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The internet has tremendously grown to become one of the most important marketing tools in the globe today. Use of websites, blogs, podcasts and social media sites such as twitter, Facebook, and Google-plus is the most efficient way, a marketer such as Victoria University can reach its target. This is because the current and prospective students spend most of their time online. Creating a website is the first step; generating traffic to the website is the second and the most important thing in internet marketing.
Higher education has become a basic need in both developed and developing countries. Domestic students want to attend the best university in their country while foreign students seeking to advance their education or seeking opportunities available want to attend the best International University. Victoria University has to be in a position to positively sell itself and outdo other universities with a heavy web presence.
A good marketer must always know the target audience or customers. In the case of Victoria University the target market comprises of students. The next step is to consider whether the target audience has an internet connection, how often they use the internet, and the frequently visited sites. As most of the young people spend their time on social media, it is very important to have interactive social media accounts that are accessible from the website (Anctil, 2008, p.110).
Community Based Tools
Community-based tools are an important feature of relationship marketing which has its foundation in Customer Relationship Management (Mullins & Walker, 2013). It involves maximizing contact with customers and potential clients through automating businesses, offering information resources and technology related solutions.
Technology is not sufficient on its own and must be coupled with initiatives that re-organize the structure of the firm or organization towards interaction with customers.
Successful relationship marketing involves collecting and analysing data on the target audience and developing strategies that personalize and enhance the relationship between the organization and the target audience to achieve maximum benefit for the organization. The organization is then able to tailor its products and services towards the specific needs of the target audience. In this case, Victoria University should be able to tailor its services as a higher learning institution towards the needs of prospective students.
It is not sufficient to have a website; the website must be a great one. The graphics should be eye-catching and appealing to the eye. A good website must lie up to the promises that have been put on the site. It would be very disappointing for a student who has learned about Victoria University from the website to enrol only to find out that the services that had been listed in the website are non-existent. The website should not load slowly as users tend to be impatient with such websites (Deans 2009, p.103). This can be achieved by avoiding putting large videos, photos and sound-clips on the site as they take a long time to load as opposed to text graphics, which load within a very short time. When a website takes too long to load, users move to the next site.
Contact information must be accessible and must be found easily. The information must include the physical address and location, phone numbers, fax numbers-mail addresses, and social media accounts. A map is highly recommendable in this era when people are relying on virtual maps to locate a place (Alice, 2012). The sight must be updated regularly and refreshed frequently for people to keep visiting it. Out-dated information is highly detested by website users and it tarnishes the reputation of the brand being marketed as being ineffective (Schneider, 2013).
Web 2.0 Tools, Social Media and Next-Generation Marketing
Web 2.0 has been cited as the best mode of communicating with and reaching Generation Y. It views the internet as a user-centred platform for sharing information. Users are able to interact and share content with each other by creating their own content as opposed to websites where they could only view the content on a website but could not share it (Michael & Howard, 2012). Web 2.0 tools include blogs, podcasts, wikis, and RSS Feed and Social media sites such as Facebook, twitter, Google plus, flicker, You-tube, Linked, and Four-Square. The main importance of web 2.0 tools is to encourage participation, allow users to create and share user-generated information and to widen the space for interaction. As a marketing technique, web 2.0 tools are therefore able to reach a large audience. Victoria University can use search engines, online directories and other regularly visited sites to market the website (Deans, 2009, p.104). They can also place ads on platforms such as Google ads and establish strong connections with affiliate marketers.
The university should outsource the design of the webpage to a reputable web-design company or consultancy. Alternatively, the university may rely on its ICT department to do the work but it must ensure that people with impeccable web design skills are hired. When upgrading the site, various pitfalls should be avoided. Publicizing the site before it is tested internally is a big mistake. Clarity should be ensured in the home page to lead the surfer to the exact information being looked for. The site should be easy to navigate and each navigation bar should lead users to the specific information that they are looking for (Chakra, 2013, p.43). Failure to respond to communication should be avoided at all times. Due to the high number of sites in the World Wide Web, ranking on top of the search engines is a daunting task since they change their algorithms severally. To keep ranking on top of search engine results keywords and links should be included and updated regularly on the site (Deans, 2009).
Communication via email is still the most popular form of formal communications in institutions today. It can be used to respond to the concerns of both prospective and current students. Email can be used by everyone anywhere in the world, and it has formal perspective as opposed to social media channels, which are quite informal. The target audience assumes that emails are checked frequently and as such need to be responded to fast. Quick response to communication gives a website a solid advantage over other websites that do not respond to communication.
Separate accounts can be set-up for specific campuses, programs, departments, prospective students, continuing students and alumni of the institution. This enables the emails to reach the specific department that they are addresses to so that they receive effective responses. Auto-respond messages to frequently asked questions should be available in case the people operating the site are offline or the question does not require specific answers (Anctil, 2008, p.112). Auto-respond messages are however a grey area because many customers have reported dissatisfaction with them. Embedded links should be used in the site to direct customers to information they might not have been aware about. Spamming inboxes with promotional messages should be avoided at all costs since customers are usually pushed away by such information.
Driving Traffic through Social Media
Traffic is the apex around which a successful website revolves. A site without traffic is obsolete and irrelevant. If nobody is visiting The Victoria University website or nobody learns about the university’s services on-line, then creation of the site is nothing but an exercise in vain. The site must be popular so that it can be found among the other sites of institutions offering higher education in Australia and elsewhere. Social media is the greatest sources of traffic among college-going students who are the target audience since they spend most of their time on these sites. Infact some of them are addicts.
