A people search engine: The power of human-to-human (H2H) marketing in higher ed

Presented by Lisa Nguyen and Amy Davis

Lisa Nguyen described UC Davis as a “sleeper school, ” meaning that not a lot of people know about the college worldwide, but in California, it’s very popular. Their business school has a young but strong alumni program, and they have an equally strong but young and small team of five.

What is Human to Human (H2H)?
It’s staying true to the brand and ultimately being a partner. But really, what it boils down to is building an authentic connection with your stakeholders – this could be anyone from your current students to your alumni. Remember; people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

How to make the shift to H2H
First, think about the why, and develop a strategy that aligns with your business goals. When you focus on H2H marketing, you have to consider your audience and think about who they are. People love what other humans love (yes, that includes puppies), and want to be part of something bigger. Humans want to be proud and be part of a group – this means your institution. With this idea in mind, Lisa and Amy strive to bring people together through their why – striving to better, empower, and transform students through business education.

Then, step two – know your audience (see how important that is?). Lisa and Amy developed personas and began to understand their behaviors and habits through this process, all the while reminding themselves that most users consume web content in snippets, not all at once. They also used social media to actively listen to them and understand their pain points. Then, you can work to fix them. The personas they built were based on data, talking to others in their department, and then also looked at their peers and competitors. They also used social media data and keyword analysis in Google Analytics to develop their final personas.

Step three – tapping into your community. Lisa and Amy empower their community to share their story. They stressed that user-generated content is key, who better to tell the story than those who are living it? Quality of content is better than quantity! Lisa shared that brand engagement rises 28% when users are exposed to both professional and user-generated content.  She also shared that 86% of millennials say user-generated content is a good indication of the quality of a product. In higher ed, our product is our outcomes. Sharing the story of a student expressing their experience is much more helpful than only relying on content developed by us who aren’t living it.

Finally, step four – don’t just tell your story, live it. Lisa and Amy stressed the importance of introducing a company culture that expresses “human” and is authentic.  People respond to people, so focus on being relatable and humanize your brand.

Using data and social listening
Lisa encouraged participants to take a look at your better metrics, not just bounce or open rates. Now we can see forward rates or the number of applications which came from someone who opened an email. She also said to think about what tells the story better for you, and you can better determine your ROI. In the end, you need to look past “form fill” and the vanity metrics, and think about engagement.

Technology has forced Lisa and Amy’s team to evolve and has given them the chance to find their audiences in new ways. While content provides a message, you want to also create context for your audience. When you share authentically and know your audience, it is more likely that people will get involved and share their content with you. It’s not surprising that the best ambassadors are found right in their own community. Amy asked, so how do we find those people? It’s easy! Look for the people who are already there – they are the ones naturally taking pictures, or posting to Instagram. They are comfortable and confident, and they’re the people who know the school best. Who are they? Students! They provide content in a unique an irreplaceable way. We can’t just throw them the keys though. So, how do we make it easy?

Leveraging students
Amy supports students with tools and with clear expectations, but the content is still UNFILTERED. Amy asked herself, “how can we arm our ambassadors with the right tools?” She provides tips and tricks for Instagram (such as hashtag use or answering questions in comments). For the blog, she created a style guide because she recognized that writing may not be a student’s strongest skill. She also ensures that each post credits the student in order to help them build their portfolio. Sometimes, humans find you! Take a look at hashtags and see what people are saying about you.

Content strategy
Amy also showed us how she took one piece of content and split it up – from Twitter to Facebook, she was able to divide the content in a way that would be engaging on each platform but still maintain the message and their own branding. Plus, she found a great way to engage students in the process. For example, she gave a student a camera and a microphone to capture a hackathon happening on campus.

ROI
How do you prove that it’s worth it? Each month Amy and Lisa’s team develop a report to prove that H2H is working. Lisa stressed that not all metrics are created equal – she doesn’t discount vanity metrics, but she places more interest on engagement and conversion. Plus, she includes a mix of quantitative and qualitative data.

They have seen a 98% increase in content engagement, and 338% increase for their blog. If that’s not enough of an exciting reason to consider H2H, they also saw a 47% increase in their engagement on social media.