How do you market your online programs when there’s so much competition and there are still people unsure of the method?
For starters, the days when online courses and programs were suspect of being “less than” are long gone. Today, institutions of all types offer a wide variety of online certificate and degree programs and students are gobbling up their marketing content in droves. In fact, in the most recent Babson College survey on online learning, the study found that overall distance learning enrollments were up for the 14th straight year, with more than six million students taking at least one online course. That, in spite of overall college enrollments being down. However, while nonprofits saw growth in excess of 7 percent, for-profit institutions saw a decline in online enrollments of more than 4 percent.
Whatever type of institution your online programs serve, competition is fierce. If you want to rise above schools with similar offerings, how you market your online programs matters. Here’s what you can do stand out:
1) Find Your Niche
If you want to use online marketing effectively, don’t throw money at broad-based terms with stiff competition. Your online MBA program may be wonderful but a single click on the term “online MBA” can cost you more than $85, “online MBA programs,” $100. That’s not to say that you can’t advertise for an MBA program. You just need to consider what makes yours truly unique. Even better would be to carve out a less competitive niche market. Your ultimate goal may be to increase enrollments to that master’s degree program, but you might be better off if you first offered training for busy business leaders that they could complete online. Once they’ve sampled the high caliber online instruction you offer, it will be easier for you to convince potential students of the merits of your MBA.
And even though competition for your online programs might span the country, did you know that most institutions find that their online learners live no more than 100 miles from their schools? Digital marketing can help build your brand on a local and global perspective. Highlight what makes your institution and its programs better and you’ll increase your overall reputation, which will in turn make it easier for prospective students to find you when they search, wherever they are.
2) Reimagine What You Offer
As a journalist, I can assure you: the headline matters. So does what you call your courses. Even if the “Disaster Preparedness” course offered from the University of Pittsburgh has ostensibly the same content as Michigan State’s course, I bet you’re more likely to click on the Spartans’ offering: “Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse – Disasters, Catastrophes, and Human Behavior.” Same applies to UCLA’s “Recycling and Solid Waste Management.” I’m sure it’s a perfectly fine course. But I’d opt for “The Joy of Garbage at Santa Clara University.” Likely the same stuff—but one school gets the marketing piece.
3) Provide Free Quality Content
If you expect to attract people to online programs, you need to do so online! An engaging and well-optimized website is your minimal marketing effort. Produce relevant, helpful, evergreen content that’s of value to the user. That can include whitepapers and slideshares, infographics and webinars. They should be of the highest quality you can produce and they should be free—except for maybe the cost of a contact name and email address.
4) Get Social
Amplify your content on social media and use the platforms to engage and build an audience and a community. Many online students are hesitant to try Elearning because they think there’ll be no human contact. Show them how wrong they are. Today’s online communities can be vibrant places where likeminded learners gather to discuss a wide range of academic and nonacademic topics. Many programs offer video or audio feeds and some even include an on-campus component that allows students and faculty to meet in person.
5) Use Data and Analysis
Digital marketing gives schools the opportunity to gather data from pages, sites and campaigns to find out what works. With proper analysis, you can always improve upon what you do to attract students to your online programs. Look, analyze, tweak—repeat.
6) Continue Traditional Marketing
To attract online students, consider an omnichannel marketing approach. That means that in addition to being on the appropriate digital platforms, you may also want to use traditional media. Even if you can’t afford television ads, a billboard or a radio ad on a public station within that 100 mile radius from which you’ll draw most of your students can be a good investment. Just remember to gather data about how students found you. Use what works; reconsider what doesn’t. It may need to be reworked or thrown out altogether. The most important part of marketing for online programs is to understand that it’s ever-evolving.
Can you keep up with online marketing? We can! Contact the online marketing experts at ESM Digital to learn more today.