An active and interactive Facebook page has proved to be a great promotional tool and traffic driver (Alice, 2012). The administrators should strive to get as any likes as possible by posting interesting status updates and photos. Links to content in the website should also be posted regularly on the page so that users can click on them and be guided to the site. Twitter is also quickly becoming a popular social media tool. The site administrators should choose a recognizable handle and tweet regularly about upcoming events, awards and progress made by the university. Linkeldn is a great platform for alumni of Victoria University to interact with continuing students and for students to interact with prospective employers. YouTube allows the universities to streamline, showcase and share it is videos to a large audience while Flickr enables photos to be shared easily between alumni.
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Blogs that appeal the most to visitors to websites of higher education institutes, especially prospective students, are those written by currently enrolled students about their experiences and day to day lives in the campus (Scott 2007, p. 91). Since the main purpose of the blogs is recruitment, they should contain positive and interesting information. The student bloggers should be guided by creators of the university brand to ensure that the blogs are coordinated with the goals and objectives of the university.
Social media requires a lot of time online, dedication and commitment. A social media department or unit should be put in place to monitor, update and respond to comments and communication from the website’s users. A blog for admissions containing details about the minimum qualifications and the entire admission process is particularly vital to recruitment of new students. Blog comments provide a forum whereby prospective students and their parents can interact with the university through questions and answers.
Blogs aim at triggering conversation and keeping it flowing. Live chats, video streaming and podcasts are now being incorporated into many blogs to keep the conversation going. Institutions must have an online-communication policy that sets limits within which online communications take place. It should also clearly define what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. The website should be linked to the college website and portal of Australia for easier tracking by students in different parts of the globe. Google is currently the most popular social engine for searching for universities and colleges.
The first impression of the home page of a university’s websites is the number one factor that attracts prospective students. The impression, which can be visual or graphic, propels them to make inquiries, make applications and enrol in the institution. Target audiences rank academic and cost information to be more important than content about admissions and the student lifestyle (Mullins and Walker, 2013). While most website administrators find it prudent to circulate official information through emails, prospective students want both official and non-formal information communicated through emails since they rarely check their meals but log into their Facebook and twitter accounts on a daily basis. College videos are not popular and are rarely watched on YouTube.
The worldwide web is like an enormous library and search engines are the catalogues that help with easier location of information. They “Crawl” around the web, collect information from various web pages and organize the information into lists (Michael & Howard, 2012). Having a site on the top lists can be a daunting task. The best option would be to register with search engines upon going live with the website. Using labels and tags also helps greatly in optimizing search results (Deans, 2009, p.105). Keywords should always feature in tags and titles. The site should be submitted and resubmitted regularly to the search engine. The site should also be linked with as many sites as possible to drive traffic.
It is important to keep evaluating and monitoring the number of visitors to the site and the most visited information. This will help the web administrators know the areas they should improve them and maintain high standards for the outstanding sectors. Page views are the most standard method of tracking visitors to the site. They are counted automatically every time a visitor clicks on the website. Sophisticated software for visitor tracking is also highly recommended. The software’s have the ability to determine the other recent sites visited by the user, the version of the browser being used by the visitors, and the internet speeds supported by the modem the visitors were using (Schneider, 2007, p.26).
The internet offers unlimited opportunities and incentives for relationship marketing (Alice, 2012). The social media pages should have the theme colour of the university. The social media can be run by social media savvy students who are given allowances for their work. A mobile application for the school powered by Android and Apple’s IOS is also very important in this era of smart phones.
Impact of Web 2.0 Tools in Attracting Prospective Students a
Prospective students visit university websites to learn more about the admission process, the fees required slots of scholarships available and other means of financing their studies such as student loans, internship, and employment opportunities in the country or abroad (Deans, 2009).
Parents of prospective students are a target audience that most universities have ignored yet they are an integral factor in the entire college selection process. Victoria University can capitalize on this gap by introducing a specific page that is dedicated to parents. Parents often support their children financially and spread positive news about the college to other parents. They also form a strong pillar for philanthropic assistance of the school in financial projects. Parents make a viable target audience separate from that of students because some of them decide the colleges their children should attend while others settle on the colleges they can afford irrespective of the student’s performance (Scott 2007, p.97). A study revealed that parents decided the colleges their children should attend through hearsay from parents and relatives. As part of the marketing strategy, the website should contain content that is appealing to parents and entice them to spread the word to others
Social media is seen by most students as an avenue for supplementing the formal information and reputation of a college with the informal perspectives about the lifestyle on college. Students would like to be associated with a university that is modern in its thinking and has a liberal social media policy. Heavy presence in social media is an indication that a university is modern and has incorporated technology in its activities. This broadly appeals to prospective students. To appear to be modern, Victoria University must ensure that its presence in social media is widely felt. It must fully embrace social media to remain relevant in the highly competitive academia world.
Victoria University should conduct analysis of the major universities that are a threat or competition, especially the ones in Melbourne, and borrow a leaf from their social media policy and website content (Patrut, Patrut, and Cmeciu, 2013).
To be successful in social media the university should approach a fearless approach, should always respond, and should be willing to take risks. Consistency, accuracy, and adaptability are key features that are integral to survival in the social media world. The target audience, in this case, prospective students, must be identified and the messages should be directly targeted to them. Traditional marketing strategies should not be ignored and should be combined with social media tools to achieve maximum success.
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Mullins, J. and Walker, O. 2013. Marketing management: a strategic decision-making approach, McGraw-Hill: New York.
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