Each week brings new headlines about declining enrollments for public schools. Parents are having fewer children, the COVID-19 pandemic has eroded trust and sowed confusion, and sites like Great Schools are causing more families to “shop around” for schools than ever before. These trends combined have launched K-12 schools into a newly competitive environment, and they mean that districts need to reassess their enrollment marketing strategies to see what’s currently working, what’s outdated, and what can be improved moving forward.
Even before the pandemic, the balance between in-person and digital recruiting tactics was starting to transform, but COVID-19 definitely accelerated this trend. While many opportunities still exist for traditional outreach methods – like community events, presentations at feeder schools, and more – school districts ignore the digital space at their own peril. Many of our K-12 clients have found marked improvements in enrollment and retention after updating their websites, for example. Taking the opportunity to modernize the design and content and to focus on search engine optimization is well worth the time, effort, and money that it takes to do so. Schools are increasingly running lead generation ads on Facebook, but they are also investing their time in storytelling and inbound marketing.
Another digital strategy that has recently emerged within the K-12 space is marketing automation. The platforms that enable this have been growing more nuanced and customizable over the past few years. All of these tools allow recruiting and enrollment teams to program outreach activities across multiple channels and monitor and report on their efforts by creating workflows: sets of instructions that program specific actions based on the “triggers” that you select. If a contact fills out an inquiry form on a particular webpage, for instance, you can build a workflow that can send them a pre-drafted email, a text message, or even create a task for an enrollment advisor to call them. As you can imagine, this type of automation is a powerful tool for nurturing leads once you get them into your system.
If your district is ready to explore the world of automation, here are some of the main things to consider.
FIND THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB.
Marketing automation is often linked to customer relationship management (CRM) software, and the most popular CRM platforms tend to offer a variety of automation tools. Salesforce, HubSpot, and Marketo are some of the most commonly chosen options, though less expensive competitors like Nutshell also offer users the chance to automate email outreach and other elements of the marketing and sales process.
The upfront costs to some of these platforms can be intimidating, but make sure to read the fine print. We work with HubSpot, for instance, because it provides a unified system to solve for a variety of client needs, unlike some other options that require additional apps, at an additional cost, to be purchased along the way in order to accomplish the same goals. (It’s also what we use for our own internal marketing, sales, and CMS needs.) Depending on your internal capacity, you may choose to do the implementation yourself or bring on a firm to do the setup. HubSpot has an excellent directory of certified Solutions Partners – and Presidio just so happens to be one of them.
USE INSIGHTS FROM YOUR PREVIOUS ENROLLMENT MARKETING PROCESS TO INFORM YOUR AUTOMATION STRATEGY.
Don’t revamp your entire marketing process before assessing your existing strategies and processes. Where are your leads coming from? What content has been most popular? Have you produced any videos recently? Have you already started implementing an inbound marketing strategy, or have you just been relying on paid ads?
You should also think about how you’ll be using automation, who will be using it, and which groups it will target:
- Which team will be in charge?
- How many team members will be using your platform?
- Which type(s) of audience are you going to be targeting with this outreach?
- What content will you recycle, and what new content do you need to create?
For now, let’s consider a few different audiences. If you are seeing increasing numbers of parents leaving the district, you may want to focus on retention. An automated email workflow with links to videos, superintendent and principal messages, and information about new programs and initiatives may be useful in this situation.
When it comes to attracting new parents, don’t forget the distinctions between the types of leads that come into your system. Do you already know that some leads are likelier to enroll their children than others? Many of our clients find that personal referrals are the most likely parents to complete the enrollment process, followed by parents who have already viewed multiple website pages and completed the enrollment form on the website, followed by parents who have submitted their information on a Facebook ad but haven’t engaged with any other district materials. If this is the case for your district, you can create customized workflows for each type of parent, including different cadences and methods of outreach (email, phone calls, SMS, etc.). Even beyond the outreach process, you can set up deal stages that track parents as they complete different steps of the application and enrollment process, easily allowing you to report on your progress and ROI.
FREE UP YOUR ENROLLMENT TEAM’S TIME BY AUTOMATING REPETITIVE TASKS.
How does automation software accomplish this? Primarily, it allows you to automate repetitive tasks. If a parent submits an inquiry form about a specific school program, for instance, a workflow can automatically send them an email with relevant information and resources without your staff having to do anything. Even scheduling social media posts in advance can be considered marketing automation. This sort of social publishing allows your team to have more control over their schedules and to think ahead about the content they share.
Your workflows can be as straightforward or as complex as you want them to be. On the simple end, you can program an email to be sent when a lead submits a form; on the more complex end, that form could trigger a series of outreach steps – emails, phone calls, text messages, etc. – with if/then branches to track their reactions and keep the content relevant to the context.
REMEMBER THAT AUTOMATING SOME PROCESSES DOESN’T DEPERSONALIZE YOUR ENROLLMENT OUTREACH, AND SOME STAGES CAN’T BE AUTOMATED.
The results that you get out of automation depend on the thought that you put into it. Since it’s one part of a holistic approach, your automation tactics need to fit into your broader strategy. That means mapping them onto appropriate inbound marketing stages and developing personalized content for them.
Some of your initial lead nurturing steps are going to be ripe for automation. You can send an informational brochure or flyer to a parent after they submit an inquiry form about one of your programs, for instance. Or, if a parent signs up for a newsletter, you can program an email with links to blog posts and parent resources. Make sure that you think through all the triggers in your workflows so that any automated content is contextual, relevant, and timely. Don’t forget to include contact information in case they want to reach out to an enrollment counselor.
Once you know that a parent is genuinely interested in enrolling their child in your district, make sure to connect them with your recruitment and enrollment staff to answer their questions personally. At this point, even the most carefully crafted automated email can’t compete with a person-to-person conversation.
KEEP REFRESHING YOUR CONTENT AND REFINING YOUR AUTOMATION STRATEGIES.
Don’t let your workflows grow stale. Links to outdated landing pages will quickly alienate prospective parents, and not all e-books or blog posts are evergreen. Come up with a regular cadence of check-ins with your enrollment marketing team to see what needs to be updated at both the content and the strategy level.
By combining engaging storytelling with the latest automation technology, you can present your school in its best light, increase your enrollment numbers, and strengthen your community’s ties.