On Tuesday 23rd June 2015, Boris Remes and I presented at the BCCIE (British Columbia Council for International Education) conference at the Fairmont Chateau in Whistler. Our presentation was titled ‘The Rise of Online Community Marketing in International Education’ and was an attempt to share some of the insights and challenges we have faced at Bodwell High School in 2015 with our online marketing activities. At the conference, Boris and the Bodwell marketing team were presented with the award for Achievement in International Education Marketing

I’ve attached the slides to look through (above) and shared some of our presenter notes and comments in case you are interested in our presentation. First off we shared info about our #BodwellBears campaign and gave away some of the furry little critters to audience members who were able to guess the destinations of the photos.

In terms of community marketing, it is useful to examine the semantics involved: (slide 7)

  • What is a community?
  • What is marketing?
  • What does community marketing mean?

For community, I understand this as a group of people with a common goal or purpose or something in common. For marketing, I see this as the promotion of a product or services to a select group of people (the conversion thereof from potential customers to actual customers representing sales). Given these two meanings, what does it mean when you put them together? Well, as I understand it, community marketing is where you focus less on the hard sell and try instead to build up and promote your community, engage with interesting content and let others do the marketing and promotion for you. It is a form of referral or inbound marketing that is gaining more and more traction in higher education marketing.

For international education, community marketing is so powerful due to the network of global students who are very active on social media. If done well, you have the chance to improve your brand’s reach significantly. Online channels and the Internet gives you the opportunity to reach any potential student irrespective of whether you have traditional agents or marketers working in their geographical location.

In terms of community stakeholders that a school or educational organization would look to engage online, there are many: (slide 8)

  1. Students
    a. Current
    b. Alumni
    c. Prospective
  2.  Parents
    a. Current
    b. Alumni
    c. Prospective
  3.  Staff
  4. Marketers, Educational Consultants & Agents
  5. Neighbours & Local Community
  6. Interested Parties

Community marketing if done well gives you the chance to build multiple reciprocal relationships with all these stakeholders creating a virtuous cycle of referrals and positive word-of-mouth. The other key point here is that online marketing gives you the power to reach all these groups irrespective of language, location and time zone. (slide 9)

If you want to engage and grow your online community, one thing is more important than anything else and that is content. This brings us to the major differences between inbound and outbound marketing. If I were to ask about the following which would you assume to be inbound and which outbound?

1. School fairs or expos
2. Blogging

Well, outbound marketing is more the traditional style of marketing, such as print media, fairs and meeting parents face-to-face. Its characteristics are that it is marketer-driven, disruptive (in a market sense), product-based and involves the hard sell.

Inbound marketing is more about pull-marketing: bringing people to you rather than you going out and finding them directly. Examples include social media marketing, content marketing, SEO and blogging. It is consumer-driven, content-rich and solution-based.

As well as fairs (outbound) and blogging (inbound), consider:

3. Webinars (could be inbound but could also be outbound. It really depends on whether you are pushing your product/service explicitly (outbound) or whether the content is more informational (inbound))
4. An ad in an international education magazine (outbound but could have an aspect of inbound if there is a call-to-action to create an online connection e.g. a QR code to become a fan on Facebook or link to website)

(slide 10) According to Guy Kawasaki (the guy who originally marketed the Macintosh in 1984, and is responsible for the term ‘evangelist’ when it comes to marketing, as well as being a self-publishing guru and social media kingpin)

“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.”

That is perhaps a little too polemic though, a school like Bodwell needs both types of marketing (inboud and outbound) to be successful. They are not in competition with one another; they are there to supplement and turbocharge one another.

So why is inbound so powerful? What are some online strategies? (slide 11)

  1. Content Marketing (e.g. blog, webinars)
  2. SEO – Search Engine Optimization
  3. SEM – Search Engine Marketing
  4. Referral & Affiliate Marketing
  5. Email Marketing
  6. SMM – Social Media Marketing
  7. SMO – Social Media Optimization

They are ordered in a kind of hierarchy as to what has been the most important for Bodwell in 2015. However, it really is the combination of all 7 strategies together that makes online inbound marketing so powerful. For example, these days you can’t really see social and search as being separate since Google uses all the links and shared content on social media to rank how important your site is when someone types in a keyword search. They also tactically use their own social platforms such as YouTube, Google+, Google Reviews & Google Maps to influence their personalized search results.

Also, if you have great content but nobody sees it, it’s a bit like that philosophical conundrum ‘if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ The truth is great content without viral or power sharing or even a community to share it, will not be seen (or at least not reach its full potential audience).

A quick word about great content… This could mean so many different things to different stakeholders and organizations. It’s important to sit down and plan out a content strategy and content calendar or schedule that suits your brand and community. Try and bring as many people on board to help produce great content and track/measure effects over time and optimize.

In terms of the roadmap for Bodwell this is version 2 (slide 15). Version 1 looked slightly different with more going on. This is now a lot more refined and targeted. Again it represents a hierarchy with the main school website at the top. The most important activity and goal conversions happen there (online applications, inquiries, becoming a fan, subscribing to news). The rest of the ecosystem is designed to promote and increase the size of Bodwell’s online community but at the same time, drive targeted traffic to the website. You can see how all 7 online inbound marketing strategies listed earlier form a part of the whole roadmap.

