Fix Engagement by Breaking the Rules

Spring is here, which in the admissions process can only mean one thing … a hyperfocus on yield for our incoming class while concurrently turning the page to look ahead to the future. Of course, in a “post-COVID” world (whatever that means), we are faced with a number of unknowns, the largest of which is how to get back to high-effort initiatives that were so critical pre-2020. Concurrently, we need to continue and expand upon the highly effective and measurable digital offerings we’ve spent so much time perfecting over the past two years.

As we look ahead, it will be important to not let digital efforts go the way of high school visits and college fairs—things that we do with no real understanding of their true impact—and ultimately create a confusing, or worse, negative student experience . To that end, there are three low-hanging fruit ways to fix your digital engagement plan by breaking some rules.

Rule No. 1: “We Have to Be Live”

The reality is that in 2022 there is very little digital content that needs to be consumed live. There are entire industries built around easy, step-by-step video tutorials and guides. In the context of college admissions, we’re also competing for screen time with social media apps and video-streaming sites used for entertainment.

Additionally, while meeting software like Zoom and Teams has made it easier for members of your campus community to be comfortable being on camera, there will always be challenges with internet connectivity compounded with varying degrees of comfort on the part of your presenters. The last thing we want to see is a great information session slightly derailed by bad internet and then completely off the mark because of a stressed-out professor who can’t re-center themselves.

How do we break the rule? Simulate live experiences by pre-recording content and releasing it on a schedule (like The Mandalorian on Disney+). This creates anticipation for fresh content while also removing the challenges inherent in broadcasting live each time. Additionally, effective promotion of on-demand content can serve as a method of repurposing content without the added effort of continually recording new material which can be a burden to an already overstretched team.

Rule No. 2: Polish Before Promotion

The battle between authentic and amateur is not new. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the general rule of thumb for video content was that students prefer a raw and unfiltered view of campus over highly produced videos featuring faculty and the president. Of course, during the height of the pandemic we had no choice but to produce what students wanted to see: videos featuring students and staff from their living rooms and kitchens simply sharing their voice.

As we return to normal, the temptation is to revert to ignoring this type of feedback from the market and overproduce video content for on-demand consumption. This is why programs like The College Tour on Amazon Prime are so popular with colleges. Much like UniversityTV nearly a decade ago, admissions and marketing teams clamor for shiny and pristine presentations with little to no regard for ROI. These types of investments now lead to blowback from the community at large.

How do we break the rule? Avoid the temptation to put too much effort and emphasis on a polished final product. If we’ve learned nothing from the latest Disney smash hit, Encanto, it doesn’t need to be perfect… it just needs to be. So just let it be. Raw and unfiltered content also moves from idea to eyeballs in a far shorter period of time. This allows for fast feedback for your team with the ability to iterate quickly and add to the story over time.

Rule No. 3: Keep Storing Data in Silos

OK. This one isn’t so much a rule as it is a problem with how most institutions treat recruitment data.

For the record, investing in a college tour video with Amazon in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. The issue, however, is the inability to measure meaningful ROI with a video hosted on YouTube and embedded into a webpage. This limitation is a function of investing in disparate systems and platforms without a true plan for how they all fit together. It’s the reason most institutions can’t (or don’t) effectively track beyond the first source of an enrollment: doing anything more is just too hard.

How do we break the rule/address this problem? The most impactful thing we can do is stop thinking about digital interactions and in-person interactions as separate and think of them as part of a continuous story. Using marketing automation and machine learning, we can connect the dots from visitors to our virtual tour, our .edu website and our institutionally branded videos and content. This connectivity enables us to use machine learning to drive dynamic content and automations without our CRM to truly tailor the recruitment process for our prospective students. Going about it this way also ensures we aren’t giving our student data to Google for free.

We have a unique opportunity as an industry to continue the rapid innovation that we have seen over the past two years. This will take a commitment to not going backward and having a laser focus on delivering students the right message at the right time via the right channels from the right sender. That’s a lot of rights to get right.


A leader in enrollment marketing strategy, Gil Rogers has published numerous studies on digital student engagement and presented at dozens of national conferences on enrollment strategy. He currently serves as executive vice president at PlatformQ Education.

Leave a Comment