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Building Enrollment

Here’s my take on the famous exchange from Alice in Wonderland: 


“Would you tell me, please, how I can market my program to students?"
"That depends a good deal on which students you want to get to."
"I don't much care which ones –"
"Then it doesn't matter how you market.”

Every successful marketing effort is targeted at a specific audience or in this case, specific types of students.  The days of mass marketing are rapidly disappearing. In the business world they speak of “riches in niches.”  In other words, even if our product has value for a wide range of people, reaching them with our value proposition means recognizing them as individuals and developing marketing strategies based on their individual characteristics – values, lifestyle, interests, etc. 

While we may believe that every student would benefit from our classes, whether it’s accounting, marketing, or principles, the truth is we need to focus.  Both our marketing message and our program design need to recognize that not all students (and their influencers) are the same. A shotgun approach is not very effective.  A targeted design, more likely to be successful, requires us to carefully define our market -- our audience of students, parents, and others who influence student choice.

Targeting calls for a bit of planning.  There are several target audiences we must address.  The primary concern is our final consumer—our students.  Can we identify our “ideal” student?  Perhaps even create a “student profile” similar to a customer profile created by a business.

Does the perfect student for our program . . .

  • Have a certain GPA?
  • Have parents with a certain level of education?
  • Demonstrate involvement in extra-curricular activities?
  • Have specific courses on their schedule?
  • Hold leadership position in other organizations?
  • Male or female?
  • Have a part-time job?
  • At a certain grade level?


You get the point.  These and many other characteristics can be used to segment the school population into a targeted audience for our marketing efforts. Key to this exercise is being certain that each of the characteristics used to define our ideal student has meaning in terms of our program design and marketing efforts. For example, a glaring omission in the above list, which I hope you noticed up front, is career interest.  And, we need to keep in mind that the profile of a student interested in an accounting program may be quite different from that of the would-be entrepreneur, or of those planning college majors in HR, management, marketing, or other business administration options.

Your student profile on which to base your initial marketing and communications strategies might end up looking something like this:

  • Female
  • 10th grade
  • 3.0 or higher GPA
  • Member of at least one school club or extra-curricular activity
  • Parents who own a business or have professional positions in business
  • Older siblings who have been successful in our program


Or, something like this:

  • Took the 9th grade personal finance course
  • Plans to major in business in college
  • 10th grade
  • 2.5 GPA, but does better in elective courses
  • Works part-time which prevents much extra-curricular activity


Or, maybe:

  • Identified by counselors as potential school dropout
  • Low GPA, but tests indicate high potential
  • Dislikes “regular” classes, but excels in some electives
  • Views school as irrelevant and want to get “out there”


There is, obviously I hope, no right ideal student profile.  My point here is that each of these profiles represents a very different student.  Students who fit one are will likely respond to different program offerings, different marketing messages, and different value propositions.  

Once you’ve identified your target students you will also have to consider the “influencers” in their life.  Friends, parents, counselors, etc. who will sway their course selections must be factored into your marketing efforts. That makes the actual marketing a little tricky.  Just as the message to a potential student is different based on that student’s profile, so too is the message to those who will help him or her decide what courses to take.  Are the parents thinking “Save my kid.” or are they thinking “Help my kid get into a selective college’s business administration program.”  Are the counselors looking for a way to serve problem students, or are they looking to help that would-be entrepreneur get a jump start?

The big question: Why bother? Many of you have full classes.  Your enrollment is fine.  Numbers are never a problem.  I’ve been there, and I’ve been with those of you who wonder if you have enrollment sufficient to retain your job.  We bother because it matters.

  • It matters because teaching a class full of students who want to be there is a better experience for everyone. 
  • It matters because teaching students with a desire to learn allows you to go in depth with your instruction. 
  • It matters because preparing for the various CTSO competitions will be stress-free with targeted students.
  • It matters because we want to serve students. Business is not for everyone, but for those who find their future in business—we have an obligation to seek them out and to serve them.   


There is another reason why targeting students for recruitment is critical.  One hallmark of a prestigious university is the percentage of applicants they accept. Harvard accepts less than 6% of all applicants, while many lesser-known colleges accept up to 80% of all applicants.

We generally accept everyone who signs up.  Can you imagine the difference in the quality of your program, your experience and the experiences of your students, if you recruited rather than “accepted” students?  Nearly everything we dislike about teaching disappears if we have students with a sincere interest in what we teach, and the willingness and ability to accept the challenges we present.

