University Student Lifecycle Management Through Social
In this episode, the show notes are a nearly word-for-word transcription of my interview with Katie. Let me know how this works for you…
Bernie: Thanks so much for joining me on the Social Business Engine podcast today. Katie let’s begin with, what I know is on everyone’s mind and that is, who is Laureate International Universities?Katie: Laureate International University is a network of private higher education institutions located around the globe. We’re responsible for marketing to students both for online universities and a couple of different campus universities as well. You may have heard of Walden University, that’s one of our flagship universities that my team is responsible for.
Bernie: So you said you’ve got a team, it’s a distributed team and you’re managing social. Before we get into some of the details of that, let’s begin with, what are the business goals that you and your team have as you manage social for Laureate?
Katie: It’s really important in social media to keep in mind what your business objectives are, and that your social media strategy is aligned with those business objectives. For all of our universities, our business objectives are definitely around gaining student enrollments, supporting student retention and then supporting alumni loyalty as well. In our social media strategy we cover brand awareness and reach, engagement, lead generation, conversion and consideration, student activation and then graduation and alumni relations and services. So really we cover end-to-end, the whole entire student lifecycle.
Bernie: I like the way you frame that, the student lifecycle. So, you guys use data pretty intensively, and we talk about data here a lot on the Social Business Engine podcast, so why don’t you share with my listeners how you use data in your social business strategy and the kind of decision-making that it enables you to do.
Katie: I think the saying goes, paralysis by analysis. Some days I definitely feel like I’m looking at so much data. 😉 But if you go back to business basics, it’s actually easy to leverage even simple data set to help drive some of these business decisions, wherever you are in the customer life cycle and whatever your business objectives are for the different stages of the business lifecycle. So when I think about data, the important things to keep in mind in social media, I think of community health; what are some of the indicators for community health? Those could be community growth numbers, those could be engagement metrics, those could be things like sentiment analysis and even share of voice. So we really want to make sure that not only are we using social media to drive business decisions and impact our business, but the communities that we’re building are maintained as healthy communities.
Another key area that I look at is performance of the content in the communities. It’s really important to make sure that the content that we’re pushing out to the communities is what I call the 3 R’s; timely, relevant and relatable. And, then we measure the performance of that content based off of how people are interacting with it, what are some of the impressions and reach numbers that we’re getting with it, and other conversations that are emerging from it, positive, negative, or neutral, and then sentiment analysis. And then from an amplification standpoint, making sure that the content continues to be relevant as we amplify it, opening up target audiences. Another area of performance that’s really important to keep in mind or data that we can look at, is community feedback.
We use Shoutlet as our social media management tool. We are able to tag comments that are happening in the social spaces and add keywords to them. So in our case for a university, we often get questions about financial aid, enrollment, when are my books going to come in the mail. etc. So we can tag those comments in a community as various topics and at the end of the month, we can pull those reports and say okay, we had 25 questions about financial aid, maybe we need to look at ways to bring financial aid to the forefront and use it as an education tool instead of using it as a reactionary tool. That’s what I mean by community feedback as an important element to look at.
Inbound traffic of course is really important. I think that most social media strategies have a backbone on the funnel metrics, whether it’s top of the funnel and response, or if it’s further down the funnel in conversion, nurturing and activation to customers. So the traffic that we’re pushing, or the messages that we’re pushing out on social channels, that drive inbound traffic to our websites, we can measure, we can locate those data through third party analytics tools. That’s important data to look at as well.
Bernie: How often are you reporting on the data that you collect? To whom do you report the data? And as a result of that reporting, are there any decisions that are made or changes in your approach?
Katie: I look at our dashboard every single day, several times a day and everyone on the team is looking at similar numbers depending on their role on the team. It’s really important for us to communicate those success metrics both vertically, and laterally across the business. We can have all of the numbers of our marketing team set up in a workflow. So if someone on my marketing team can input content around a new program for example, they put it in into the workflow, we approve it and publish it, and then they can pull the metrics themselves to report on it within their individual campaigns. We report monthly, usually to the leadership team and the C-Suite, and that’s a little bit more of an executive level, so we don’t get into specific campaigns or specific post details.
Bernie: Can you give me insight into what those conversations are like in the C suite?
Katie: Sure well, I’m pretty sure we all have the same challenges when it comes to expressing the role and the importance of social media, to the C Suite. Social media is one of the areas where there’s a level of education that comes along with reporting. For example, defining what engagement means, and how engagement on Facebook is different than the engagement on Twitter and other communities as well. So expressing to a leadership team that our engagement is “healthy,” could mean different things depending on which community we’re talking about. We continue to provide education to the C-Suite on these definitions, and we try to keep our reports as executive level summary as possible.
Bernie: So I would think that student enrollment and retention would be two really key metrics that the C suite is honed in on, am I right about that?
Katie: Yes, those are the two metrics that move the needle. There are a lot of other activities and objectives that are supporting those two, but certainly leads, new enrollments and the impact on student retention are the three critical data sets that we look at most.
