Brendan Schneider had not been long in post as Director of Admissions at Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh, USA, when the economic downturn hit - leading the school on a journey to reinvent marketing for a digital age and Brendan on a larger mission to re-educate school marketers!
He takes up the story,
'When the U.S. Stock Market crashed in October 2008 we almost immediately noticed an impact on our recruiting. Our interest indicators; inquiries, applications, and visits, began to decline and trended downward all school year. As a result we immediately began to brainstorm ideas to help stop the downward trend. Our first efforts though led us to outbound ('traditional') marketing techniques we hadn't tried in the past including the use of billboards, advertising in Pittsburgh International Airport, and hyper-targeting our direct mail campaigns. The problem was that all of those efforts did not help to increase our inquiries, applications, and visits.
"We next turned to social media and launched our Facebook page and Twitter account. We thought that social media would solve our problems. We were wrong! Social media by itself did not help to solve the problem - while we increased our number of likes and followers our inquiries, applications, and visits didn't increase.
"While we were trying these other techniques I picked up a copy of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. I was hooked - I knew we had to try inbound marketing. I purchased a copy of the book for my Head of School to read and he was willing to give inbound marketing a try".
Inbound marketing is all about creating content that will encourage people to learn about your school, as well as making sure that potential parents and students can find it by ensuring the content is easily found on search engines and shared on social media. It reflects the fact that most consumers use technology to find solutions to their problems.
For a good example of how inbound marketing works itself, try Googling 'private schools in Pittsburgh'. Not only do you quickly reach Sewickley's website, but you also find yourself drawn to a range of interesting blogs - written by staff, parents, alumni and students. You're also encouraged to sign up to new blog posts or to share them with your social media contacts. The Academy's YouTube site has a similar feel - rather than a formal admissions video, there's a real insight into the school - and it's interesting to see that the most shared videos show students talking about their own views of the Academy.
So, what has been the impact of this change? Brendan has some good news to report - 'Last school year our inquiries, applications, and visits all saw great increases and I equate that positive difference to inbound marketing.'
What advice would Brendan give to other schools looking to improve their marketing?
'I'm still surprised that schools have been so slow to even experiment with inbound marketing. Simply putting your social media icons in non-digital marketing is not enough. The schools that are doing it well try to engage their audience in the non-digital space with a call-to-action guiding them to social media - hopefully using a vanity/tracking URL' - monitoring what works is a key part of inbound marketing.
Given the evolving nature of technology, it's not surprising that neither Brendan nor Sewickley are not standing still. When asked what he's most excited about, Brendan replies,
'Great question! I'm constantly reading and participating on social media channels looking for new ideas and how I can apply them to marketing my school. I think a school should ask themselves three questions before launching a new social media channel: 1. Is their current or prospective audience on the channel?, 2. What are the goals of using the channel and how will they measure their efforts?, 3. Finally, who will create content and manage the channel? A school must answer these questions before they launch then make a determination if it's smart for their school to participate in the channel. We conducted webinars last year and just released the first eBook for our school. I'm already thinking about our next eBook as well as conducting Facebook contests among some other ideas. You'll have to follow my school on social media to see what we have planned.'
Brendan's passion for inbound marketing in schools has driven him to his latest venture - the SchneiderB University - online courses in social media and inbound marketing. You can find out more about this here or of course by following him on social media - take your pick from Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
Brendan Schneider has been Director of Admission & Financial Aid at Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh since 2008. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent School Admission Professionals and runs the school marketing advice website www.schneiderb.com.