I wonder what would happen if we offered our classes “by application” only?  Although doing so is probably not an option for most of you, what if we designed our programs and our marketing strategies as if it were?  In effect, use what we know about business to build demand for our business programs.  Then, make certain that we do everything possible to help the “right” student be successful and to encourage the others to find programs better suited to their needs. 

Targeting students for our entry level courses may be a particular challenge. If so, perhaps we encourage the world to enroll in that first principles of business course and then use that course as a way to determine who has the essential skills and attitudes to succeed in the more advanced and specialized offerings.

Speak up!  Across the nation, the number of business and marketing programs continues to shrink. At the same time, business administration remains the number one college major of choice and business careers represent the number one or two largest career opportunity.  Let’s keep talking until we figure how to align this mismatch.  Let’s continue the conversation:  www.Facebook.com/MBAResearch

The WOW factor.  Have it?   Need it!  But, getting it requires careful planning, homework, and preparation.  Wow is a whole lot more than simply being a good entertainer.

As business and marketing teachers we know competition is healthy.  We know competition brings out the best in business, creates better products, and is beneficial to the consumer.  Why don’t we feel that way when it’s time for students to select their courses? 

Depending on your particular school and any focus or emphasis it may have, your students will have a great deal of choice when it comes time to select their courses for the upcoming semester or school year. First, they will have to make sure they select the core required classes such as English, math, and science etc. In addition, they will likely have a wide variety of elective courses to choose from.  Unless your school has some type of pathways or small learning communities there is a good chance students will treat electives like a buffet and try a little bit of everything.

Your challenge is to develop a course – a program, really -- that stands apart from all those other options.  Clearly, it needs to be distinct; it must have a point of differentiation; it has to bring to the table your WOW factor. 

So what’s that mean?  What is your wow factor? What differentiates your program from the others? The difference is certainly found in the content and curriculum.  It’s pretty tough to teach theory and philosophy of business to a teenager.  Teens want to do.   And the smart ones see through the busy work.   They recognize real, substantive content when you put it on the table.  They also recognize dated, stale content and pedagogy.  So, as a prerequisite to WOW, we need to be certain the content is relevant, up-to-date, and challenging.  (See National Business Administration Curriculum Standards)

Getting the content right is the right start, but WOW must go beyond that.  What’s your wow factor when you try to differentiate between your program and other electives in the school?

  • Do you offer great internships that give your students a head start in the business world?  Are your internships truly better opportunities than a typical part-time teen job than anyone can pick up?
  • Is it your CTSO that provides opportunities to develop leadership and to compete against students from around the country?  Are you picking and choosing CTSO activities that are truly related to learning?  Will the activities you select impress your would-be students’ parents?  Counselors?  Or are you focusing solely on the fun stuff?
  • Is your wow factor based on your use of project-based learning and real-world activities?  Are your students doing real-world stuff or just reading the chapter, answering the questions, and taking a quiz?
  • Maybe your wow factor is the use of technology in your program.  Perhaps everyone uses an iPad or a handheld device.  Or maybe you have frequent Google+ Hangouts in the classroom to bring in real-world experts to share their thoughts with your students and bring reality to the curriculum. 


Bottom line:  Your wow factor is not something I can define in a short article.  Yours will be different from mine.  But the bottom line is that it will include both content and pedagogy and it will differentiate the experiences you offer from those of the other classes.

Get a copy of Differentiate or Die, a great book by Jack Trout.  It is a fantastic reminder of why and how we differentiate in business.  And, it will be useful both as you develop this marketing plan for your program and, if you teach a marketing class, for helping your students understand the concept. Trout covers countless traits which can be used as a point of differentiation including such things as the breadth of a product line (or program offerings), leadership, history, specialty courses, the newness of the course (or even the fact that it’s been around for significant time and has an established history), the growth of your program, and the list goes on.

The truth is, most of us have one or more of these wow factors in our program. The problem is, we have never taken the time to think them through and integrate them into a substantive promotion and marketing plan. It’s almost as though we keep our wow factor a secret. If that’s the case, it’s time that we move it to the forefront of our promotional efforts.

Your efforts to differentiate and build a wow factor should lead to a unique selling proposition (USP). Identify those key selling points through the eyes of your students. 

In fact, use an open and friendly conversation with your current students as your starting point.  Talk with those who you believe are the right students in your class for the right reasons.  They’ll have insight you may not have.  You might be surprised at how quickly they can identify what it is they like about your class, your approach to teaching, and most importantly, the contribution you are making to their futures.

