Student Recruitment Revisited: Social and Community Marketing

A year ago, I wrote a post called "Recruiting: How to attract more students to your school", in it I wrote of four (4) patterns that school administrators should look for when marketing to parents. This included: (1) looking for natural breaks in the K-12 sequence, like PreK, 5th grade, and 8th grade, (2) identifying the parent's preference for the school, and not the student's, (3) looking for the right time to market to parents, right when they get on the market, and (4) looking at which type of schools the parents attended. 

After a year, looking at the latest research on school marketing, and gaining more experience in education as a whole, I felt it necessary to revisit the question of recruitment in light of a new idea: Social and Community Marketing.

The two concepts are linked, but a definition of social marketing means that markets are created to sell and promote products and services which have an ultimate social benefit. Community marketing is similar but looks to integrate the sense of community in the promotional and development-related activities. Why are these two marketing sub-genres important, and how are they linked to student recruitment. 

Social Marketing in Schools

Upcoming millennials are looking for something more than their parents, they are looking for an immersive social interaction with the school where they are going to send their children. For them, the social element is a must. Millennials were brought up in the 90's and in the middle of the self-esteem movement, along with a strong sense that through work, technology and dedication they would be able to change social issues. Such parents are looking to change some element of society, and push a social ideal through their actions, decisions, and their pocketbook. Causes can vary , and may include social injustice, economic inequality, religious freedom, environmental causes, moral teachings and traditions.

Schools should use this push to help guide prospective parents to help them change this social issue and provide for the greater social and common good. Parents will look to match their values with the school where they will be sending their children and spending their money. Schools can use this emotional need to position themselves as a solution (or partial solution) to this problem. In other words, by sending their child to this school, parents can help affect social change.

An example can include an environmentally-minded parent who sends her child to a local private school. The school's building is LEED certified, and the students engage in field trips and clubs which are geared towards bettering the environment. The student council might have also started a school-wide composting program. This school is seen as particularly positive for these parents. 

For the Millennial, it is less important to translate their own time into money  (through work); they are looking for a cause, and therefore this can lead a disassociation between the often prohibitive costs of a school, and their doing the steps to send their kids there. 

Community Marketing 

This concept, not to be confused with brand communities, is an immerging idea in the area of Marketing studies. It revolves around the idea of integrating the individual's community into the marketing of a school. A school's promotional event, for example, should also be a community event. While the idea of opening up a school to the community is nothing new, Community Marketing looks at leveraging the community to better the chances of increased enrollment, along with making the community a better place to live. This will ensure a positive feeling in the mind of the wider community since it is from there that prospective parents emerge. At its heart, Community Marketing is a long-term investment in resources and a shorter-term promotional event. 

Examples are many, and they can include a carnival-like event with games for the kids, with students and alumni manning the booths or an open day for the community where everyone can use the jungle gym along with the PE equipment. 

Implications on Recruitment Efforts

It is important to never begin any undertaking simply for recruitment purposes since most prospective parents will be able to see right through that attempt. However, focusing activities that are already being done, starting activities that were being planned, and ending programs which are deemed not effective should be considered. All of this should be done in the spirit of community and social marketing. But what are the direct implications on recruitment?

Prospective parents should begin to feel that your school is part of their community, both physically, and emotionally. Consider the following:

  • When explaining that your school is a community, put a greater focus on it being the prospective family's community too. 
  • The school has a mission, but it should be more than simply education, and the generic "making a better world" or "creating global citizens". Look at the values that you already hold, education is what schools do, but a higher cause should be presented as well. 
  • Keep the image of your school as open as possible, since you are looking to foment an accessible image. This means avoiding large padlocks in favor of a more discreet and just as secure alternative. Some parents might come and see your campus during the weekend, and such strong displays might turn them off.
  • Millennials are tired of promotional messages being thrown their way, they are looking for user-valuable messages, such as tips and tricks about a topic, support, or information. Make sure to show them how your school can help make their lives easier and better. 

All in all, focusing on the community and social aspects can reap many benefits. Recruitment is more than seeing if the school is a fit for a family, it is in making sure that the school helps the family, and if the family helps the school. It should be a win-win situation. Keeping an open and community-oriented image and focus is key.