To keep things fresh, I'm going to start today's post out like a typical episodic television series. Feel free to imagine the next few sentences of this blog post are dictated in Kiefer Sutherland's voice. I sure did when I wrote it:
Previously, on Question-MARKeting Challenge...
Alright, pumped up? I know I am. So without further ado, let's dive into the latest Question-MARKeting challenge submitted by Mark, one of my former professors at Bentley University. He asks:
"Thousands of students are coming to the CIS Sandbox each semester. Fewer regularly read the blog beyond the first page, which has frequent posts from student workers about IT topics, tips on homework and more in order to keep it fresh. We are looking to enable opening commenting on the blog to members of the Bentley community and hope to have that in place shortly (there were some technical issues to overcome). The CIS Sandbox has a presence on Facebook and twitter. What else should we do?"
Well Mark, there are a lot of ideas that come to mind on how to take the CIS Sandbox to the next level, but first I think it's best to take a step back and define a few things, namely:
- What is the main goal of this microsite?
- Who are we trying to bring to the Sandbox?
- What do we want the visitors to do once they arrive?
I think if we clearly define the above questions, we'll not only be able to think of some creative ideas on how to make the Sandbox successful, we'll ultimately be able to justify them--as they'll be directly connected to the overall purpose of the microsite.
1.) Microsite's Main Goal:
After briefly browsing the site, it looks like you have a clearly defined purpose for the Sandbox. The about page reads,
"Bentley’s Computer Information Systems Learning and Technology Sandbox is a place to learn about, and with, new technology. We strive to create an inviting, collaborative space for exploring new technologies, and to support student learning for our courses in ways that resonate with today’s digital students."
Based on your description, it looks like the purpose of the Sandbox is to provide a collaborative, learning environment for students with an interest in IT. While it's a great purpose, it's first important to understand how your existing and planned efforts (community driven collaboration, marketing, etc.) are impacting that goal. I recommend defining some sort of tangible success metric that you can attribute to this goal. For instance, measuring blog subscribers is a great way to determine how well your efforts are progressing. Also, social channels provide another means to success metrics, as we can attribute community growth and collaboration/interaction on those networks to the bottom line.
But what is the bottom line?
My Jack Bauer intuition is telling that it's implied in the subtext. The underlying goal for this collaborative, learning environment Sandbox microsite is to help foster the growth of the IT program at Bentley University. Basically, building demand for more IT classes, creating those IT classes and more students attending those classes. I could be wrong, but I'll pretend I'm like America's favorite counter-terrorist detective hero and charge forward, guns blazing.
With that in mind, let's move on to figuring out how we accomplish that goal, starting with the target audience.
2.) Defining the Audience:
At first glance it seems that the current target audience for the Sandbox can be divided into two groups:
- Current students of Bentley University that are taking (or have taken) an IT class
- Current students of Bentley University that are not taking (or have not taken) an IT class
If the main goal (again, this is my Jack Bauer assumption) is to grow the IT program at Bentley, you'll need to start thinking how you'll gear the site towards each group. Students already enrolled in IT Classes can't help of the program directly per se, but they can be advocates to their friends and also take additional classes in the future. To better serve this audience as it pertains to the goal of the Sandbox, you'll want to keep them engaged, informed, delighted and even incentivized to refer fellow students. More on that in the next section below.
In regards to the second group outlined above, it's a little fuzzy when determining how the site is currently positioned for them. If you're trying to grow the program, why not think of ways to make signing up for an IT class more accessible and ultimately, more exciting for these folks? Sell them on the idea that an IT class is going to help them in their future careers, no matter what major (marketing, finance, accounting, etc.) that they're pursuing. Make this connection in the blog content you post and make it easy for them to learn about and sign up for upcoming classes in future semesters.
Before we brainstorm methods on how to engage with these different groups, I have an idea: Why not think of ways to attract and engage prospective Bentley University students? If we can get these guys excited about IT and its connection to a business education, you'll have incoming freshman signing up for an IT course on day one. You'll be more popular than the Bentley Trading Room on a campus tour.
Influencing Visitor Behavior:
So with each type of audience member defined above, let's put together some ideas on how we can engage each type of audience with the ultimate goal of growing the IT program at Bentley:
- Current students of Bentley University that are taking (or have taken) an IT class:
- These students are your potential advocates, so design programs on how to get them to collaborate. Create a monthly blog newsletter with the latest IT tips and happenings, as well as the upcoming courses (and why they're awesome). This will keep the IT program buzzing on campus and provide testimonials on why other students should sign up for the program.
- Think of what motivates these kids and how it pertains to their major. Then, think of way how you can show that IT knowledge plays a huge role in excelling at Finance, Marketing, etc. If we can prove to them that IT will help develop their careers (no matter what their focus is) you can help encourage IT class demand from existing students.
- Current students of Bentley University that are not taking (or have not taken) an IT class:
- Utilize your current student base for this group-- what I mean is have the current IT students develop projects that reflect how awesome the courses are and showcase them to this audience. Create videos, fun computer programs, etc. and have them on display on the Sandbox with visible links for students to see upcoming courses.
- Just like group #1, think of ways how you can make an IT course tie in with their business major.
- One thing you might consider adding to the Sandbox is a section that says, "Thinking about taking an IT Course? Learn More!" This could be a section on the Sandbox specifically designed for students contemplating taking an IT course.
- Prospective Bentley Students:
- Lots of potential to reach and influence these website visitors, as the website is naturally open to the public. You'll want to be sure that if prospective students are coming to the Sandbox you're either collecting their emails (in blog newsletter subscription format) or pointing them towards admissions after learning more about the programs offered. We don't want to lose them!
- Like the previous two groups, design blog content that focuses on the connection between business majors and IT knowledge. Convey how each are important to a successful career and how Bentley delivers very well on both. Sell them on the ideas and the awesome education.
One last tip here is to restructure the homepage (and some of the top navigation) of the Sandbox to cater to these three groups. You mentioned that you're losing people beyond the first page, so my guess is that they're unsure of where to go. Since we've defined the audiences (and how we'll appeal to them to reach our ultimate goal of program growth) let's make the homepage structured to invite them in even further.
The new homepage could have sections that help the visitor determine what content is right for them. "For Current Bentley University Students" and "For Prospective Bentley University Students." The former section could then be divided into two parts: one for students who are currently enrolled in an IT course and the other for those considering an IT course. Each would then have easy accessibility to some of the content and ideas mentioned above.
Happy to help think through this homepage structure further. We've just cracked the tip of the iceberg. I hope that this was helpful, Mark!