You hear it all the time in admissions: “If I can get a prospect on campus for a tour, it’s a done deal.” The only issue is that campus visits are quite a ways down the funnel. The challenge is to nurture prospects and guide them toward the decision to visit — and incorporating video at different stages in your enrollment marketing strategy can get you there.
Last year alone, website visitors consumed 12.2 billion minutes — or 23,200+ years — of video content on Wistia, a popular video marketing platform (2021 State of Video Report). But with increased consumption comes higher expectations. Your prospects, especially those who hail from Generation Z, expect to engage with video. If you’re showing them an old video, or worse, no video at all, you’re not going to stand up to your competitors.
The problem is that creating a high quality, impactful video is often considered out-of-reach, whether due to budget, time or technical concerns. With the right approach and execution, however, things like budget and editing skill become non-issues. Admissions teams can incorporate video throughout the enrollment process — from initial contact to orientation week — by producing and crowdsourcing video content smarter.
Stay true to your educational institution’s brand
Before you can tell a story using video, you must know that story. What’s your brand? How is your institution different from the competition? Do your individual graduate programs and schools have unique brands? Even if you’re shooting a series of talking heads, you need to have a strong understanding of your brand to make sure the final cut communicates who you really are.
Consider hosting a brand workshop if you’ve never done so before, or if your brand is in need of a refresh. Gather your key stakeholders and marketing department for a day to craft the story of your brand, your institution, and values. Discuss your brand voice and messaging, vision, and values; include your mission statement, and explore what it means to attend your institution.
Only then can you create powerful video that’s on-brand and authentically you. Even if you just spend a few hours, you’re better off being in alignment than winging it or leaving the direction up to one person.
In video, there are countless “time-sinks” that often snare marketers, especially those that are new to video. Editing 4K footage on your 2011 MacBook is going to take forever; any substantial b-roll shoot (the kind where you get action shots of students, campus, and classes) will take twice as long as you think; but the most detrimental — and most expensive — pitfall of all is heading into a shoot or edit unprepared.
Knowing your brand story is the first step to creating video efficiently. When the Director of Admissions sends you a 20-minute student interview to edit for YouTube, you can at least base your edits on the story and values of your brand.
Understand exactly who you’re speaking to
You may be a trade-focused school looking to recruit working parents, or a liberal arts school going after Gen Z, or a liberal arts school that’s faith-based and wants to attract students with similar core values. Defining your audience before you shoot video helps you identify which differentiators will really impact them in your video.
Take time to flesh out buyer personas through a mix of research and interviews with current students, parents of students when applicable, and alumni. Consider what defines your ideal students (things like student behavior, age, academic background, and personal goals), and develop personas to embody those “ideal students;” this is who you’re creating for.
Know the story you want to tell
Narratives connect prospects to your brand. Use storytelling techniques to tell them how they fit into the bigger picture and, above all, show them what connecting with your brand will mean to them. Don’t make it all about you. Focus on creating concrete value for your audience — things like career advancement, unique programs, or a supportive learning community. Video gives you the power to tell short, impactful stories that speak directly to the audience you have in mind.
The Admissions staff at Stetson University College of Law know that their campus offers unique benefits to students. With an in-ground pool, classical architecture, deep-rooted history and beautiful grounds, it’s a truly unique campus in the law school space. They developed a short campus tour to show students the different facilities, courtrooms, and communities on campus.
Crowdsource your video topics
While narrative videos should be thoughtfully scripted and storyboarded, don’t hesitate to solicit feedback and suggestions from multiple departments in your institution. The strategic enrollment team may have one perspective, while professors working with a specific student organization have another entirely. No matter how experienced you are at enrollment marketing, you can benefit from the fresh perspective of current students and leaders.
As long as you set expectations properly during the brainstorming process, this approach may bring you surprising, engaging topics to cover during a video shoot — and may even inform other elements of your admissions marketing.
Take advantage of video from students & influencers
Crowdsourcing goes beyond just topics and feedback; you can also crowdsource the content itself. Today’s students are more familiar with video production than most marketing professionals; by 2030, basic production will probably be a life skill (kidding… but also not really). Encourage current students to share videos about their experiences, or create new opportunities for them to submit content, such as contests on social media, giveaways, and challenges.
You can also consider tying user-submitted videos to other (in-person or virtual) school events, like orientation, seminars, or graduation. Encourage students to share their stories and experiences, and make sure you have an active presence on your accounts — comment on or like their videos, and re-share if applicable (and not private; it’s a good idea to ask permission in the comments).
User-generated video is very much a social media game, and there’s no better way to get thoughtful, authentic content from your base.
The key is to let go of expectations and control. You’re not going to get what you’d get from a video production company, but you will get off-the-cuff, authentic content that is perfectly suited for distribution across video-rich social channels.
