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Taking an Inbound Approach to College Fairs

Approach college fairs the inbound way to create a more personal experience that will attract prospective students and convert them to applicants.

College Fairs
College Fairs

Summer is over and school is officially back in session. For high school upperclassmen and their parents, one question is sure to be weighing on their minds – where will they attend college in the fall? As they try to answer this question, many factors will come into play.

Students today are increasingly using the internet as their first point of contact with colleges and universities. However, more traditional methods such as college fairs can still be useful tools for students during their discovery process. Especially for smaller schools, college fairs present an excellent opportunity to gain extra exposure and differentiate themselves from competitors. By giving students direct access to knowledgeable members of the campus community, college fairs provide a unique face-to-face communication experience that is simply not available online.

The best schools combine the utility of the internet with the personal touch of a college fair. Inbound marketing can help you do just that. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, inbound marketing for higher ed institutions is designed to attract and convert prospective students in a way that is more personalized and cost effective than ever before. Let’s take a look at how you can apply this inbound approach to your college fair recruiting efforts this fall.

  1. Set Your College Fair Recruiting Goals

As with any of your admissions marketing efforts, college fairs should ultimately help your school achieve specific goals and metrics. College fairs present an opportunity to attract quality applicants, spread brand awareness, and meet other objectives. While every school’s goals may vary, the goals of college fair recruiting can include:

  • An increase in new applicants
  • An increase in organic and direct traffic to your school’s website
  • An increase in social media followers
  • An increase in email subscribers

As you begin to set goals, make sure you have access to metrics that will enable you to track your progress. This will enable you to assess your performance and make improvements for future college fairs.

  1. Identify Your Call-to-Action

Once you have set goals and decided on metrics to track progress, you will need to figure out how to reach those goals. This is the purpose of a call-to-action. A CTA is an image or text that prompts students to take action, such as visit your school’s website, sign up for the newsletter, or download a helpful resource. Effective CTAs should direct people to landing pages, where they will fill out a contact form in exchange for valuable information regarding your school. CTAs are the key element connecting your college fair recruiting goals with the means of achieving them.

Because CTAs are so important, it is a good idea to seek input from different departments of your institution about what your message should be. Brainstorming strategy with people outside of admissions provides a more well-rounded picture of what your school is all about. You’d be surprised to see the extent to which other departments can benefit from college fairs.

Above all, your CTA should have a lasting impact. With hundreds of schools sometimes attending college fairs, it can be easy for students to seem excited about your school while stopping by your booth only to forget about it when they return home. However, if your CTA drives students back to your school’s website after the college fair, you have a much better chance of keeping their attention and converting that prospective student into an applicant.

That is why it’s a good idea to include CTA’s everywhere. Put them on your signs, handouts, and information booklets. Mention them in conversation with students at your booth. Essentially, everything you say and do at a college fair should be tied to your CTA. Knowing what your CTA is and what it’s prompting prospective students to do is the piece that will bring the recruitment puzzle together.

  1. Create a Dedicated Landing Page

The most effective calls-to-action are ones that link to a dedicated landing page that is tightly connected to the overall campaign. Your landing page could offer prospective students useful information such as the option to schedule a campus tour, attend an information session, or sign up for the newsletter.

Sending college fair attendees to a dedicated landing page provides you with an opportunity to gather information about them. Having this information will make it much easier for you to keep tabs on students who are interested in your school. Especially after speaking with potentially hundreds of other schools at a career fair, it is crucial that you follow-up with interested students in order to keep them engaged and moving forward with the enrollment process.

  1. Stand Out With Technology

Who isn’t tired of seeing boring booths at college fairs? You slap a logo on a table cloth, place some informational materials on it and call it a day. This approach just isn’t cutting it in 2016. Make your school stand out by creating an experience for prospective students that is engaging, fun, and most importantly – memorable.

Investing in technology is a great way to meet prospective students where they already are. Create an instant digital connection with students by setting up Internet enabled tablets at your booth where students can access their favorite social media site and become a fan on the spot, re-tweet a photo, or follow you on Instagram. Reward students for connecting digitally with your school by giving them a t-shirt or similar prize. Now, students will be seeing snapshots of your lively campus life on their Instagram feeds every day instead of losing your brochure amongst the 20 others they received that day.

Although handouts may get lost amongst all of the other paper-based materials that typically come with college fairs, some students or their parents may request them. Instead of bypassing physical materials altogether, find ways to incorporate your digital strategy into them. Do this by including a QR code on all handouts that students can scan with their smartphones. When scanned, the QR code will take students directly to your dedicated landing page.

No discussion of technology would be complete without at least a mention of the game-changer that is virtual reality. College fairs present the perfect opportunity to incorporate VR into your recruitment strategy. Capitalize on this opportunity by providing prospective students with a virtual tour of your campus and classroom facilities. This will allow students experience a first person view of your school without having to sacrifice travel and money in the process. Plus, they will probably think it’s super cool and tell all their friends to visit your booth!

  1. Be a Resource

Above all, it is important to remember that inbound is centered on being a resource rather than a salesman. Show up to a college fair ready to help students figure out what the best school for them is. This means telling the truth. Remember, choosing a college is a two-way street. You’re looking for the right students, not the best students. By being honest about your school and what makes it unique, you will attract students who will thrive in the environment your school provides. This will ultimately result in happier students and higher retention rates.

When done the inbound way, college fairs have enormous potential as a vehicle for attracting potential students and building a more personalized relationship with them. If you still have any questions, or would like to discuss ways to further strengthen your inbound marketing strategy, don’t hesitate to contact us. We specialize in crafting digital marketing solutions that help colleges and universities attract prospective students and convert them into applicants and enrolled students.

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