Authentic Storytelling is the Future of Enrollment Marketing

Way to go Tulane! You’re #1! According to Niche, you are officially the top party school in the U.S. The celebration over being given this great honor must be rippling through campus. Surely, you are leveraging the heck out of this authentic storytelling opportunity on your website and social media. Am I right? 

But since I last checked, there wasn’t any mention of it on the “Why Tulane” section of your site. I only found information about your core curriculum, study abroad opportunities, and student volunteerism. 

authentic storytelling

Stand Out From The Competition

In the dog-eat-dog world of college admissions, colleges are eager to stand out from the pack and influence prospective students to take a closer look. Surely, the VP of Marketing had some fun ideas about how to leverage the label of #1 party school in the nation. After all, it must be a huge draw for prospective students. So why isn’t it emblazoned in every piece of collateral? My guess: there is no way in Louisiana that a tongue-in-cheek campaign like that would ever find its way onto a budget request. 

You see, we all talk a good game about wanting to leverage social media and influencer marketing to create authentic slices of the real college experience on our campuses, but in the end, higher education is still way too conservative to push the envelope. Okay, maybe celebrating “non-academic pursuits” isn’t exactly PC. I get it. But why are we so resistant as an industry to let our current students truly and freely be our voice in social media? 

According to the 2019 Influencer Marketing Report

“Brands need to fine-balance providing influencers with enough creative freedom, while also ensuring the messaging positively reflects the brand and helps grow awareness. Nearly 40% of influencers believe that overly restrictive content guidelines are one of the biggest mistakes brands and agencies make when working with them.” 

Amid the recent buying-your-kids-way-into-college-scandal, we all got a huge introduction into the life of one social media influencer who has the ears, eyes, and influences the decisions of millions of teens at the tip of her iPhone. As Wired recently reported: 

“Olivia Jade Giannulli could have been an incredible asset to USC if only they channeled her influential powers where it counted.” 

Current Students Are The Center of Authentic Storytelling

authentic storytelling

Why aren’t colleges and universities reaping the benefits of their strongest marketing assets – their current students? Most likely it’s the unpredictability of what the content might include. Our inability to control the message and steer the narrative outweighs our desire to experiment with new mediums. Imagine, if you will, that the admissions office had encouraged Olivia to post about her experiences as a USC student? The good, the bad, and the ugly of both the academic and not-so-academic life at USC. Can you even imagine all the buzz this authentic, ongoing content could have created? How much interest could have been generated in USC from teens and prospective students? 

So maybe we’ll never be ready to celebrate being the biggest party school in America like we would academic accolades. But as marketers looking to engage with prospecting Gen Z, we need to be ready and able to expand beyond the comfort of traditional advertising and start embracing authentic storytelling for better engagement. 

Photo Credit: Keith Luke on Unsplash, Robin Warrall on Unsplash

Christina OToole

Christina is a data-driven, full stack marketer with over 20 years success leading marketing in higher education, tech and publishing industries. She lead enrollment marketing programs for the both the University of California, Santa Barbara and UC San Diego continuing education divisions. Christina has developed hundreds of marketing campaigns and built all facets of programs including lifecycle journeys, creative direction and lead generation.