat that 72% of Gen Z use your website to pre-qualify themselves for research

So how do you sound authentic to students? You need to offer digital content in their language. In addition to softening your tone across all digital deliverables, away from colder or institutional language, we recommend enlisting the help of student ambassadors. 

When given more responsibility, student ambassadors can help develop a brand voice which speaks to prospective students in their language. We know it’s a tough call to give this much creative control to students, but it’s a risk our data shows helps 92% of Gen Z along their student journey. That’s a serious payoff. 

According to Maria Bentley, Assistant Dean at Alfred University’s School of Art and Design, part of developing how you speak to prospective students also involves digitizing student-to-student connections. As higher ed institutions continue digital transformations, one challenge is digitizing authentic encounters. She argues that this digital blind spot can be covered by providing student ambassadors with more autonomy to speak to students on their own terms – speaking their language without conditions, ulterior motives, and, as the peers of prospective students, on the correct level. 

Higher ed institutions are also experimenting with new forums where formalities are thrown out the door completely. The University of Leicester, for example, wanted to create a digital space where pre-enrolled students could ask questions and receive authentic answers in real time. Since creating this space, via Unibuddy Community, our higher ed group messaging platform, the university has seen an enrollment jump of 23%.  

2.1.2. Writing and presenting for search intent 

You know your students have questions you need to answer with your digital content, from YouTube videos to Blog articles to core website pages addressing courses, programs, and cost. But is your content set up to appear in search engine results? Writing for digital audiences, from titles to copy to images, requires Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Current best practices and trends for SEO, in layman’s terms, call for clear, concise, and fluid content (no unexplained acronyms, complicated language, colloquialism, slang, or general ambiguity). As a rule, pages need to provide relevant answers and information related to search queries (which are composed of keywords).  

This is unlike SEO writing a decade ago (ancient in digital terms) which allowed tricks like keyword-stuffing and hidden text. 

Contemporary digital writing should be driven by relevance to keywords, not just by keywords alone. All web content, including video assets, should be well-organized in a pyramid-like top-down structure, with titles and primary copy fanning out to supporting sub-sections.

If done correctly, all content copy should feed into an overall theme and groups of keywords you wish to rank for in search engine results pages (known as SERPs). The logic here is to serve search engine users the information they need as fast and easily as possible. 

If a prospective student searches “best college for marketing,” for example, search engines look for pages which answer the query itself, not necessarily the specific keyword. A winning page, which appears among the first results of the query, should be organized like this:



  • Why College X is the Best College For Marketing


  • Only College X teaches Y 
  • Y is the future of marketing 
  • We also teach Z
  • How we teach marketing is different because X
  • X% of our graduates go on to careers in marketing

As you can see, a student landing on this page through search results gets the “who-what-where-why-how.” Other students, perhaps searching “why is Y the future of marketing,” can also be directed to this page and gain relevant information. This is how search engines rank pages in their results and why organizing content in a logical nested structure is so important for digital audiences. 

2.1.3. Digital Branding Trends

As you know, digital branding is more than just changing the color and font on your website. It’s how you want to be perceived by anyone visiting your digital assets. The most effective brands are those steeped in values which connect on an emotional level. But, according to higher ed trends data, it goes even deeper than that.

Did you know, for example, that for every 10 prospective students who arrive to your website, one leaves if they do not feel immediate “good vibes?” In addition to brand logos (and your colors and font), consider other factors which influence your digital brand, like accessibility or consistent web presentation. To stick out from your competition, ensure your brand is distinct, natural, and closely coordinated with your tone of voice and positioning.    


graphic with stat that 1 in 10 Gen Z students leave your website if they do not feel immediate good vibes

Jeff Green, Director of Admissions at Texas A&M University School of Law, tells us that an effective digital brand shares a special symbiotic relationship with its more traditional offline counterpart. He argues that by mixing data collected on the recruitment road with digital data, you can carve out your own distinct part of the higher ed ecosystem. This enables you to be laser-focused on territory you own, plan for brand expansion, and highlight which resources you actually need (or don’t). 