Then, use what you learn.  Leverage it into your marketing and communications plans.

Mark Perna (Tools for Schools) speaks of getting the right student into the right program for the right reasons. Next time:  Identifying the “perfect student” for your program.

Why would a student (or a student’s parents) consider enrolling in your program?  Do you have a meaningful response when asked?  Have you really given serious thought to what you’re trying to accomplish?  Is there added value for the student? If your focus is on “fun” and “alternatives to academics,” you may be in for some serious challenges as schools reposition to address today’s educational demands.    Let’s think it through together.

Be honest.  Break it down to the basics.  No need for platitudes.  Is it to “give students a head start on a college degree or career in business?  To introduce students to the world of business? To provide all students a foundation in business?  It’s up to you, but be honest with yourself.

Perhaps the best way to identify and communicate our reason for existence is to develop a mission statement.  Not the type that is written to impress and then placed in a drawer never to be seen again.  Instead, craft a statement that truly defines your program.  The statement, in a few sentences, should capture the essence of your program. 

Your mission statement should signal what your program is all about to your students, parents, administration and the community.  That is a lot to accomplish in a few words or sentences.

After reading countless mission statements for elementary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and business schools, I have come to one conclusion:  There is no perfect way to write a mission statement.  In fact, I would argue that what is truly important is what you come to realize during the process of writing your statement.

Some statements are so general they could be sued for any organization; some are very specific to their institution or program.  Some are obviously written for students while others appear to target parents.

What should you do?  Brainstorm with your department or program staff.  Bounce ideas off your students and business teacher from another school.  Write things down, scratch them out and write them again.  Read other statements.  The process of developing a mission statement will force you to focus on what you want your program to be and will provide an essential starting point for writing your marketing plan.

Below are several sample mission statements.  Read them and use them for a starting point—or not.  But certainly use them as a reference.  I have written/helped to write to very different mission statements in the recent past.  They are found below.  After researching and reading other statements I might have to get to work and fine-tune them.

The mission statement for our business school (The Davis Business School) is:

to prepare students for successful transition into post-secondary business programs or entry into the world of business by offering progressive, high-quality courses in a student-centered learning environment emphasizing the skills, knowledge, attitudes and ethics essential in a challenging and changing 21st century business environment.

That statement was written by a “committee” (and it shows) and might need to be softened a bit. For The Davis Marketing Group I took another concept from Seth Godin and made a two word mission statement, followed by a bit more explanation.  I need to work to integrate an understanding of this concept into the entire program.  It has to do more than satisfy the teacher.

Create Linchpins

What is a linchpin?   These people invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there's no rulebook. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.     (Seth Godin)                             

Below are several additional examples from a variety of school and programs.

Stanford Graduate School of Business: Our mission is to create ideas that deepen and advance our understanding of management and with those ideas to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world.

Harvard Business School: For more than a century, our faculty have drawn on their passion for teaching, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and the insights gained from their research to educate generations of leaders who have shaped the practice of business in every industry and in every country around the world.

Neeley School of Business: The faculty and staff of the Neeley School of Business are committed:

  • To develop ethical leaders with a global perspective who help shape the business environment.
  • To develop and disseminate leading edge thought in order to improve the practice of business.

 
The list below includes statements from a variety of schools. Visit the website here or click here to read more)

  • Our mission is to develop young men with active and creative minds, a sense of understanding and compassion for others, and the courage to act on their beliefs. We stress the total development of each child: spiritual, moral, intellectual, social, emotional, and physical.
  • The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship exists to advance the field of social entrepreneurship through world-class education, through knowledge creation, and through brokering new and empowering connections.
  • Community School recognizes that each child is an individual; that all children are creative; that all children need to succeed. Therefore, Community School respects the individual needs of children; fosters a caring and creative environment; and emphasizes the social, emotional, physical, intellectual development of each child.
  • Eaglebrook School's role is to help each boy come into confident possession of his innate talents, improve the skills needed for success in secondary school, and establish values that will allow him to act with thoughtfulness and humanity.
  • To Ensure the Safety and Security for Each Person in our Community
  • Kitty Hawk Elementary School seeks to create a challenging learning environment that encourages high expectations for success through development-appropriate instruction that allows for individual differences and learning styles. Our school promotes a safe, orderly, caring, and supportive environment. Each student's self-esteem is fostered by positive relationships with students and staff. We strive to have our parents, teachers, and community members actively involved on our students' learning.
  • Our mission at Augsburg Park Montessori School is to implement the philosophy, practices and curriculum of Dr. Maria Montessori and her method of education. To this end, we have prepared an environment that is engaging and responsive to each child at each stage of development.

