At Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, the Office of Marketing and Communications has instituted the Academic Program of the Week initiative to showcase the university’s educational excellence, influential faculty research and notable alumni — ultimately increasing return on investment from recruitment marketing.

According to a 2016 Ruffalo Noel Levitz survey of prospective students, academic program data such as job statistics, alumni information, and faculty and student stories is extremely persuasive in the enrollment decision-making process.

Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Tonya Oaks Smith recently took time following the CASE District IV conference to speak with CampusTap regarding how she is improving Henderson State’s recruitment marketing by highlighting prestigious academic programs, taking advantage of Facebook Live and employing the motto “Work Your Weird.”

CampusTap: What was the inspiration behind the development of the Academic Program of the Week promotion?

Tonya Oaks Smith: From web analytics, we learned that the main page for academic programs is always within the top 10 pages on our site. Our site is directed at marketing to prospective students, and they are always searching for information on academic programs. What’s more, they and their parents want to know about outcomes from earning a degree in a certain area.

After attending a conference focused on recruitment marketing – hosted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz — and hearing an excellent presentation from Matt Herzberger on unifying content on academic programs and creating a strategic approach to presenting that content, we decided to move forward with the Academic Program of the Week series.

CT: What were you hearing from prospective students and their parents that encouraged you to undertake this initiative?

TOS: Ruffalo Noel Levitz conducts annual surveys of prospective students and their parents to determine which content on the web is important in their college choice. They also gauge which channels students are paying the most attention to, and this figured into the content we determined that we would include in the Academic Program of the Week content calendar.

CT: Could you describe the process, structure and steps you took to launch the Academic Program of the Week?

TOS: After meetings with each of the college deans and department chairs, we began looking at web analytics to determine which of our academic programs were ranked highest for individual visitors (our analytics are set to exclude on-campus visitors). We ranked programs for each of our three colleges and then planned out a content calendar based on these rankings.

Professor profile

An example of a faculty feature included in Henderson State’s Academic Program of the Week.

Two weeks before a program is set to be featured, we meet with the department chair and outline the program again. We obtain information on opportunities for graduates as well as the names of some notable alumni and faculty work. We spend the next two weeks working to put together information on a current student, a current faculty member and a graduate of the program. There is a questionnaire for each of these areas to make the information gathering uniform and painless for participants.

For the featured program, we will use several pieces of content, and they’re usually promoted in the same order — and all through promotion across channels. Monday, we release an updated webpage for the program featuring a current student in that program and a short URL (hsu.edu/entrepreneurship in this instance).

We will also release a short video teaser that focuses on the program’s selling points. Tuesday and Wednesday, we will feature a Facebook Live broadcast of a basic class in the program curriculum and a faculty feature about one of the notable professors in the program. Thursday, we will release a fact sheet about the program, and Friday we will feature an alumni profile.

We also asked our library to weigh in each week with information focused on library resources that apply to each major – like this tweet:

Those can be an electronic database or special collection, or even a reference book with information on careers in a particular program. Adding Huie Library to the mix has helped focus on the resources our university makes available to students to ensure their success.

CT: How did you approach faculty to get them actively involved in this initiative?

TOS: We met with deans and department chairs to talk about the program initially. One of the best ways we’ve been able to interact with faculty is to engage them on social media and to ask for their help in promoting all the programs at the university — not just their own. Some departments have been more willing to cooperate than others, and as the process has gotten smoother, we have gotten more cooperation from different areas of the university.

CT: How would you describe the Academic Program of the Week now that it has launched?

TOS: It is a labor of love for our office, I think. It gives us a wealth of content for our social media channels and media relations, and our recruiters are able to use the content when they are on the road working. It has helped our office learn more about the people and offerings of Henderson State University than any other thing we’ve done. That will allow us to promote all the programs better in the future.

In addition, the program allows our alumni to continue to interact with the university on a regular basis. We help them remember what is so special about our university and their time here. This is a bonus for us in regard to recruiting, because our brand research has shown that alumni are a great help to us when it comes to sharing the Reddie story.

CT: Which specific aspects of Henderson State’s academic excellence, if any, are you seeking to leverage in the student recruitment marketing process?

TOS: We want to focus on the connection of the program to helping a student achieve his or her dreams. Many (about 55 percent) of our freshmen are first generation, and these promotions allow those students to see an example of what’s possible if they apply themselves.

We also know that our size is an advantage for many prospective students and their parents. With this program’s use of Facebook Live, you get to see that our publicized student-faculty ratio is real. You get to know your future professors on a personal level through our faculty profiles. These are important aspects of our brand at Henderson State. They’re an integral part of the School with a Heart.

CT: Where have you seen improvements in your recruitment marketing efforts since instituting the Academic Program of the Week?

TOS: In the metrics that we can see in marketing, we have. We have seen a 300 percent increase in requests for more information on our university. We think the program is helping introduce students into the funnel and give them some important information about our academic programs.

CT: For others seeking to provide more academic program data to prospective students during recruiting, what advice would you give?

TOS: Even if you don’t have hard data on some aspect of a program – like job placement for instance – work to provide prospective students with the story of some of your graduates. Use your alumni to share their stories, and they’ll help promote the content as well.

I always tell people to Work Your Weird. Find the differentiators for your program, whether that’s your interesting professors or the unique access your students have to research and internships and share those things. That will make you stand out when other universities appear to have the same programs.

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