2020 was a challenging year, there is no doubt about it. So how can we make 2021 the best year yet? What do you plan to achieve as colleges and universities forge ahead? How will your community celebrate the on-campus reunion? What can you do to practice gratitude and transition from the feeling that was 2020? Academically, socially, emotionally, and physically, a lot was sacrificed to make it through this past year. Still, there is no better time than a new calendar year to refocus your goals and start anew and refreshed.
#1 - Review and update your messaging strategy
This applies to institutions that utilize advanced marketing automation and those still relying on manual email entry. Remember to remove all COVID-19 talk as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Pivoting your recruitment messaging was vital in 2020, but we are living in a different time now. People are more accustomed to social distancing guidelines. Vaccines are creating a safer environment both on and off-campus. And most of the global population has acquired COVID-fatigue, meaning they probably don’t want to hear the same things over and over again. If you run automated email campaigns, digital ads, or modified your website content based on the pandemic, it is time to change the narrative and make some adaptations. Look for ways you can add fresh content and inspire your students!
#2 - Frequently update your students - send out a new year's update!
Whether on campus, online, or in a hybrid education model, your students will feel empowered when they know the safety status of the campus. The best way to keep your community connected (even with social distancing restrictions) is to treat them like family, make them feel exclusive, and keep them in the loop. No one has a crystal ball or the ability to set semester-long calendar dates, but every university administration can share details with their entire campus community, from the students to the vice presidents.
#3 -Evaluate your student outreach & messaging style
If your institution has a detailed brand messaging guide, fantastic! But we know many universities do not. The way you speak to prospective student audiences at different stages in the enrollment marketing funnel is essential. It is equally important to change how you communicate with alumni, prospective student family members, graduate students, doctoral students, international students, and transfer students. There is no better time than now to rethink your messaging tone, voice, and brand essence so you have a clearer picture of who you are as an institution in 2021.
Generation Z simply doesn’t read marketing content like the generations that came before them. They communicate via text, photos, emojis, and immediate, extremely brief video content on various social media apps. And in 2020, they received more emails than ever. Did you know an estimated 306.4 BILLION emails were sent and received EVERY DAY of 2020? Start 2021 off modernizing your communication approach by tightening up your marketing content and engaging in new and exciting ways with your incoming class.
#4 - Continue virtual networking and plan ahead for the return of on-campus events
With physical restrictions still in place in many parts of the world, it is important to maintain momentum by continuing the offer of virtual networking events and online group sessions. Also make sure to start considering how to best celebrate a return to campus when it is time. You likely can’t put dates on everything just yet for physical events, but you can start planning ahead for activities ice-breaker events for new students when the time is right.
Hopefully, Fall 2021 will be like no other, as you are given the task of introducing new students to the university and reuniting returning students to the place they knew as home before the pandemic. With great challenge comes great opportunity. Consider hosting an orientation (or re-orientation) for each class to get them excited about the beginning of a new era. Make ice-breaker events a priority throughout the semester, not just in the first week. Discuss plans with professors to keep their doors open wider than ever as students return to class. And get excited about your event invitation information! Don’t get caught up in fear of cancellation. After all, students still want the university experience of a lifetime despite 2020.
#5 - Reflect as a community - check in and share!
What do you miss most about campus life? Compile stories, videos, testimonials, and flashback shots of the best times on campus before this pandemic began. You never really know how much you love something until it’s gone, and authenticity is essential as you tell your story to a newly enrolled class throughout the spring and summer. Ask current students if living on campus or being in class was worthwhile — you will likely receive a resounding “YES,” which will excite your incoming class.
#6 -Lastly, be proud of your ability to adapt
This final point really isn't an action but rather a message of gratitude for all working within the higher education industry this past year. Your core values and integrity have helped you cope and navigate the most difficult times in the past 12 months. Going to university isn’t just about earning a degree; it is about learning life skills, keeping an open mind to opportunities, and gaining independence. Working as a college administrator or faculty member had its challenges long before anyone heard the term “COVID-19,” but it is your resilience and grit that inspires these students and our future leaders, helping your community to overcome obstacles as a whole. Keep up the good work!