In terms of website traffic it is important to benchmark (slide 16). In our case, at least the first year will be necessary. However, quality of visitor is always more important than quantity. It’s also important to filter out IPs in Google Analytics so you are not tracking repeat visits from staff and other visitors who may skew results.

For Bodwell, there are some interesting general points:

1. The top day for sessions was Friday March 20 2015 when we had our graduation day livestream embedded on one of our webpages. We used this tactically to bring new family members to the site so that they would check out other pages and be more aware of what we do online and the reasons to come back.
2. The traffic (as seen by the arrows) always drops off on weekends when less people visit to see the news and calendar events.
3. The engagement metrics have gone down quite a bit since we started receiving a lot more mobile traffic, e.g. average time spent on the site is significantly reduced for us, the more mobile traffic increases. This makes sense as people don’t hang around and visit lots of pages on mobile. They tend to be people just quickly looking things up, gathering info and then moving on.

In terms of setting up Google Analytics goals (slide 17), this is very important. If someone is going to give you an extra $1000 to spend on online marketing, how would you know how to spend it? Hunches are not good enough; you need data. We set up 10 macro and micro goal conversions on our site using Google Analytics so that we can see which source of traffic contributes the most to our goals.
(slide 18) You can see general website traffic sources: direct, organic search, paid search, referral, other, social, email and display. You can segment this data out for each of and all of your goals to see which is bringing the best results. For example, we can see that organic search has been responsible for over 40{b9552289a230685c700ffa87865cd0cc42f26c0a363bc996da826c87ff6d3203} of goal conversions for apply online. This means that SEO is a very important aspect to focus on for Bodwell. Paid search however has the highest conversion rate with nearly 7 out of every 100 visitors going to the online application page. If our goal was to boost online applications, it wouldn’t really be worth spending the $1000 on social media or display ads (as they have such low conversion rates).

One of the big successes we’ve been working on is developing the blog page (slide 21). From January to June, we’ve had over 100 articles published from a total of 6 representatives, including the President, Director of Residence, Assistant Director of Admissions, and a student representative. This has really helped us boost our SEO, create more entrance pages to the website and also engage different stakeholders in the Bodwell community. We post the articles to social media (this works well with picture galleries for our Facebook page where we share a select few and then ask people to visit the site for all of them) and also to news subscribers via email.

In terms of online community challenges, there are many: (slide 22)

1. Languages & Locations
This is crucial for international education as you may have so many different target groups across the world with different languages, customs and time zones. How do you appeal to all of them while remaining culturally sensitive and timely enough to appear when they are awake? Well, a great start is to have a committed team of marketers who can speak other languages as well as using content scheduling tools like MailChimp, Buffer, HootSuite and dlvr.it.
We also have our website machine translated by Google but this is sometimes very inaccurate. However, if you have 100 new blog posts every 6 months, keeping the site professionally translated in say, a dozen target languages, is just unfeasible. Perhaps a solution is to use a mixture of professional translations on certain parts of the website with a link to the machine translated site (with a note that it isn’t totally accurate)

2. Measuring What Matters
The great advantage of online is that it is easy to measure compared with traditional marketing. It takes a lot of effort to set up metrics and how to measure tools. Not all metrics are created equal though. As Katie Payne (author of ‘Measure What Matters’) argues, you need to measure what matters since you become what you measure. By this, she means that if you think traffic to the site is a key metric, you would then start pushing activity that boosts website traffic irrespective of whether the visits are any good to your organization. Be willing to track and alter your metrics over time until you are certain of your KPIs (key performance indicators).

3. Managing Online Reputation
Monitoring and managing your online reputation is a constant battle. Anyone can say anything about you at any time on social media and in different languages. You need proper monitoring mechanisms in place e.g. Google Alerts and you need to have a strategy in place for when you receive negative comments. One strategy, Boris Remes, the Assistant Director of Admissions at Bodwell, used effectively to handle a negative comment was to have alumni and other students respond.

4. Earned Media, User Generated Content & Referrals
The biggest challenge we’ve had with social media content and posts has been getting other community members to post their own user-generated content. We want to attract their friends to Bodwell from their networks and to do that we need earned media: posts about Bodwell from 3rd parties. To do this, we have recently been using a new social media marketing tool: HootSuite Campaigns to run contests to boost community photos. We are enjoying it as an effective contest and campaign tool to boost engagement around our #bodwellbears mascot and summer program using the hashtag #mybodwellsummer.

5. Mobile Marketing
We’ve seen a rapid increase in the percentage share of mobile devices on our website from around 30{b9552289a230685c700ffa87865cd0cc42f26c0a363bc996da826c87ff6d3203} of all devices a couple of months ago to now around 50{b9552289a230685c700ffa87865cd0cc42f26c0a363bc996da826c87ff6d3203}. We have a responsive site and it passes Google’s test for mobile optimization. This means we haven’t lost any impact as they changed their search algorithm to account for mobile sites recently. However, our engagement metrics definitely nosedive, the more mobile hits we get. This means we might start looking at developing a mobile app for our community in the near future.

Thanks for reading this rather long post that sums up what we’ve been working at in Bodwell since the start of 2015. Do you have any comments to add or strategies to share as to what has worked for your school or similar organization?

At the conference, Boris and the Bodwell High School marketing team won the award for Achievement in International Education Marketing. See more here about Boris and the Bodwell marketing team winning the award for Achievement in International Education Marketing here: Bodwell Website & BCCIE Website