May 20, 2013

The Secret Sauce to Personalization for Non-Traditional Students

May. 20, 2013 at 08:00 AM | By Amanda Cascio and Amy Thorton | Comment Count

In today’s world of Amazon, eBay, and Groupon, consumers readily comparison shop online retailers to search for what they want at bargain prices. Meanwhile, those same customers are notified of additional items to purchase based on previous visits and transactions. 

Shopping is now all about the personal experience. 

Personalization is the e-commerce industry’s secret sauce to success and for good reason.  With customizable filters, online personal shoppers, live chatting, and autofill personal and financial information at checkout, customer experience speaks volumes when consumers are on the hunt for the best bets for their money.

Higher Education Digital MarketingIt’s no different in higher education.  Students have an array of choices when it comes to deciding where they want to apply - whether a 2-year or 4-year, profit or non-profit, Ivy League or state, or technical or academic institution. 

With all of these choices, how do you convince them that your institution is the right one?

In online education, specifically for non-traditional students, creating a personal experience takes on a whole new meaning.  Our students aren’t sitting in the dining hall on campus, they’re juggling a full-time job, family, and schoolwork at a Starbucks somewhere on the other side of the country. 

So, how can we make them feel like part of our campus community?

One way to accomplish this is by reaching them where they are, online. Non-traditional students use various forms of communication to stay connected with their respected institutions.  Some like to text, while others like to tweet, and still others prefer good ol’ email.  So, why can’t we give them what they want? 

To achieve a “win” online, you must provide the most personal experience possible.  How? Isn’t it feasible to let prospective and current students choose how they wish to receive communications from us?  Yes it is!

At the University of Southern Miss, we plan to do just that! By using our education CRM and another tool that aggregates communications, we intend to empower users to self-select how they communicate with us (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, text message, e-mail, LinkedIn). Moreover, we are also planning to personalize and offer convenient experiences by juxtaposing this initiative with Eagle Learning Online, our online learning network.  This will give our prospective students two-way communication channels that are accessible 24/7.

Video is another way to personalize student experience. By providing as much “face” time as possible with current students, faculty, and alumni, we produced recruitment videos for our programs and then embedded them into communications campaigns and social media. Our prospects now have the opportunity to dive into information from faculty and students who are actually completing their degree in a field they are interested in pursuing themselves. 

Of course, social media plays a huge role in today’s personalization process.  Yet, with all the Facebook pages and Pinterest boards out there, how do you navigate the noise to create engaging, meaningful experiences that work with a non-traditional student’s schedule? 

Social media contests have been around for a while now and why? Because they work, but only when they’re done right.  Before launching a contest, ask yourself:

  • Does this contest make sense for my school?
  • Is it aligned with our social media strategy and communications/marketing goals?
  • How will it relate to my students?
  • Does it offer value to them? How about the institution?
  • Is it more than just about winning a free iPad or gift card?

A great example for us higher ed people (feel free to steal) is a “Tweet us a picture” contest. For instance, ask prospects and current students to tweet a photo of their favorite learning space or even a candid of their reaction when they first made it on the dean’s list. This example not only allows you to engage with students based on their interests but also delivers data on how your online students learn best. 

Here are a few examples of successful social media contests from the corporate world:


Personalized communication plans allow you to provide non-traditional students with information that is pertinent to their specific program of interest, learning styles, and initiates discussions about campus services most relevant to them.  This can include: program specific scholarship information, financial aid, transcript reviews, degree and technology requirements, class schedules, campus resource lists, and a warm and fuzzy personal message from program faculty.  We at USM’s Eagle Learning Online like to think our tagline says it best when providing a personalized experience for non-traditional students, “Your Life, Plus College.” 

Personalization, it’s all about the secret sauce.  Shh . . . it’s a secret!

*Amy Thorton is an instructional technologist for The University of Southern Mississippi's Eagle Learning Online. 

*Amanda Cascio is an online marketing and recruitment specialist for the University of Southern Mississippi's Eagle Learning Online.

blog comments powered by Disqus