Bernie: Have you had any lessons learned along the way that you survived and would be willing to share here.
Katie: Yes, I think social media is still a learning opportunity for many professionals. I would say have patience when expressing what your metrics are and what they mean. I realize that leads are important, and I realize that conversion is important, but engagement is what’s important to me, and explain how engagement supports the business objectives. I have spent the last several years here expressing how engagement serves as a wrapper around business objectives and how so many other metrics that we look at, are things that we use to pull some triggers in order to make the business objectives like leads and conversion and student retention, actual solid ROI metrics.
Bernie: In terms of lead generation, a for you at Laureate is a student. Can you shed light on how you do lead generation and how you measure that?
Katie: I think that a big misconception among the community at large is that social media is not a lead generation tool, and in fact the opposite is true. One of your strongest lead gen tools is a community platform like Facebook and Twitter because you can target specific audiences at different places in the funnel. We queue up messages to our Facebook community or our LinkedIn profile, our Twitter account, and we say something link “you know you’re looking to advance your degree…” click here to learn more, and append a tracking code to each URL. Using use our marketing automation platform, we can track the source of leads. Leads go through a nurturing loop. So, we know how many leads year-to-date, year-over-year, or on a monthly basis, have been generated directly from our social media efforts.
Interviewer: Have you seen from all of the history that you’ve gathered and that you report on, that there might be specific types of content that generate leads more than others, or maybe even seasonality in your lead generation?
Katie: Absolutely, in our case, with our universities, we have rolling start dates. We start our dates every single month and so we don’t have the lulls like other universities. We start off with a brand awareness campaign, followed up with the top of the funnel direct response message, and then drive down funnel messages from there. There’s a number of ways you can use targeting to make sure that message gets to the right audience where they are in a funnel, but certainly building your content strategy around funnel movement is probably the most critical aspect to it. It’s really easy for a lot of companies to use the same copy and content that they might use for search or display in the social space, but it’s really important to differentiate your content especially in social. The last thing that people want to see in social is some broadcast message that they see in search or other banner ad.
Bernie: Have you noticed any content format are more effective for you than others, whether it’s a research report, or a white paper, or video, or podcast?
Katie: The stories are the heartbeat of what social does well and, so any time that we can lead with a student story or student accomplishment, or an alumni that’s been in the news or has had their dissertations published, those are our opportunities to not only highlight those individuals and the university itself, but it’s a great way to demonstrate the outcomes and what you can expect.
Bernie: Do you have either official or unofficial ambassadors, meaning students or alumni who are fans and they’re willing to wave their Laureate flag for you?
Katie: Yeah we sure do, what’s interesting is on Facebook for example, when I first started here a couple of years ago, we would post something in the community and we would have someone that would express discontent with something that happened in their experience here, and before we even had a chance to read the post, we already had 5 or 6 current students or alumni chiming in to the conversation. We do have a formal ambassador program for one of our owned domain communities. And in that community, we do have students, alumni and soon we’ll have faculty ambassadors in the community answering questions, sharing their perspective, and share their stories of accomplishments. And none of them are paid, they all do it out of the goodness and their commitment to the Walden experience. It’s really powerful.
Bernie: We could talk a lot longer about what you’re doing, but it’s time now for my “one thing” question. If there’s any one thing that you could change about the way that business is conducted today, what would that be?
Katie: Oh gosh, it’s so hard to narrow it down to just one. I think one thing that I would change about business is to stop believing in status quo and to challenge status quo on a regular basis. It’s goes beyond “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” philosophy. Put education at the heart of your employees, making sure that everyone’s aware of what’s happening inside the business. It means having open communication internally to provide a better external experience and to not be afraid of risk. I think a lot of businesses tend to operate on the safe side. Be willing to be more entrepreneurial and especially in a social space because things are just moving so fast. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different, and recognize when something doesn’t work and learn from that opportunity.
Bernie: I love your answer Katie because, most of us, when they hear the word entrepreneurship, they think of a new business, and what I hear you saying is companies should be willing to be more entrepreneurial within their enterprise. I think you hit on something really key that a lot of businesses around the world are hopefully listening to his podcast right now, and heeding your advice because I think that is fantastic advice Katie, thank you so much for sharing that.
Before we adjourn Katie, let’s let everybody know where they can connect with you online and feel free to promote or point them to any piece of content that you would like to point them to.
Katie: Sure, well if you want to learn more about any of the universities that we cover, or you’re looking to advance your degree or your career, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m KatieBRoberts on LinkedIn and also on Twitter. If you want to learn more about Walden university, you can find Walden at waldenu.edu.
Bernie: Well Katie B Roberts, thank you so much for joining me here today on the Social Business Engine podcast. You have packed a lot into these 30 minutes, I know my listeners are walking away with a lot of really terrific insights. Thank you so much for joining me here today.
Katie: Thank you, this was a lot of fun.
Bernie: Terrific, talk to you soon bye-bye.