Harness the Network Effect to Boost Enrollment in Your Online School

September 18, 2020

A woman sitting at a small round table in a library with her laptop open while smiling and looking directly at the camera.

Editor's Note: A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn

Modern consumers researching a major purchase no longer blindly trust the company selling the product or service under consideration. Instead, they consult their personal network of friends, family, and acquaintances for feedback and recommendations. Similarly, prospective students of online schools trust professional peers more than the institutions they’re considering. And, according to LinkedIn research, alumni of those schools can greatly influence a prospective student’s decision to enroll. 

As Paul J. Clifford, chief executive officer of the Penn State Alumni Association, said: "The alumni network of an institution has skyrocketed into the upper echelon of categories that prospective students are considering when they choose their institutions.”

Before we share more about the alumni influence and how Higher Education marketers can capitalize on it, let’s explore the state of online education.

Interest in online schools continues to rise

We are seeing a growing preference for online schools. Beyond the convenience factor, students are drawn by the technology advances that enable online schools to deliver excellent education. Consider that Learning House, Inc. found 85% of students who had enrolled in both face-to-face and online courses felt their online experience was either the same or better than the classroom course. In fact, 37% felt it was superior.

No wonder Eduventures Research projects that online students will account for 22% of all students by the fall of 2025 (up from 16% in fall 2018). More specifically, the ratio of online students will jump from 14% to 20% at the bachelor’s level, and from 36% to 44% at the master’s level by 2025.

Understanding the influence of alumni 

Online schools’ alumni tend to be well connected on LinkedIn. In total, they maintain 58 million connections, with each alumnus averaging 300+ 1st-degree connections – regardless of the size of the online school they attended. Those connections are influencing the enrollment decisions of prospective students. 63% of students who enrolled at an online school in 2019 were connected with alumni from that school, and had been connected within 5 years of their enrollment decision. In fact, over time, LinkedIn is seeing a larger percentage of student prospects connecting to alumni – showing the growing value of the alumni network. As shown below, the alumni influence has increased more than 50% over since 2015.

Prospective students are swayed by a firsthand view into the careers of alumni. On LinkedIn, potential students can see where alumni work, the roles they’ve held, and their accomplishments to date. Seeing the success of graduates likely increases the appeal of the school these students are considering. 

Best practices for engaging alumni to drive higher enrollment

Here are six proven ways Higher Education marketers can tap into extensive alumni networks on LinkedIn and their influence to realize a marketing advantage. Alumni have extensive networks and are positioned to influence their network to the school's advantage

1. Establish and build your school’s presence on LinkedIn. It’s essential for your school to be present on the world’s largest professional network so you can be closer to the audiences you’re trying to engage and convert. Start by creating a University Page, which will be one of the first pages LinkedIn members visit to learn about your school. Maintaining a presence on LinkedIn also increases the number of alumni who will create their own LinkedIn profiles and link to your school. 

2. Share alumni success stories. Whether you are highlighting someone’s career path or a noteworthy accomplishment, shine a light on your alumni – it’s the best way to prove the value of the education you can deliver. You can feature these stories on your University Page to help tell the story of your school in an emotional way and promote them in campaigns, such as through a Carousel Ad

3. Highlight your alumni numbers. In addition to the number of followers for your University Page, highlight the number of alumni associated with your school. This gives prospective students at-a-glance insight into your school’s reach. 

4. Find alumni on LinkedIn. You can use the Alumni tool on LinkedIn to access real-time data about your school’s alumni. In fact, you can drill down to specific alumni based on where they live, where they work, and/or their business roles.

5. Cultivate alumni ambassadors. Once you’ve identified successful alumni and have segmented them by field of study, degree, geography, and business role, invite them to speak with prospective students and share content on your school’s behalf. In addition to connecting alumni and prospective students via Conversation Ads, supply alumni with content to share on LinkedIn, such as photos of them at school events. You can even invite notable alumni to answer a few questions and create a blog post or other content asset you share with them to pass along as part of a thought leadership campaign or program. However, you choose to engage your alumni, be sure to underscore the importance of their role in enabling your school to fulfill its mission and reach its enrollment goals.

6. Create a LinkedIn Group. Recruit alumni to manage your group and post content on your school’s behalf. You can promote your group via Sponsored Content and Message Ads by linking to the group URL in your call to action. 

Ready to boost enrollment at your online school? Reach out to your LinkedIn team for more ways you can amplify your marketing impact.

Topics