 
Here is a great article on this topic: School Mission Statements: Where Is Your School Going?  When you complete your mission statement, or if you already have one, feel free to post it on our Facebook page (facebook.com/MBAResearch).  Use our Facebook page to continue the discussion as well.

If the devil is in the details, it’s time we call them out and face them down.  Over the coming weeks we will develop and implement a practical marketing plan for your Business Administration program based on the introductory template below.  We do so with an understanding that every program is different.  You might be operating a High School of Business program, or simply have a few marketing courses.  You could be at a school with over 3,000 students or working with an enrollment of just 750. There is a chance you have a firmly established brand and reputation; or you are just starting your program.

Certainly you understand that not everything works for everybody; but don’t use that for an excuse.  Rather, use it as a reason to modify, stretch or reformat these ideas so they do work for you and your situation.

Seek out help from others by posting to the MBAResearch Facebook page.  The idea behind social media and digital communities is to share.  If we continue the dialogue you will be amazed at the great ideas you will get from your fellow professionals!

Take time to examine our template.  Take notes.  Cross things out.  Write in new ideas.  List the questions you may have.  And get ready for next week as we tackle the first Defining Question: Why does our program exist?

 

 

Defining Questions

Strategy

Why does our program exist?:

Be honest.  Break it down to the basics.  No need for platitudes.  Is it to “give students a head start on a college degree or career in business?  To introduce students to the world of business? Top provide all students a foundation in business?  It’s up to you, but be honest with yourself.

 

What is our WOW factor?

What sets your program apart from all others?  Technology? Great internships? CTSO? Project-based instruction? Your work experience? Ask your current or former students what the wow factor is.  If they can’t tell you, and you struggle thinking of one—you better create one in a hurry!

 

Who is my ideal student?

Grade? Interest? Experiences? Involvement in other organizations?  Other classes they are taking? Parents’ occupation? GPA?

 

What does my ideal student care about most?  Why are they selecting my program?

What’s the buying motive of your ideal student?  Success in business or school?  Make their parent’s happy by taking a business class? A desire to compete? Scholarship or resume builder?

 

What is my # 1 goal related to building enrollment this year?

Increase enrollment by X?  Attract more non-traditional students (boys, girls, minorities, etc.)  Sufficient enrollment to offer X sections or a new course? Increase my sections in Accounting so I no longer have to teach that course?

 

What are three keys to accomplishing my #1 goal?

What must you do to make your goal happen?  Presentations to students? Brochures, DVD, website or other media development? Train and work with students to make presentations?  Meet with counselors? Develop social media sites?

 

What can I do to make my ideal student think of our program?

How do we create top of mind awareness?  Repetition.  Frequent touch points. An integrated media approach. Multiple platforms.  A message that is memorable.

Who are the key influencers of my ideal student?

Counselors? Parents? Peers? Program graduates?  Business Community?  There is a good chance that one or more of these groups or individuals will have an influence on the decisions made by your ideal student.  Market to them as well

Who is the priority among the key influencers

Walk before you can run.  It might be a little difficult to target all key influencers, so pick one category and make them a priority this year.

How much money will I need to get it done?

This will vary considerable because of the difference in what can be done for ”free” at a school vs. what might have to be paid for.  Some districts have printing programs, other do not.  Can you create a website or must you have one created for you?  The list goes on. Here is one caution.  Whatever you do; do it well.  I am not sure there is a place for hand-painted posters and “cute” clip art anymore!

 

Professional salespeople – the really good ones – recognize that the most critical part of selling is to match the right people with the solutions being sold.  In other words, the likelihood of selling a high-end 3-D television is much greater if the would-be buyer has an above average income.  The TV might be nice for anyone, but the odds of making the sale differ significantly based on income.  Similarly, we’re much more likely to enroll a new student if that student’s future plans are not locked into some other specialty.   Yes, there are lots of arguments that all students should take a business course, but let’s play the odds and focus on those who may actually care about learning business skills.