A few more quick tips on soliciting video from students:
- On your website and in marketing materials, make it easy to find and follow your social media accounts.
- Consider creating a unique hashtag for your campaign, challenge, or event to both track submissions and direct users to more content.
- When paying influencers, be aware of proper disclosure requirements.
- If recording students on campus (such as for interviews or for their thoughts on campus/an event), bring blank video release forms.
Align your enrollment marketing to specific audiences
There’s no such thing as a video that will appeal to all of your prospects. Instead, plan on producing short, impactful videos for individual audiences. Even among these different topics and video types, you should also budget for redoing these videos every few enrollment cycles. The last thing you want to do is deliver something dated or irrelevant when your aim is to make a great first impression.
Videos should also appeal to different stages of the buyer’s journey. You can connect with prospects at every stage, from introducing them to the idea of pursuing a graduate degree, to outlining the difference between your program and a competitor’s program.
Beware video production partners who can’t back up video plans with alignment to your enrollment marketing strategy. Your video needs to be more than pretty or slick — it needs to matter to the people who are making a huge life decision.
Repurpose video across multiple channels
Don’t forget the value of using video to influence retention and matriculation.
Video is unique in that it’s one of the few forms of content that can be diced, rearranged, and repositioned for entirely different uses. An intimate interview with your Dean could be broken down into short segments for admissions emails; that great b-roll of the campus can be repurposed in Instagram Stories ads — it’s all about stretching that quality content in ways that fit your intent.
If you don’t have the means to create videos in-house, video marketing can be a steep investment, so make the most of it. Distribute video across landing pages, emails, YouTube, and social media. Make animated gifs using the video you’ve produced. Create or ask your video production partner for shorter clips for Facebook and LinkedIn ads.
For every short video you produce, map out exactly how it will fit into your overall enrollment marketing strategy. Don’t forget the value of using video to influence retention and matriculation. Video that emphasizes the value of studying at your institution can help combat summer melt.
Don’t use a champagne budget for every video
Consider the purpose of your video when you set your budget. Video that plays in the hero area of your website should be high budget, beautifully produced content. Instagram Stories content can (and honestly should) be shot with a smartphone. A live webinar should have excellent sound and clean lighting, but you don’t need multiple cameras.
Try a mix of highly produced videos and videos your marketing team can shoot without professional assistance. A one-time investment in DIY video tools will get you halfway there. Your internal marketing and communications department will need to commit to learning basic video editing software for the best results.
Basic in-house capabilities help you capture events, webinars and student testimonials throughout the year. When you pair video produced by a third party vendor with what you can accomplish in house, you should be able to cover all of your needs.
Find (and guide) the right talent
Who you get on camera can make or break the quality of a video you use to market your higher education programs. Not everyone will come across naturally; tap a variety of personalities for your video shoot. Your full video strategy should include students, instructors, and alumni. Different groups will speak to different elements of what your school has to offer, and even within topics, their views and unique perspective will inevitably resonate with some of your audience. For private primary school and high school enrollment marketing, consider getting parents on camera, as well.
Have dedicated team members on-hand to work with the “talent” you’re using. Snacks (yes, for adults), distractions, and some old-fashioned encouragement will help the shoot go by smoothly. For interview-style videos, consider sending your talent topics, questions, or prompts prior to the shoot to help them form their responses — but advise them not to script their answers. Unless your talent is used to scripting and memorization, over-planning like this will only complicate their responses, as they slip-up trying to remember that perfect line from last night.
Keep inclusion in mind as you select topics and participants. If your institution’s values include a commitment to diversity, your videos should illustrate that.
Showcase your online courses
For your students, the COVID-19 pandemic brought many realities about lifestyle to light — a lot of people can absolutely work from home; ordering groceries online is easy as pie; and online learning really isn’t that bad.
The cat’s out of the bag. Of over 3,000 institutions in the U.S., only 4% were fully dedicated to in-person classes in Fall 2020 [EducationData.org, 2021]. Most students have been introduced to online learning, and there’s no doubt that many of them see the benefits.
This is an opportunity for you to use video marketing to preview your online courses. This can mean a screengrab of your online portal, or actual recordings of video classes. Transparency answers common questions and speaks to potential pain points and concerns around studying online.
Get as much done as you can in one shoot
If you really want to make the most of your video budget, be clear with any production company from the start of your engagement that you expect multiple edited videos. When you bring the company onto campus for a multi-day shoot, work closely with them to put together a game plan that covers all of your video needs, and then some. Pay for the extra hour to get beautiful b-roll of campus. Make sure they understand your needs.
A good production company will know best practices around video for ads, short overviews for social and YouTube, and more in-depth student profiles and case studies.
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