Another branding trend we’ve gathered for your 2023 higher ed marketing plan is the idea of integrating student voices into your brand. Since they live your brand every day, student ambassadors are the best way to permeate the beating heart of your mission to prospective students. In addition to making prospective students feel welcome, excited, and eager to learn more, this approach to brand is more inclusive and authentic.  

And the data backs this up!

Did you know that 94% of higher ed recruitment professionals view student-to-student interactions as crucial to the prospective student experience with their brand? A further 82% already have an established student ambassador program, albeit primarily offline. Considering the average member of Gen Z spends eight hours per day online, according to the Global Web Index, we believe there is an incredible opportunity to upload these student-to-student interactions into your digital brand.

2.1.4. Digital Brand Positioning Trends 

On account of its scale, instantaneous nature, and constant competition, the digital higher ed marketplace can be a difficult place to stand out in. While understanding your audience is crucial to success, brand positioning is of equal importance.

In tandem with brand building, brand positioning is how your brand is perceived. Think of it like a digital window display showing a selection of your brand and product assets – what sort of “feeling” or “impression” do you wish to leave on those who stop to look in? 

In higher ed, your product is your university and your target, in a general sense, is your prospective students, including international students. How are you going to position your product to stand out from your competition, grab prospective students’ interest, and hold their attention? This is something all higher ed marketers grapple with on a daily basis. 

So why grapple with it at all? Offload it to your current students – your best brand advocate resource already available at your fingertips. As noted previously, 82% of your competitors already have student ambassador programs, albeit primarily offline. Get a leg up by providing your own student ambassadors with digital student-to-student P2P chat tools, like Unibuddy Chat, to increase scale and reach. 

Why? Because it works.

The NYU Tandon School of Engineering, for example, was looking for ways to increase exposure to their student ambassador program, to translate their offline product positioning as a friendly and approachable brand to larger online international audiences. As a result of integrating student ambassadors with their online brand, this school was able to increase the likelihood of digital prospects to enroll by 85%.

Why is this trend so successful from a brand positioning standpoint? Because it helps build impressions of personalization, empathy, and authenticity. Consider for example, that you are a prospective Canadian student considering a US university. Wouldn’t it help create an atmosphere of “good vibes” if you were connected with a current student who also hails from Canada and is currently enrolled in a program you’re considering? This is how positioning your brand through student ambassadors, with the goal of being viewed by prospective students as “authentic,” can be a quick win for your 2023 higher ed marketing plan.  

spotlight of stats pulled from guide

2.2. Sketching Out a Digital Content Strategy for Higher Ed

All digital content you produce should be relevant to your audience and provide clear, curated paths to conversion or another predefined KPI metric. Other KPI metrics, also known as ‘micro-conversions,’ could be anything from receiving an application for admission from a prospective student to a request to be connected with a student ambassador. 

For higher ed specifically, 2023 is to be a year of connecting the digital dots. While on-campus learning is back in full-force in the wake of the pandemic, higher ed institutions acknowledge the importance of digital engagement tools available on-demand. This importance stems from streamlining everyday applications to increasing scale and reach of their marketing and recruitment programs – particularly for international students. 

For digital higher ed, current trends call for a blend of static, practical evergreen (a term applied to pieces which see relevance year-over-year) content, with current, realtime conversational content (such as an interview with a faculty member or conversation with a student ambassador). Did you know, for example, that while 72% of Gen Z use your website to pre-qualify themselves with evergreen content providing information on common topics like pricing, programming or financial aid, they also look for ways to “feel” your brand to determine good fit. Over half of Gen Z say this temperature check can be addressed just by speaking with a current student.

And providing content which gives off those “good vibes” that 10% of prospective students look for immediately isn’t just confined to one-on-one chats. There are many other ways to create authentic content which doesn’t sound like it came from your marketing or recruitment teams. Alternative digital content methods include stuff like Blog posts written by students, interviews with faculty about what makes them tick or even small group chats – something 42% of prospective students say help them make a decision whether to attend. 


graphics showing spotlighting Gen Z data from guide

Like actors breaking the fourth wall, the more you can push the limits of your brand through content, the more successful your brand can be positioned as one of “authenticity,” “personalized concern for your students,” and “warmness.” Community forums are also an excellent content tool for engagement and helping prospective students get outside their comfort zone as they allow the audience to steer or join the conversation.

