Your students — current and past — are some of the most powerful marketing tools you have at your disposal as a University.
Because they’ve made the choice to study with you, they’re perfectly placed to tell you what they enjoyed about your courses, what made them a worthwhile investment, and what it is about your institution that makes them proud to be a current student or alumni.
Word-of-mouth marketing that comes from these advocates is incredibly effective because they carry with them a great deal of trust.
You can harness the power of your students in two ways – by using their testimonials, and turning them into influencers through an ambassadors program.
Testimonials are a very useful selling tool, especially when you’re working in a crowded market place. There are a lot of online courses available - learners can become overwhelmed by the choice and it can be hard for them to know which courses are worth investing their time, effort and money into studying.
Testimonials from current or past students can make all the difference. These may come in the form of students who have studied a short course online, as well as from those who are, or have, studied at your university (assuming these programs are in the same subject area as any short courses you offer).
Prospective learners want to hear about the topics they will study, the knowledge they will gain, and the benefit to them and their career. Encourage students to send you testimonials if they have enjoyed the course explaining how it has benefitted them - especially if these benefits are tangible (eg. getting a job in the sector they want, a promotion, securing a place on an oversubscribed course).
When you have these testimonials, don’t be shy about using them across your marketing material. Include quotes on any pages you have built to talk about the short courses you host with FutureLearn, add them to your emails, social media posts and on blogs.
Let the testimonials speak for themselves when you can. Try to avoid being too ‘salesy’ when writing copy as you don’t want a testimonial to lose its authenticity.
Turning students into influencers
As well as using testimonials in your own marketing efforts, you should consider using your students as influencers on their channels - generally social media and blogs.
Many of the students taking your courses will have social media accounts. Encouraging them to post about the FutureLearn courses they’re taking is a good way to reach their peers, who are likely to have similar interests and motivations - and trust their friends' recommendations.
Build a network of engaged students - and don’t just limit yourself to people currently studying your courses on FutureLearn. You can also reach out to students studying at your institution and invite them to take a relevant FutureLearn course alongside their other studies. As well as encouraging them to post on their own social media channels, you can include their posts on your main university social media accounts, or let them do a ‘takeover’ to talk about the courses they've taken and why they think they’re valuable. Allow them to be as creative as they like and talk about their own experiences to ensure it feels genuine.
Finally, reach out to your Alumni network and invite them to take your courses on FutureLearn. They will already have a loyalty to your institution and can give current or prospective students insight into the tangible benefits of your courses to their careers. Those that have successful careers may have a large following on LinkedIn or Twitter who may not have considered online education before. Ask if they will feature you on their blog or social media, and make sure you share what they post on your channels.
As we can see, students are a valuable tool that you can add to your marketing. Don’t be afraid to ask them to talk about the courses they’ve completed. Their followers are likely to be exactly the demographic you want to reach, and with a trusted endorsement, they’re much more likely to be persuaded to give online learning a go.