I recently downloaded a document called Getting New Customers: 6 Tips to Help You Find Even More Profitable New Customers from StepbyStepMarketing.com (get the original article here.) The article provides the following six tips:

  1. Create a Two-Stage Plan for Getting New Customers
  2. Hire and Motivate a Sales force with Great Incentives
  3. Network, Network, Network
  4. Don’t Let Any Viable Sales Leads “Fall Through the Cracks”
  5. Referrals, referrals, referrals
  6. Cultivate a “Consultant” Mindset throughout Your Company

 

I thought it would be interesting to take these tips and apply them directly to building enrollment in our programs.  Following are my thoughts on how to apply these six so-called dales tips to our own efforts to build enrollments in our program. Feel free to tell me what you think (drop a note to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Create a Two-Stage Plan for Getting New Customers
As teachers we may offer a class because we have a few key students that we know would both enjoy and thrive in the class.  We may insert a new course in a sequence because there appears to be demand for it.  We may even be at a new school or new to education and we get started with a burst of enthusiasm.  Then what?

We need a plan for part two; a plan for continuing to grow our program.  We need a plan for adding contemporary classes, for developing innovative projects and activities, for enhancing our program through technology.  In short, we need to plan for the “next step” regardless of the step we currently occupy.

We need to look beyond where we are, determine where we need to go, and make a plan for getting there.

Hire and Motivate a Sales force with Great Incentives
We are often so excited about our program, new course, or student organization that we find it hard to believe that our students and other stakeholders might not share that same level of excitement.  Unfortunately, that is often the case.  We need a process of developing a great sales force from among our students, counselors, parents and alumni. We need others to magnify our efforts by having them “sell” our program.

If they need a little push—develop an incentive program.  There is often a blurry line between incentives and bribes—so walk carefully.  Many will sell your program if it has been a great experience, or if their child had such an experience in our class.  Counselors sell programs they believe in.  Incentives in the forms of points, additional opportunities, leadership roles, etc. are often effective in encouraging students to share their excitement.  Often, no incentive is necessary beyond giving them the chance to share what they enjoy.

Regardless of the incentives you do or do not employ, be sure to make it easy for them.  Give them some help with benefit statements, collateral materials (brochures, video clips, etc.), and plan to do the follow-up yourself.   Volunteer sales teams only go so far.

Network, Network, Network
Networking is good for more than getting a job, or meeting people at a BPA, DECA, or FBLA conference.  Networking is a great opportunity to find potential students for your program. Where do these network-based leads come from?

Chaperon: Take a night every now and then and chaperon events that are not sponsored by your students or program.  Take advantage of the opportunity to meet a new group of students. One of my all-time favorite students decided to change her schedule and add a marketing class after I talked to her at a dance.

Lunch: Stay away from the faculty lunchroom and make yourself visible in the cafeteria or hallways. Talk to kids.

Friends of students:  Always take advantage of talking to friends of your current students when given the chance.  No hard sell; just leave a positive impression and a soft invite to enroll in your class.

Community Organizations:  Belong to or speak to the Lion’s Club, Rotary, Optimists, Chamber of Commerce, etc. You never know who in the audience has a child that could end up in your class or who may have a neighbor turn to them for a class suggestion.  Be visible in your community.

Other Teachers: Make sure the other faculty members know you are always in search of a student with an interest and ability in your subject matter.  Yes, it is very competitive among the elective courses, but maybe a core teacher can send someone your way now and then. By the way—look for opportunities to return the favor.

You get the idea.  There are former students, siblings, coaches, PTA/PTSA and the list goes on.

Don’t Let Any Viable Sales Leads “Fall Through the Cracks”
Don’t eliminate a student from your prospect list too quickly.  Make sure you follow-up a few times.  Don’t stalk them, but give them more than one chance to make the “right” decision.

When you receive a lead from a student, teacher, or parent make sure to invite the student to stop by for a visit.  Any time you have a reason to believe a student might benefit from your class, follow-up—even when it’s simply a hunch or a “gut feeling.”

Referrals, referrals, referrals
Yes, this is related directly to the networking and other tips.  However, it is a great reminder.  You should ask every one of your students (at least the ones who perform well in your class) for the names of their friends who might also enjoy the class.

This can be done casually, or by providing them with a post card that has space for 5-10 names.  Tell them you appreciate their hard work and the type of student they are and you would like to get more students like them.  Then ask them if there is anyone they would recommend.

Salespeople often survive (or thrive) on referrals. Why shouldn’t we use them?

Cultivate a “Consultant” Mindset throughout Your Company
Keep in mind that the purpose of your “sales efforts” is not always to get a student to enroll in your class, but rather to help them with any problems or challenges they may have. Perhaps you can recommend a source for a research project, a part-time job, or a great place for them to go for their homecoming dinner. When you develop the reputation of a teacher who truly cares, even beyond “recruiting,” you will ultimately draw more students to your program.

