GMAC Annual Conference: Session Reviews from Attendees (Just in Case You Missed Something!)
Unable to attend this year’s Annual Conference? Were there sessions you wished you could attend, but were too busy? No time? No worries. We invited attendees to report on their favorite sessions. A special thanks to all of the 2015 Annual Conference reporters who volunteered their time. More summaries next month! Tune in next month for more session reviews from your colleagues.
Session Title: Increase Applications and Reduce Marketing Costs through Inbound Marketing
Presenter: Leigh Fitzgerald, Principal Inbound Marketing Specialist, HubSpot
Inbound marketing seeks to build organic relationships with audiences by providing value, whereby the buyers are in control, according to session facilitator Leigh Fitzgerald of HubSpot. This is in contrast with outbound marketing, commonly referred to as traditional advertising, such as billboards or digital and print advertisements where buyers are not in control of the information that is pushed out to them.
Inbound marketing seeks to attract an audience through search engine optimization (SEO), content creation, and social media. Fitzgerald said that prospective students go to search engines to ask questions – not necessarily enter keywords – so your site should be the answer to their questions. The importance of SEO for our MBA target market is that most college-age students are savvy and avoid clicking on paid search ads; they do not trust them as much as the organic search results. She shared that organic search content, on the other hand, is so powerful that it closes at a 14.6 percent rate vs. outbound marketing tactics (e.g. direct mail, print) that close at a 1.7 percent rate.
One tactic to enhance your SEO ranking is through blog content creation. Fitzgerald recommended that schools should host the blog directly on their websites, capitalizing on the authority the university’s website already has in SEO evaluation. Blogs also maximize reach, allowing you to share their message through many social media channels or even email communication. Blogs work best if they are not solely about the school. They can attract a wider, potentially untapped, audience if they answer the questions that your prospective students have (e.g. tips for applying to business school or why an MBA); this allows you to obtain prospective students who were not already on your radar.
Reviewed by Shelly Heinrich, Director, MBA Admissions Georgetown University McDonough School of Business
Session Title: LinkedIn Strategies to Transform Your Marketing
Presenter: Jessica Naeve, Director of Sales, Education Vertical, LinkedIn
LinkedIn delivered a session focusing on what makes their platform and professional network unique in the market. LinkedIn has seen unprecedented growth from 32 million members in 2008 to 364 million today, and they are adding 200,000 professionals to their global network every day.
LinkedIn maintains that the key to its growth has been the platform’s uniqueness and its vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. This has dovetailed with the market trend for word-of-mouth referrals to move into the social sphere with 49% of applicants searching for information on professional networks.
The importance of LinkedIn for universities is the mind set of people when they visit the platform. LinkedIn is one of the few platforms where people visit specifically thinking about their career. Research among LinkedIn users shows that users expect to see three key types of content beyond their network: career information; updates from brands; and current affairs. LinkedIn members trust brands that publish content on the site.
So how does LinkedIn help schools? LinkedIn is creating a vertical within the platform for education. Schools will finally have a unified company and university page. In addition, the platform now provides career tracking in order to develop career rankings that show the best schools for certain career paths. Schools can also run searches and analysis that shows where applicants come from and alumni go to.
During the session, LinkedIn also showcased several tools, including its sponsored inmail service and Lead Accelerator, which helps nurture prospective students. Savvy marketers can do a lot on LinkedIn without spending a penny.
Reviewed by Oliver Matthews, Head of Marketing and Admissions, St. Gallen MBA
Session Title: Engaging Part Time Students
Presenters: Dylan Stafford, Assistant Dean, FEMBA, UCLA Anderson School of Management; Melissa Holland, Director, Executive MBA, Miami, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University; and Laurie Sanderson, Admissions and Academic Advisor, University of San Diego.
Moderator: Mia Hawlk, Program Manager, University of Connecticut School of Business, Hartford Part-time MBA
The needs of part time students are unique because they typically manage a trio of competing demands: career, personal life, and academics. There is no one solution to every program’s student engagement challenges; the panelists discussed the importance of managing expectations, identifying interests, nurturing culture, and shared best practices.
While we tend to think of engagement as only affecting current students, the process begins during recruiting, when we interact with candidates along with alumni, faculty, and students. For example, Dylan Stafford hosts “Super Saturday” pre-admission interview events in this model and noted their success nurturing program culture and community as students and alumni share their experiences. In effect, we “re-recruit” alumni to the program through engagement.
Managing and understanding students’ needs and expectations were cited by Melissa Holland, Mia Hawlk, and Laurie Sanderson as essential to creating a culture of engagement and community. Melissa’s program uses a learning contract that surveys interests and expectations to be discussed with an advisor. Mia stressed the importance of using student feedback to tailor events. Laurie attributes success to setting the expectation for student involvement and highlighting student groups and planned events at orientation.
Two concerns unique to part-time students are career transition and personal life support. Panelists and attendees alike have heard from students seeking realistic guidance on balancing life-work-study commitments. To address these needs, many schools offer professional development seminars on time management and career strategies, scheduling them in between class sessions, and inviting students’ partners.
Panelists mentioned that student government and other groups attract both full- and part-time students with many part-timers holding leadership roles. Such groups are also used to vet programming ideas before they’re planned, so consider students as partners in identifying and tailoring offerings to fit their evolving interests.
Flexible course scheduling nurtures culture, bringing full- and part-time students together in class. An added benefit is the organic networking opportunities that arise from classroom interaction. Other ideas include:
- Varying event scheduling on different days and times
- Promoting faculty or guest speaker seminars as an added value to coursework
- Networking events for career and social opportunities.
One program billed a Friday evening seminar as a “date night” and another hosted a Sunday afternoon picnic that included families.
Overall, communicating opportunities to students is key to building community engagement. Methods used include: listservs, email invitations, direct texts, and mobile app tools. According to the panelists, a high-touch approach seems to generate the most response, ranging from 20% to 65% depending upon the event.
Finally, the importance of dean and faculty support and involvement cannot be overstated. It is crucial to a program’s culture and community. Alumni are also valued contributors, sharing their experiences and successes, and can easily relate to students’ concerns and needs. The bottom line is that engagement creates culture which creates community. Assess your culture and use student feedback to improve engagement.
Reviewed by Karen Cholakis, Director, MS-Information Systems Technology Program, The George Washington University School of Business