Andy Jackson, Recruitment Events Manager, at the University of South Wales, likens showing off your higher ed institution to having your in-laws over to your home. You want to show off your stuff in the best light possible without appearing fake or uninviting. By providing prospective students with unbiased information and concise content presentation, you encourage them to flow through to speaking with student ambassadors and prompt them to ask informed questions beyond the general fluff. This advice can translate directly to your digital content in 2023 to help push conversions.

2.3. Ensure a Digital Multichannel Mix 

As the first generation of digital natives, Gen Z integrates technology into every facet of their lives. Sound familiar? Probably because we hear this every year, every hour and every day in higher ed. But what does this even mean? Other generations like phones, other generations shop online and other generations have social media. 

We can borrow one trend and insight within this vein from retail and advertising: the idea of the omnichannel customer. Faced with declining interest in brick-and-mortar stores, retail giants are gradually pivoting to digital-first business models – with special focus on digital experience. And they’ve found this approach is resonating with customers – particularly those belonging to Gen Z. 

But how they buy online is different from offline habits – enter the “omnichannel” element. According to survey data from Verint, 75% of Gen Z use more than one marketing channel to complete a purchase. With this in mind, a primary survey finding is that digital experience, known as “user experience” or just UX, is a crucial element of any digital-first marketing plan. And you should be present across every relevant medium you can to maximize exposure and, ultimately, earn conversions.  


graphic showing 75% of Gen Z use more than one digital channel to complete a purchase

Let’s consider video, for example. Coordinating video content with written pieces is extremely important as it enables you to tap into new audiences. An overwhelming majority of digital purchasers report watching explainer videos to learn more about a product. 84% of this same group subsequently are swayed towards purchase. Other industries are already taking note, with video ad spending projected to show a year-over-year growth rate of 4.9% in 2023

But how you create video also needs to align with trends towards embracing multiple channels, platforms, and devices. Short, “snackable,” videos are predicted to be the preferred means of conveying a message across – and these videos should be formatted to fit different platform demands. Even Google is taking notice of this trend, as the search engine is developing AI which automatically converts landscape videos into square and vertical formats to accommodate different device-types. 

What does this mean to your higher ed marketing plan in 2023? It means prospective students coming to your site might be interacting with your content and digital assets anywhere, any time, across multiple touchpoints and channels on any device. To attract, engage and retain this generation of omnichannel customers, you need to have all your channel bases covered – from video to Blogs to social media to simple infographics to everything else in between. 

It’s not as simple as just flipping the switch and turning the lights on. You need to ensure you have dedicated team members to manage all your channels. As higher ed leaders continue to address astonishingly high levels of staff burnout and resignations, this can be challenging. You need more resources to execute well-coordinated plans but you want to avoid putting more pressure on your staff. This is where student ambassadors and freelancers can help.

As discussed earlier in this guide, your student ambassadors, and even faculty, can be the best advocates of your higher ed institution in 2023. Data shows that they can be effective voices in fostering the authentic and trusted content environments you need. 


graphic showing 92% of prospective students say connecting with a current student helps them make a decision regarding higher ed

But providing more autonomy to these groups might be just outside your controlled comfort zone. You want them to be motivated to portray your school in the best light, without reading a script, but you’re worried about losing control of the narrative. With the right incentives, however, you can foster a program which works both ways – a sort of marketing quid pro quo – to assure both parties are invested in success.  

You might have heard of the common post-graduate qualm: “This entry level position says I need three years of experience to apply.” Try positioning your student ambassador program, as a conduit to career and resume building. To plug into the statement above, being part of your student ambassador program is experience – and the content produced for your marketing and recruitment program can be leveraged as part of a professional portfolio.  

Freelancers are our second recommendation for supporting multi-channel content delivery – especially when internal resources are scarce. Freelancers can work off a topic, brief and just a quick outline of how you wish a piece to look. They can also quickly convert existing content across another channel – like turning a written Blog piece into a video. If used correctly, freelancers are an excellent cost-effective way to boost output of multi-channel content, helping you focus resources on other projects.