Once again those of us on the education side of business can learn a great deal from our counterparts in the industry. Adapt what works in business and use it as we continue to develop methods of building our enrollment  with students who have an interest in what we have to offer.

I used to think I knew what counselors wanted and had a good idea of how to “help them help me.” Then I got this bright idea: Maybe I should ask them. Turns out that while I was on target in some respects, I was off base on others. Here’s what they had to say when I asked them “How can we, as teachers of elective courses, better connect with counselors to “promote” our programs and classes?”

Not surprisingly, each emphasized communication. And the key seems to be “regular and relevant’ communication. In other words, don’t just inundate them with materials right before they begin to schedule students. Rather, try a “drip” approach. Instead of dumping the entire bucket at a time when they’re already overwhelmed with demands related to student scheduling, spread your information flow out over the entire year. Literally, build a schedule of contacts or “touch points” for the entire year. The methods and content should vary, and the frequency of contact should be sensitive to other demands on their time.

Following are their suggestions for both the medium and the content of the communications:

  • Face it, food works. Make arrangements to join them for lunch – and pick up the tab. Make the lunch memorable with a creative location or an interesting menu. As in any marketing effort, it has a lot to do with differentiating your program from the competition. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Just find a way to get them out of the cafeteria. Buy a pizza, hit Subway, pack a brown bag for each. Doesn’t matter. Be sure they know up front that your intention is to provide them with information about your program over lunch. It’s not about the food; it’s about the time with your counselors. Right?
  • Get hard-copy print materials in their hands. Although I’m a digital thinker and believe everything should be online, everyone does not feel the same way. Make your collateral materials (brochures, course descriptions, college major options, employment data, alumni endorsements, alumni case histories, etc.) attractive and different from the “typical” stuff lying around their offices. While I still feel you should have your course descriptions, course outlines, videos, etc. online counselors want things they can pick up on the fly and hand to a parent or student.
    Keep your counselors well-supplied with your handout(s). They are often very busy and it is convenient for them to be able to hand a student or parent a promotional piece to further explain your classes. It is also important to update these descriptions each year. Be sure to include any prerequisites or course sequences. HINT: If they have a waiting area for students, take it upon yourself to keep a stack of brochures available and if they have a typical out-of-date bulletin board full of last year’s announcements, see if you can’t own a piece of it.
  • As for the content, counselors want to know what and how. What do you teach, and how do you teach it. This allows them to explain to students what they will experience in the class. Put it in writing and better yet, in pictures with meaningful captions. HINT: If your program is using the national Business Administration standards, flaunt it! They can give your program a lot of credibility.
  • Your counselors want to know when you or your students accomplish something significant or receive recognition or awards. They are proud of the school—including both staff and students—and enjoy the opportunity to share success.
  • Repeat: Testimonials matter! Encourage testimonials from former students and forward them to your counselors.
  • Here is the one that somewhat surprised me: Every counselor I interviewed mentioned inviting them to stop in when there’s something out of the ordinary or particularly creative or interesting happening. Yes, they could just stop in on their own, but how many actually do? Being invited makes them more comfortable and eliminates the big-brother feeling. And, there’s value in the invitation itself – even if they can’t stop by, it’s a way to remind them that something special is going on down in the Business Administration end of the hallway.


Consider this direct quote. “The one killer is when a teacher comes to the counseling department and asks them to recruit students to their classes or complains that counselors are killing their programs. For some obvious and some subtle reasons this will turn counselors to another direction.” That hurts, but what would you expect? Counselors don’t see themselves as having any responsibility for filling your classes. Rather, they look for ways to meet students’ needs.

These ideas, straight from high school guidance counselors, should not surprise anyone. But we each need to ask ourselves how sensitive we really are to the counselors’ needs. How many of us are actually implementing ideas like these?

One word of caution: Never put the success of your program and by extension your own success, in the hands of someone else. Don’t count on you counselors, the vice principal in charge of scheduling, your department chair or anyone else to take care of you. Work with them all, but in the end, the success of your program rests in your hands.

Work on your schedule of activities and contacts. Be creative when you can, but above all do something!

We’ve already talked a bit about branding your program.  In short, your brand is how others perceive your program based on all of the many touch points they experience.  Branding is driven by your message, and your message is communicated in many ways.  (Don’t overlook the message sent to administrators and counselors as they look into your classroom when they walk by.)  It’s to control the message itself and to think carefully about how it’s delivered.  In this article we will discuss a few ways you can use social media in your branding efforts.

