Community Marketing For Higher Education: How To Do It Right

Communities are what will set you apart from the competition this year. Every university has courses, faculty, alumni, and campus pictures. It’s how you show the interplay and fluidity of those elements that make up your special sauce.

With management dropping this new buzzword into meetings like nobody’s business, universities are eager to engage.

It’s a strategy offering more control than its buzzword predecessor influencer marketing, but more exciting than simply back filling a monthly social media plan with branded content.

By starting with an understanding of what community marketing is and why you should implement it, we’re going to lift the lid on how to engage with community marketing properly.

What do we mean by ‘community’?

Community marketing - through the prism of student recruitment - is the connection of current and potential students to your university values through online and offline channels.

In a more nebulous sense, it is a feeling of shared ownership and belonging. It is when your students begin to see the university as an extension of their own identity

There is an opportunity to build community any time you interact with a current or prospective student. Equally, there is an opportunity to damage it in the same scenarios.

Is community just tone of voice?

Having an established tone of voice and guiding principles for your marketing activities helps, but establishing community goes beyond that.

Community marketing delivers the consistent and effective communication of your university values through all channels at your disposal. 

It includes students and faculty in content creation. It’s making sure every piece of written communication - from the website to automated emails - aligns with university values. It feels exciting when a student comes to your booth at an event. It’s responding to questions quickly and with good humour.

Community is a feeling - not just a group. 

Why focus on building community?

Basically, because we’re living through a time of auto-generated article ideas, click bait and burner ‘cringe’ posts. The demand for genuine interactions and peer-to-peer proofing of a university’s credentials has never been more important.

By letting your brand values speak through your most vehement ambassadors, in spaces students feel confident and belonging - you will be well placed to succeed.

Let’s take a look at a few places you can focus on to improve your community marketing activities.

Where does community happen?

1 - Answer social media comments - even the bad ones

This is nothing new and is something we’re all already familiar with. Remember to respond quickly, and always with a positive attitude.

Make sure how you answer social media comments is a standardised process. Include a short section on this in your official tone of voice guide for reference. That way no matter who is responding, the same tone of voice comes through.

2 - Jump on questions in forums

For all of its ‘stuffed shirt’ appearance Quora has almost as much usage among high school students as TikTok when looking for universities. According to Keystone Education 3.7% of students use the platform to inform their study choices - TikTok has 4%. 

For all the hype of jumping on TikTok to build your community, you may achieve just as much traction by answering and engaging with questions in a meaningful way on Quora.

3 - Peer To Peer

Marketing Charts found that 93% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of influence. Once again - ALL other forms of influence.

If you have particular success recruiting students from a certain school or locality - double down on engaging the most active members of that community. If you’re aware of an online community where students or alumni are raving about you - get to know them.

HubSpot has an excellent resource on building a Peer To Peer marketing strategy.

4 - Respond to reviews

Online reviews sometimes slip off the radar of most higher education marketing teams. However, they are an excellent way to increase your Google ranking, keep in touch with what current and past students think about your institution and score plus points for engaging with your audience.

5 - Recruitment events

Recruitment events are clearly one of the most important touch points in the student recruitment process. Your recruitment officers need to be briefed and ready to deliver the community spirit your digital and other offline marketing resources are promising.

6 - School visits

Similar to recruitment events, this is a chance to bring your community into the physical world for these students. If this is a school you have had particular success recruiting from in the past, try to leverage the peer-to-peer element and invite current students who may be alumni of that school.

7 - Live online events

Going the extra mile for distance learners, students with accessibility issues or those who otherwise can’t attend an in-person event will stick in the mind when the time comes to make their choice. Make sure your live online events have a definite strategy to deliver your core values and consistent community experience.

8 - Portals

Portals such as Find A University are now an established battle ground for the attention of students of all levels. Make sure you’re standing out by leaning into your tone of voice, community values and easily showing how your school is actively addressing the needs of your core demographics.

9 - Open days

This is where students and parents come to see your community live and in person. From greeters, to lecturers and cafeteria staff to student ambassadors - absolutely everyone needs to be on the same page. This is the biggest opportunity you will have to establish a community vibe early on with leads who are already very warm.


Imagine your community marketing efforts as the instruments in an orchestra. Different people are moved by different elements of the ensemble. Each group has their own purpose and objective, but all must ultimately perform as one.

The same is true for your community marketing and recruitment activities. One prospective student may be impressed by the students represented across your social media content, while another was inspired by talking with a recruiter offline. 

Each interaction has its purpose within its own silo - reach, email addresses collected, link clicks -  but both share the bigger goal of creating community.

It is your job to orchestrate that community.

Need help building out your community marketing strategy? Words On Brand are here to help.

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