3.0 Building a Clear Digital Distribution Plan

3.1 Overview: Digital Distribution for Higher Ed in 2023

Effective digital marketing is only effective if your target audience is actually able to find what you are creating. But, as you know, in the world of higher ed marketing, the term “if you build it, they will come,” often does not apply. 

Despite being the owner of your higher ed brand, you hardly own it amidst a sea of influencers and competitors all zeroing in to your audience. So how do you compete? How do you ensure your content gets in front of prospective students researching your school (or the schools of your competitors)? In addition to targeting keyword groups, the keywords your audience uses to search for your school, an effective distribution plan can help bring the masses. 

There are multiple ways you can push and pull your audience towards your digital marketing assets. Every digital touchpoint needs to be carefully orchestrated to ensure maximum visibility of your marketing materials and maximum efficiency of your marketing resources. 

When establishing your distribution plan, consider the characteristics of the content you’re pushing out or pulling to within the frame of the audience you are targeting. Next you want to lock in how much budget you have (or don’t) to distribute this content. Then, you should consult all available or applicable data you have which can inform the success of your campaign – from internal data from previous campaigns to current research about where your audience hangs out. Finally, you’re ready to start building your distribution web of channels.

Here are some higher ed marketing insights and trends we’ve gathered to help inform your 2023 strategic plan:

3.2 Getting Social with Your Digital Marketing 

Social media platforms seem to reset every few years (MySpace anyone?). But the premise of them remains constant: creating digital spaces for people to interact with one another online. So how can you, as a higher ed marketer or recruiter, anticipate what the next platform might be? The short answer is that you can’t and you can’t possibly keep up without help. 

But, if you acknowledge the premise of social media as a constant, you can anticipate the general trajectory of where social media is going. As evident by the continued success of apps like TikTok and BeReal, the general trend to reaching Gen Z through social media is towards providing authentic interactions. This is why influencers, whom Gen Z consider to be their peers and therefore “unbiased,” are so successful. It’s also why your paid social banner ads, which 1 in 5 Gen Zers say do not represent them, perhaps, are not.  

So what’s the fix? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. 

As previously noted, trends data tells us that 92% of Gen Z say connecting with a current student helps them in making an informed higher ed decision. Like influencers, current students are accepted by Gen Z as peers who can offer unfiltered, unbranded and genuine information regarding your school. 

graphic showing text 40% of Gen Z turn to social media over search engines

Whether your TikTok, Discord, Reddit, Instagram or Facebook social channel, assign a few student ambassadors to help you monitor and participate in the chatter. Together you should be able to provide channel coverage and, once established with your audience, you can leverage social accounts as digital distribution hubs for content. If you’re worried about relinquishing control, and moving away from more traditional “official” higher ed language and marketing, remember: social media is meant to be social. 

Don’t: Try to sell. 

Do: Be inclusive and engaging. 

Seeing as 40% of users now turn to TikTok and Instagram for information, over traditional search engines like Google, the best time to leverage this audience is now. To help illustrate this point consider that Unibuddy Community, the higher ed answer to social media, saw 110K messages sent in 2022 alone. Some higher ed institutions using this platform report millions of dollars in student fee uplifts as a result.

If you want an example of thinking outside the box for social media, consider a viral post by Birmingham City University. Part of the social team at BCU recently visited Karen’s Diner, a restaurant famous for its intentional bad service and verbal abuse of customers. Their hilariously authentic video “review” of their visit to this restaurant alone garnished nearly 400K unique views, 20K likes and hundreds of comments alone. 

While not directly applicable to their core brand offerings, candid and honest social content like this is excellent at bringing your audience to the table and positioning your brand as “influential.” These channels are also a place for students to have fun, be creative, and build social marketing skills they can use long after graduation. The rest of BCU’s channel features a blend of student-produced informational, motivational, and entertaining skit-like digital videos. And they’re hardly the only higher ed institution jumping on the social trend of candid authenticity. 

3.3 The role of emailers is changing in Higher Ed

While they are no longer the dominant method used by higher ed marketing and recruitment teams to reach prospective students, email is still an effective digital channel according to Gen Z themselves. So what gives? 

Gone are the days of coming in cold with a form-email blast to thousands of contacts. Prospective students want personalized email content which shows you know more than their name and home-state. This helps build trust, brand recognition, and engagement. 