You can and should use social media even if these platforms are blocked in your school. Students will use these sites beyond the school day.

Get connected: The first step is to make sure you have the necessary accounts for your program—in most cases this should be different from your personal account. Get yourself set up with Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and with pages in Facebook and Google+. Personalize them to reflect the visual image of your program. Use your logo, colors, slogan, etc., so it is unmistakably yours. If you’re new to social media, the good news is that your kids already know how to do this; all you need to do is select a couple to help you get going.

Involve the kids:  How should you use these accounts?  My program Team Social Media will be comprised of a group of select students with both the access and permission to post on behalf of our program.  We will add to this team as additional students show interest during the year.  They will be encouraged to contribute to the sites at any appropriate time—including during my classes; any time is appropriate.  While each student will be responsible for a particular platform, they will be encouraged to post to other sites as well.

Post this:  The big question is "what should they post?”  The first discussion we have is focused on determining what is appropriate and what should be left off the social media sites. I tell them that, in general, if you have to ask, it’s probably not appropriate.  I want them to be positive, sincere, careful with humor, and to avoid anything that can appear as negative or controversial to someone who wasn’t there and doesn’t have the context of what was going on. Once we cover the judgment aspect of posting, we discuss specific types of posts.

Tips for Facebook: The following are the types of posts I want to see showing up on our Facebook page.

  • Everyone likes the pics: Posting pictures of fellow students in “action” is effective because images are attention-getting and we like to see other people we know while paging through Facebook. Students often take classes because their friend did.
  • Keep it short: Studies show that posts with 80 or fewer characters get the best traction.  Your students and their friends read enough at school; they don’t want a long commentary.  Get to the point.  Think like Twitter when using Facebook.
  • You’re invited: Invite readers to visit a website, click if you agree, share if you like, like it if you agree, etc.  The key is that people are more likely to take an action if they are asked to do so. If students feel a part of a class or program they are morel likely to take another class or invite their friends to do so.
  • Be timely: One of the best things about social media is that it is immediate.  Share and post about things that are current; that are happening now. Posts such as “just got an assignment,” “finished my project,” “remember to study for the quiz,” “we’re all meeting at Sugar Daisy Bakery for lunch,” etc. are timely. This type of post creates a sense of belonging with readers and future students.
  • Share more videos: This generation loves video. Share relevant and entertaining links to videos. Create your own and share them as well.

 

Twitter is different: Twitter presents different possibilities. For Twitter, I encourage students to tweet what they are doing, what they are planning to do, and what they just did. Under most circumstances this will be classroom related, but not always. Part of the branding effort is to create a personality for the program. The personality is not all business. Students are certainly influenced by what goes on in a class when they are making their course selections. (Yes, there’s some risk here, but if you are running a busy, focused, engaging, curriculum-based program, most postings will reflect positively on your program.)

Twitter is also a great place to share a link to something you find interesting.  It’s quick and easy.  Here are additional types of tweets that are encouraged.

  • Share content you like: If your students stumble across a great article, video, website, etc., encourage them to tweet the link.
  • Ask a question: Students are always answering questions from teachers. They will enjoy the opportunity to reply to other students. This creates a collaborative feel for both current and potential students.
  • Knowledge: If students have an expertise in a certain area or learned something that they found interesting, it makes a great tweet.
  • Tweet a quiz answer: I am not a big fan of tests and quizzes, but we still have a few. Every now and then I will have one of my social media gurus tweet an answer to one of the questions. Trust me, that keeps the students reading!

 

As you can see, these social media tools can help establish or enhance the brand for your program.  As you continue to attract followers and friends, social media will become a very powerful tool in building your enrollment.

In my next article I will explore ways to use Pinterest, YouTube and Google+ for building your program.

Jeff McCauley teaches Business Administration in the marketing cluster in Utah.

Don’t read another word until you read this article. Pause. OK, you’re back. (Don’t worry; I know you didn’t go read it – but you should!) I realize the article is not about business and marketing, but it is about CTE.  Like it or not, we’re all in the same boat.  It’s a great article, telling Time readers what we already know. But now what?

Let’s brainstorm how we can use this article to further the cause of CTE and our individual programs.  Please feel free to add to the list and the discussion.

