How to Leverage Influencer Marketing for Higher Ed

As graduate enrollment for Generation Z students is on the uptick, grabbing their attention and guiding them toward your school is becoming harder than ever.  Believe it or not, embracing influencer marketing for your higher ed program might be the solution.

If you’re finding that your traditional marketing tactics—targeted emails, print flyers, or radio and newspaper ads—aren’t resulting in the conversion rates you’d like, you might be wondering what you should do next.

Rather than waste your higher ed recruiting dollars on ads that aren’t resonating, you can learn to market your higher ed institution in a way that’s mindful, intentional and in-tune with Gen Z students’ needs.

As a cost-effective and impactful marketing tactic, influencer marketing is shaping prospective students’ final enrollment decisions. Below, we’ll discuss how your institution can leverage this powerful advertising tool.

influencer marketing for grad programs

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is the ultimate hybrid of social media and word-of-mouth marketing. It takes everyday people with dedicated social media followings on channels like Instagram or TikTok, and organically sells products and services to their audiences.

According to RNL research, some 63% of surveyed high school juniors and seniors claimed that social media sites were most helpful in their college searches. This is huge.

Word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer marketing have drastically evolved in recent years. The common consumer—especially college hopefuls—prefers recommendations from those they trust before buying products and services. It’s no wonder that 53% of consumers trust influencers more than the brands whose products and services they are selling.

Read more: Higher Education Marketing: Revise Your Messaging for Generation Z >>

6 benefits of influencer marketing for higher ed

According to Mark Schaeffer in Return on Influence, there are six key benefits to leveraging social media marketing for your institution’s recruitment efforts:

1. Higher reach & awareness

Influencers are selected based on their high levels of outreach, meaning that they typically have a semi-high following on social media or on-campus, depending on their status as a student, alumni, or even professor. This level of influence can appeal to students far and wide, who will apply or even choose to enroll at your university based on the student-led culture.

2. Better research

As you’re (hopefully) relying on influencers with a true connection to your institution, you can also rely on their perspective and experience to inform you of your influencer campaign’s efficacy. They have direct access to and insights on the day-to-day of student life, which can lead to quality idea generation and messaging updates.

3. A minefield of content

Influencers offer a unique perspective on the ins and outs of campus life and
so much more. Not only can influencers serve as liaisons between prospective students and your institution’s content, but they can help create more relevant posts, secure more followers and help boost content views — whether that be evergreen or campaign-specific.

4. Strong SEO and site authority

Influencers have a special knack for creating content that includes mentions of your brand, specifically from a website and social media perspective. This is especially helpful if a key goal of your campaign includes ranking for the right keywords—whether you’re launching a new landing page or pushing SEO updates to your current recruitment site.

5. Strategic leverage over other institutions

Higher ed is a highly competitive field, and landing the right influencers has the potential to help you stand out amongst the competition, especially if they’re not leveraging these skilled ambassadors themselves. Once people see that you’re making efforts to truly connect with them, they’ll be more attracted to your institution.

6. Advocacy from actual human beings

Influencer marketing campaigns truly need to come from the heart. Hiring a genuine, authentic influencer to represent your brand and help connect with potential students—with the right content, of course—is your best course of action. Influencers should believe in the power of your institution’s brand and offerings, and this should always shine through in the content they help build out.

How to Effectively Leverage Influencers in Your Higher Ed Marketing

Set intentions and stick to them

While marketing, at its core, is about telling people what’s in it for them,
Generation Z consumers crave emotional connection from any ad placements, influencer-based and beyond.

Marketing for higher ed graduate programs means painting a picture of how your programs improve the lives of students, which might not be as obvious as offering them more career opportunities. Focus on those bonds formed through student groups, the flexibility of your curriculum, or any work your institution does to promote social justice and an equitable future for all.

Be sure to use your thoughtful, well-researched buyer personas to help guide who and what you want your influencers to engage with. You can’t connect to everyone or highlight everything.

Identify the right influencers for your higher ed marketing strategy

You don’t need to pay that widely popular YouTuber hundreds of thousands of dollars to vouch for your institution, but it doesn’t hurt to. If influencer costs are too much of a dent in the wallet, you can leverage current graduate students, as well as alumni and even professors, to connect with prospective enrollees.

By building trust within their community or audience, influencers have the power to drive important discussions around key topics on campus—culture, quality of life, faculty, networking and so much more. This helps them answer questions in an open and transparent manner, while also keeping them highly engaged with the community.

Most schools already have organic social media programs to attract students. Influencers are a natural extension of that. Finding the right influencers will pay off in spades. If you’re angling for a younger audience, you’ll want to use forums like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.

Depending on how robust you want your campaign to be, you may consider outsourcing with an agency that facilitates influencer marketing and reporting. Or you can move forward with a DIY approach. Social listening will give you visibility into what people are already saying.

Don’t discount the conversations that aren’t necessarily about what you consider to be your core offerings. That law student studying on the beach has just as much of a chance of influencing his friends as the newly minted attorney who just got a great job.

How to reach out to the influencers you’ve identified

Reaching out to someone with a million followers could be costly and they may even require you go through an agent (yes, Instagram and YouTube celebrities often have agents). Not in your budget? There’s hope.

Some of the most effective influencers are the ones with modest to medium followings that seamlessly blend into the community you are trying to tap into.

If your influencer and your brand have a natural overlap, the best way to get them to share and create meaningful content is to give them free rein.

Set expectations with your influencers

From social media takeovers to posting sponsored content on their very own channels, there’s no shortage of opportunities to leverage these social influencers’ skills for the greater good of your higher ed marketing strategy.

Think about it: what events do you want these influencers to cover? What do you want the takeaway to be when a prospective student sees your influencer’s content?

Setting expectations with influencers on post frequency, creating content in slower periods, and defining just how to speak about your institution are all excellent places to start.

Identify where this influencer has the highest social following and/or familiarity. If they frequent Instagram, have them post biweekly stories about events or just tips for living on campus.

Emphasize honesty to build loyalty

When it comes to sourcing the right influencer to tell your brand story, it’s best to avoid scripted content at all costs. While guidance and direction are sometimes necessary and not at all an incorrect approach, savvy social media users will see right through a script.

Encouraging authenticity, targeting the right prospects, and sharing relevant messages will have the greatest impact on your target audience.

You chose this specific influencer because of their impact on the community and their followers, so sit back, let them be themselves, and let the magic happen.

Take Your Higher Ed Marketing Tactics to the Next Level

Want to go beyond admissions brochures and college fairs? Influencer marketing and other emerging tactics should be a part of your strategic admissions marketing plan. Contact us to talk about how you can level up your higher ed marketing.