The current trend in the greater world of marketing is a growing emphasis on Account-Based Marketing (ABM). Among other things, ABM calls for marketing efforts to hone in on specific known high yield target accounts (aka your students), or audiences, which could benefit most from your product or service offering. This method is in contrast to more traditional demand generation tactics which call for building bigger audiences through constant brand expansion. 

Part of this process involves constructing intricate, heavy curated, and personalized email drip campaigns. These emailers, which come in a pre-established cadence, attempt to nurture and engage audiences with relevant content and tone, as opposed to the “spray and pray” tactics of a large email blast. 

As a general rule, each email drip campaign should address a specific theme or common pain-point and propose a conversational solution over the course of several communications towards an intended conversion point, such as a call-to-action which encourages a student to join a related student community of like-minded peers.    

Other email tips to consider revolve around the idea of digital real-estate. How can you plug even generic everyday emails into your digital distribution plan? Look for areas of emails which can be used for calls-to-action, such as inserting traffic-driving links into the digital signatures of higher ed staff. Even if recipients aren’t clicking on your content, they know it exists and begin to recognize your brand.

3.4 Paid Ads and Paid Social for Higher Ed?

Sometimes you need to spend a buck to make two. When used correctly, as we know, digital advertising, whether through search engines (e.g. Google Display Network) or via social media (e.g. Facebook) can be an absolute game changer in terms of funnelling the right audiences towards your audience en masse. Unlike organic search, which requires prospective students to search for your content, paid ads are pushed right in front of your target audience. Your copy needs to reflect that differentiation.  

If a prospective student is searching “best business school in the US,” you can assume they are pre-qualified as part of your target audience. Therefore, effective ad copy needs to provide differentiating, yet related information which piques their interest. For this example, you might present ad copy which reads: “97% of Example University Grads Work at Fortune 500 Companies.” Like a billboard on the side of the highway in a blizzard advertising warm southern destination holidays, you need to find out what your target audience has potential to bite at for a high clickthrough rate. 

For 2023, privacy continues to be a major driver within the world of advertising – after 2022’s banner year in fines (including Google’s $400M whopper). From massive multi-nation webs of privacy laws, like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to smaller country-regulations, like Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA),  or state-specific laws like the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) in the US, advertisements need to be as relevant as possible to their audiences. 

For higher ed advertisers, the impact of privacy laws affects the recruitment of international students who might be covered under harder government regulations, and might even be opted out from your advertisements altogether. And you might be surprised how easy the trail of noncompliance can lead back to you. The GDPR, for example, demands you gain consent before gathering and using the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of users protected under EU privacy laws through your Google Ads campaigns. To this end, if you plan to collect PII, be clear in your privacy policy and consent notifications about how you intend to use this data. 

3.5 Look for value output over cost input

Without a clear scope, paid digital advertising can topple even the most-ambitious higher ed budgets. While the temptation is to chase down low-hanging keyword groups and broad audiences (more visitors right?), a more surgical approach to data can be more fruitful. When you know exactly who you want to target, how, where and when, it’s like fishing with spears over nets. Your overall catch reflects this, where more qualified bites yield more qualified leads and so-on. 

Let’s consider, for example, that you are responsible for running a search ad campaign for a digital marketing stream within a US business school program. The temptation might be to dump budget into high traffic, high competitive, keywords like “best business program in US” or “top marketing school US,” but what would the actual output of an expensive campaign like this be? Would a vast majority of an audience searching for “best business program in US” be looking specifically for a digital marketing program? It’s unlikely. 

Instead, focus on keyword groups specific to your product offering or long-tail, referring to multi-word strings, keywords indicating high intent. A more valuable keyword for this campaign might be “digital marketing degree programs.” Although this long-tail keyword has only 50 searches per month in the US, there is a higher likelihood of reaching the intended target audience and, with a relatively low competitive density and mid-range cost-per-click, a keyword like this is a perfect example of value output over cost input. 

As a rule: You know your target audience better than anyone else. Make sure you’re getting your ads in front of users who you know would thrive at your school. And be sure to set out an ad budget and stick to it to avoid subsequent mission creep. 