  • Send a copy of the article to your counselors. You could email it or send them a link.  Don’t.  Hand deliver the article and spend a little face time making sure they will make the effort to read it.
  • What about counselors at your feeder schools? Send the article (or drop it by) to the junior high counselors. They are responsible for helping the students prepare for high school—and they should not forget about CTE.
  • Include the article or link in any newsletter you have. Program, department or school newsletter recipients all have a need for this type of article.
  • Give your administration a chance to read it. In every case, when you deliver a hard copy, take the time to highlight a few key points. I personally like ” they (students who opt into the CTE path) are more likely to score higher on the state’s aptitude tests, graduate from high school and go on to higher education than those who don’t"
  • Feed this to your school or district PR department. It might get additional mileage through them.
  • What about encouraging a local education reporter to do a local version as a follow-up?
  • Share it with your current customers—your students!
  • Do you like writing? How about writing a “letter to the editor” for a local paper or posting your thoughts on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.?
  • If you have a school paper this could provide them with a great lead for an article.

 

The bottom line is we need to use opportunities such as those presented by this article to our advantage.  We have to keep feeding our stakeholders with positive information about our programs.

What now?  Act on your impulses and share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. I used to use this phrase with my students when their efforts didn’t seem to match their words.  Then I realized it applied to me as well. If we are professional educators, in the field of business, shouldn’t we use the same principles and skills we teach our students?  Of course. But do we?

One area in need of improvement is our effort to brand our programs or organizations.  I believe, to a great degree, we need to treat our programs like a business, and every business knows the importance of branding.

There was a time when a brand was simply a logo.  No longer.  Yes, you need a logo, but a logo alone does not make a brand any more than standing in a garage makes you a car!

Seth Godin defines a brand as the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.  Let me make this more personal. A brand is set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a student’s/parent’s decision to choose your program or classes over the other options.

This begs the question:  What are our expectations, memories, stories and relationships that distinguish our program from others? This is one of those questions where “answers may vary.” Nonetheless, let’s look at each in more detail.

Expectations: Are students in your program expected to take a pathway or series of classes? Are they expected to participate in your student organization? Are expectations such that students who enroll in your classes understand that they will be challenging and rigorous?

I have observed a variety of expectations over the years.  Some programs focus on community service activities, and others emphasize competition.  Unfortunately, there are also programs with very low expectations—“it’s fun and you don’t have to work,” or “it’s an easy grade and we take cool trips.”  That is a point of differentiation from other programs.  However, I don’t believe it’s a positive positioning – especially in today’s education environment.

Rather, we need to establish expectations focused on relevant and current content, realistic and challenging projects and activities, cutting edge technology, disciplined and organized classrooms, and the list goes on.

Memories/Stories: Search out a book called “Managing By Storying Around,” written by David Armstrong, of Armstrong International. The book tells how stories can communicate important points that lectures, brochures or mission statements can’t. What are memories but an opportunity to tell a story?

Do you have stories about successful students, creative projects or changed lives?  Share them.  Share stories about your personal experience and those of your students.  Connect through these stories.  The good ones will be repeated.  As you collect these stories you will use them strategically—to make a point or capitalize on a “teaching moment.”  Students will remember the stories, and if the timing is right they will also remember the point of the story.

Relationships: Facebook has made it possible for me to reach out to former students from the past 30+ years of teaching.  It has been amazing to me to hear what they remember about their time in the program.  I have yet to have a student thank me for teaching them the 4 P’s or the Steps of the Sale.  Without exception they remember a particular book I gave them to read (The Greatest Miracle in the World) or a specific comment about being  the best  they could be, or how I was there for them during the loss of  a loved one or another of life’s challenges.  It’s nearly always about a relationship built during their time in the program.  It’s hard to explain how that happens—but you know as well as I do that in our programs it does.  That is often what separates what we do from “the competition.”

Getting Started: All of us need to put more of a concerted effort into developing our brand.  But where do we begin.  I like the exercise developed by Richard Mosley, author of The Employer Brand and consultant at People in Business.  He calls it Sunny Side Up.  Ask yourself the following questions to begin to get a “feel” for your brand.

  • Best of: What would you put in an advertisement to present the very best of what your program has to offer?
  • Heroes: Who would appear in your hall of fame and why?
  • Legend: How would Disney tell your program’s story if they made it into a film?
  • Greatest hits: What songs would you choose for a celebratory party mix?
  • Perfect day: Describe a perfect day in one of your classes.

 

Use questions like these for a great start toward a vision. Then, begin to deliberately build your brand. Along with my notes above, maybe start by thinking about all those touch points where you and your program interact with students and with gatekeepers like parents. Why not get started today?