I'm no dinosaur but I'm shocked at how far higher education organizations have come in terms of understanding who their students are. When I compare it to my own experience, I'm realizing just how little my school knew about me. Other than the courses I was taking and my contact info, I have little reason to believe they knew much more about me than that. It's crazy to think about the missed opportunities: after a couple of phone calls for donations post-graduation, they stopped calling me entirely. It's like we didn't know each other at all.
Fast forward to today. Although schools are well into the era of digital transformation, Jane Gibson, a marketing automation expert at Traction on Demand, says they could be doing more, especially in engaging and understanding the needs of their students, faculty and all other constituents, including parents and staff.
Jane advocates for institutions to consider the processes across the constituent life cycle and align the best tools to support them. This generally results in a multi-cloud approach to provide a data hub or central source of truth, which can then be used to build out communications, engagement and services, among other needs. A school may have already implemented Salesforce Marketing Cloud for recruitment, Service Cloud for centralized support or Community Cloud for admissions, but looking toward the future, a combination of these will have the biggest impact.
A holistic approach is the best approach
Without a holistic approach, “They're missing out on having that 360-degree view into the most important interactions and engagements in a student's journey,” says Jane. In this way, the student journey is not unlike the customer journey for businesses or the constituent journey in the nonprofit world. All of these journeys require a period of relationship building and nurturing, and all of these journeys are best maintained when every touch point is accounted for.
For Jane, it comes down to two main types of touch points: “traditional” touch points that follow the calendar year (such as the start of school or exam periods) and “active” touch points, such as a student filling out an online form or creating a social post that could trigger the next step of interaction. By combining the data of these two types of touch points, schools are in a better position to set their prospects and students up for success.
“Imagine if the data was centralized in a way that it wasn't siloed and it was easier to work across groups. For faculty, there's great potential to give them more information and to be integrated with other typical silos so they can work together to mark a student at-risk.” Jane explains that by implementing Service Cloud, for example, advisers could flag a high-risk student and create a case to identify steps to track their progress towards resolution. Layering on top of that, Community Cloud could serve as a one-stop shop for students to connect to those supporting them; they could schedule appointments with advisers and access other resources. Furthermore, Marketing Cloud could drive continued engagement with triggered communications as goals are achieved, or to check in at a regular cadence if they are not.
Choose a specific area to get started
It can be daunting to attempt going full throttle with a multi-cloud approach, so Jane suggests picking a specific area—such as recruiting—to start. “The best starting point is to find the best use case. For example, if your school is looking to increase admissions, especially if you're wanting to target a certain market segment, you could focus more on recruiting and building relationships with high school juniors and seniors.”
In this case, Marketing Cloud could be used to run engagement programs to connect with key target groups, and then Community Could could be added to help the prospective students through the application process. These technologies, once implemented, could extend to other groups; for example, these Clouds could also be used to engage current students, faculty and alumni.
We can take you from crawl to ride--but Jane suggests starting with a targeted, focused entry point for your digital transformation.
Don't bite off more than you can chew
“Higher education organizations are going to be successful if they have a targeted, focused entry point. Eventually, you can open it up to the larger vision,” says Jane. Even if you start small, it's about giving your students, their parents, faculty members, alumni and other constituents the best experience possible by facilitating a seamless online journey. “At Traction on Demand, regardless of which Cloud you start with, we take the crawl—walk—run—ride approach, meaning we'll support you from the very beginning of your project and evolve with you to your grander end-goal.”