3.6 Hybrid Events can help you cast a bigger marketing net

Accessibility is a word we hear every day in the world of higher ed – further emphasized by the last two years of increased virtual demands. But what exactly does accessibility mean in higher ed? At a top-level, the term refers to ensuring equal access to everything your school has to offer – including the information students need to make an informed decision. For higher ed marketing, this comes down to empowering every prospective student, regardless of location, socioeconomic challenges or level of confidence. 

While there is no like-for-like substitute for an in-person campus visit, with the right digital events solution, you can create a unique, engaging, and informational digital session which continues long after you’ve signed off. If the last two years have been characterized by all things virtual, business leaders predict the future of events to be of the hybrid variety – a trend 86% of students say they would like to see continue in higher ed. In tandem with your on-campus events, be sure to add complimentary digital elements to your recruitment plans. 

An effective digital element of a hybrid event isn’t a stand-in for an on-campus visit, but there are common elements. Just like an on-campus event, you want to make sure there are opportunities for prospective students to ask questions, speak with student ambassadors and follow up post-event. But, unlike on-campus events, you want to make sure you are using a digital events platform, like Unibuddy Events, which is built specifically for higher ed, allowing you to segment according to audience and gather the data insights you need to plan future events and continue the conversation.

4.0 How Can You Ensure Digital Marketing Success in Higher Ed?

4.1 Integrate higher ed data into every digital process

Not every digital marketing initiative is going to be a home run. But, if you’re collecting data, insights, and lessons throughout your process, no digital marketing initiative is going to be a failure either. And the best part of a digital campaign? Changes, revisions, and updates can be made instantaneously at the click of a mouse. 

As a rule, the more data you collect on your target audience, like what social media platform they prefer (or don’t), local SEO tips and tricks, like determining where your brand is strongest geographically (or where it could be), or something as simple as the questions prospective students ask your student ambassadors, can all feed upwards into future campaign planning. 

graphic with quote: "if you're not living on the edge you're taking up too much space"

While the tried and tested methods of old have worked in the past, given the volatile ever-changing nature of Gen Z’s demands for authenticity, they may no longer work in the present. This is why whenever you are launching, running, or proposing a new digital marketing strategy at your school, it is imperative to integrate data at every step. 

Data-backed strategies are not airtight, but they are pretty close. Be sure to set measurable goals for success, KPIs and consider segmenting your audiences to test which messaging, channel or medium works best. The most important part is to not be afraid to fail. Have fun, be creative and push limits to get new results. As Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest famously said: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

4.2 Stand out from higher ed competitors with student ambassadors

Trends data tells us that Gen Z considers peer-to-peer, student-to-student, conversations to be the most authentic source of higher ed information. They see current students, working as student ambassadors, as people who have walked in their shoes and are therefore more likely to provide unbiased answers to their questions about your school. But you need to ensure student ambassadors also see the value in providing their services to your school. 

As discussed above, demonstrate the value of your student ambassador program by highlighting resume- and skill-building opportunities. Provide student ambassadors with the tools they need to be successful, but do not overextend your reach into managing all aspects of their activities. 

Maria Bentley, Assistant Dean at Alfred University’s School of Art and Design, also tells us to involve incoming student ambassadors at the earliest opportunities. She says that she encourages first-year students at her school to run spring orientation sessions to show prospective students the freshest perception of their school as possible. As a result, Bentley credits Alfred’s student ambassador program for an increase in yield rate, calculated to determine an overall interest in attending a particular higher ed program, of about 50%.

4.3 Higher Ed Tech SaaS solutions are here to help

At the end of the day, despite being able to get the office printer working or create a beautiful PowerPoint presentation, you’re probably not an IT wizard. You’re a higher ed professional and you need to focus on what you do best: inspiring, helping and retaining the young minds of today who might be shaping a better world of tomorrow. It’s OK to ask for help in your digital mission. 

Higher ed tech, from Software-as-a-Solution (SaaS) solutions, like Unibuddy, which help provide platforms for you to complete your digital missions through the power of digital conversation. These solutions are pre-baked products which can plug directly into your existing processes, customer relationship management (CMS) systems, and infrastructure. With an entire dedicated support team, automatic updates, and host of data collection tools available at your fingertips, the right SaaS solution can be the partner you need for higher ed success in 2023.