Let 2018 be the year that we all get smarter about marketing our institutions. One quick way: Commit to a conference. Look for a conference or webinar that’s strongly tied to your day-to-day job and will equip you to work smarter right away.

Then choose another professional development option that’s not exactly what you do. That gets your brain out of the daily grind and encourages you to think broadly.

If you’re looking for fresh magazine ideas, catch Zehno at the upcoming CASE Editors Forum in Seattle. We’re presenting an intensive pre-conference workshop and also in the main track. In the meantime, brush up on what we learned at the AMA Higher Ed Symposium.

AMA Conference Crash Course

If you meant to attend the AMA conference at the tail of 2017, but somehow let it slip past, here’s your chance. We took notes so you didn’t have to!

At AMA, every session ended with an official set of takeaways. In that spirit, here are our Zehno-curated takeaways from the takeaways.

Content marketing has a proven role in admissions (finally)

You’re familiar with content marketing — and maybe you’re heavily involved in it. But haven’t you always been skeptical about its ROI, especially when compared to classic admissions tools that directly drive visits, apps and deposits?

Siena College’s content approach to recruitment is achieving undeniable results.

Traditional admissions messaging can be too heavy on bragging about the institution, at the expense of helping potential students meet their needs. It’s focused on “we” the college instead of “you” the student.

But to paraphrase one of the presenters, admissions marketing is like dating. If you only talk about yourself, you never get to a second date.

With Buzzfeed-style headlines and heaping doses of advice (“5 things to ask on your campus tour”), Siena’s admissions blog exemplifies the ideal of content marketing: to provide ongoing value — whether or not the audience “purchases” your product.

Siena features lots of helpful info and a sense of humor that makes it all fun to read. Is it any surprise that one of the top performing stories was the ballsy “7 reasons not to attend Siena”?

Some blog content is compiled into e-books and made available as “gated content.” You receive the free 3 Reasons Why Being Undecided Is a Smart Choice guide  by filling out a quick online conversion form so that Siena can know who you are. Other content is shared in social media, but with only $2,000 spent each year to promote that content.

Results have been impressive in boosting applications, finding better-matched students and driving enrollment increases.

And most surprising is this: the yield rate for students who fill out an online conversion form now matches yield rate for a campus tour, Siena’s longstanding predictor of enrollment.

Putting user-generated content to work

Trip Advisor, Yelp, the ice bucket challenge. People today create their own online communities — and the content to make them popular.

So if our audiences are creating communities around our institutions — what should we do? Michigan State shared how it embraced user-created content to amplify the Spartan story.

User-created videos, photos and social media posts through their Spartan Summer and Great State Road Trip (exploring the school’s impact on Michigan) broadened the story.

The trick, according to the presenters, is to seed content yourself — and then have users fill in around your team’s contributions. When a project takes off, you can expect around 85 percent to be created by audience members. And you can incorporate the best user contributions into your viewbook and other key tools.

Liberal arts are (still) worth defending

And Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters is leading the charge by doing the legwork to make the case.

By digging deeper into alumni surveys and working with their institutional research department, Notre Dame’s team can show a 97-percent placement rate for liberal arts grads (and they also have the job titles to go beyond raw stats.)

They’re creating outcomes info that’s as impressive as any typical college of education or engineering, where these stats are easier to track.

We loved their approach to writing profiles:

  • They purposefully choose alumni who majored in one field but work in another. Instead of apologizing for these stories — as many schools are tempted to do — Notre Dame celebrates these grads for their portable skills and nimble problem-solving. Rather than expecting students to know their final careers at the age of 17, this approach suggests that a full liberal arts experience is like majoring in everything.
  • They show service choices such as Peace Corps or Teach for America as smart career steps, not fallbacks for aimless grads. With almost 20 percent of grads choosing some sort of service year, the college’s traditional outcomes stats can be skewed. But Notre Dame’s smart approach puts the numbers in the right context.

Where to see Zehno:
CASE Editors Forum,
March 21-23 in Seattle

Zehno’s Senior Strategist and Editorial Director Shane Shanks is presenting an intensive pre-conference workshop and a main conference session. He’ll show you how to make editorial strategy the centerpiece of your mag redesign and how to give your mag content life well beyond the printed book.

Learn more

Register for the conference