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An E-Marketing Plan for Online Learning (Part 2)

By IGI Global on Jul 26, 2011
IGI Global would like to thank Shalin Hai-Jew for contributing this article regarding the various audiences institutions must consider for e-marketing plans and online learning. Dr. Hai-Jew's newest publication, Constructing Self-Discovery Learning Spaces Online: Scaffolding and Decision Making Technologies, will become available this Winter. An excellent resource for any library, her edited research volume, Virtual Immersive and 3D Learning Spaces: Emerging Technologies and Trends, is currently available in the IGI Global Bookstore.

My prior blog entry highlighted some of the ways that higher education institutions manifest in electronic spaces. It also showed the importance of a full environmental scan to understand how a school fully manifests online—both from the contents that it has created and those created by others about it (both formal and informal).

E-Marketing Courses

E-marketing (or electronic marketing) is a subset and part of the overall marketing plan. For this blog entry, it might help to consider only the e-marketing that may go into a program or into a particular course. While this marketing is about gaining positive attention and word-of-mouth, this is also about the core "call to action," e.g., getting individuals to sign up for information, to share information about themselves (so as to be contacted by the school), and, ultimately, to actually enroll in a particular course (known as a "conversion"). For many students who register, enroll and pay for courses, communicate with advisors, and take courses online, responding to e-marketing campaigns is just part of the college experience.

To market a particular course, it is important to understand the various stakeholders for that course: the learners who would benefit from taking the courses; the businesses that benefit from well-educated employees in the field; the professional practitioners in the field who could benefit from additional learning, and others. The subject matter experts (SMEs) in a field that collaborate on creating a course may provide powerful insights about the stakeholders. (E-marketing campaigns rely on a number of information streams—in order to allow for strategy tailoring.)

E-marketing, of course, also relates to customer relationship management, or the analysis of large collections of information about potential customers—and using that data to shape a message and strategies for building professional inter-relationships. Part of this outreach involves selecting opinion leaders, those who embody "cool," and those who inspire a following. It is said that people tend to be "homophilous" or socialize with "like" others (those who are similar to themselves), and connecting with multiple individuals in a social network may lead to a fairly large group of conversions.

In other words, who are the individuals whom others follow, who can therefore cause others to join a growing trend? Those who work too far ahead take on too much risk, and those who lag too far behind are seen as ineffectual. An e-marketing campaign has to hit it right in the middle in order to reach a wide audience and to inspire high response rates.

Internal Organizational Needs

The actual electronic marketing campaign that emerges often stems from a mix of policies, personnel, and technologies. Often, a simple SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) will highlight the interests of a particular department or program. And based on the ambitions of the department or college, staff will begin outreach. It really helps to have a faculty member or team that is highly invested in reaching out to the larger publics as well. What is on offer also affects the outreach, whether it's a whole degree program or a mix of courses or modules and short courses. These often come in various iterations. Most, if not all, universities and colleges have very careful control over the release of formal information given fears of liability. In that sense, there has to be a leader with the political will, vision, and resources to move an e-marketing endeavor forward.

The affordances of e-marketing come in part from the various channels that may be used to reach out. Not only is there the Internet and the world wide web, but there are electronic mailing lists, social media sites, and micro-blogging feeds. Each new opened channel will require plenty of attention, though. Electronic mailing lists that are started but lapse become a risk—with massive opt-outs by individuals. Social media pages and groups may lapse into non-use or misdirected image-making. Micro-blogging feeds may become banal or just go silent. Before new information channels are opened, there is often some analysis to make sure that inordinate amounts of staff time will not be lost to writing, revising, and editing. A campaign has to be moved forward in a way that aligns with the organization's will and resources.

Designing the E-Marketing Campaign

Once there is a commitment to go forward with an e-marketing campaign, it then has to be designed effectively. Often, universities and colleges go with what's familiar and known and slowly add new electronic capabilities. What "affiliate relationships" may be created to bring groups together to mutually benefit from each others' connections? Others will take on much larger risks. It is important, though, not to artificially "seed" a viral campaign; "astroturfing" is the derogatory term used to describe poorly launched e-marketing endeavors that are transparently artificial. For every audience, it may be assumed that there is a strong contingent of skeptics, many with sophisticated analytical skills in digital media.

Measuring Electronic Outreach Effectiveness

To know how effective an e-marketing campaign has been, it is important to assess the various return-on-investment (ROI) measures. How many "impressions" or views of a page have occurred? What is the "bounce rate" or the number of people who land on a portal page and "bounce" off? How many click-throughs have there been of search ads? What does a "click-stream analysis" show—or the analysis of how people maneuver through a site? How many opt-ins were there for a certain outreach? What were effective methods to "stimulate trial" (or to get people to try a particular piece of learning)? In situations where there is a multi-way flow of information, what feedback is the university getting in terms of crowd-intelligence and crowd-sourcing? If a campaign has gone "viral," then what sort of feedback are they getting?

There are many online tools that may enhance the analysis of an e-marketing campaign's effectiveness. A site link analyzer enables awareness of the various links by others to one's site. Site analytics tools provide information about when a site is busiest, who is visiting, what technologies are being used to visit the site, and the geographical locales from which site visitors are coming. Rankings tools enable one to view the status of a site.

Search Data
SpyFu: www.spyfu.com
Quirk Search Status: www.quirk.biz/searchstatus
SEO Book's Rank Checker: http://tools.seobook.com/firefox/rank-checker

Environmental Scans
Google Alerts: www.google.com/alerts
Change Detection: www.changedetection.com

Trending
Google Insights: www.google.com/insights/search
Google's What Do You Love? / WDYL: www.wdyl.com/#


The above is a screenshot of a WDYL search of the University Life Café at K-State with a plethora of finds.

Language Translators
Google Translate: http://translate.google.com/

Analytics
Google Analytics: www.google.com/analytics/

New Technos

Finally, the new hot thing involves the uses of mobile devices for locative resources—such as the ability to call up information about a university at particular locations around campus. Many schools are using 2D codes (aka "QR" or "quick response" codes) to call up URLs and other information—on smart mobile devices. E-readers are becoming ever more popular with many academic texts available in electronic form.

For all the various ways to reach out, universities and colleges that offer online learning are looking to online spaces to find the learners they need for constructive learning experiences. Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University (K-State); she teaches for WashingtonOnline (WAOL).

Readers interested in reading more educational marketing might want to take a look at two of IGI Global's recent releases, Marketing Online Education Programs: Frameworks for Promotion and Communication and Cases on Innovations in Educational Marketing: Transnational and Technological Strategies.

An excellent addition to any university library, the International Journal of Technology and Educational Marketing (IJTEM) offers a wealth of scholarship educational marketing strategies, pitfalls and challenges. This journal presents, analyzes, shares, and collaborates ideas, experiences, research studies, and cases on the advancements and innovations in technology and educational marketing. Targeting educational planners, administrators, researchers, educational technologists, educational specialists, and marketing educators, IJTEM uses technology and marketing management for sustainable educational development. In addition to full-length research papers, this journal publishes insightful books reviews, case studies on educational institutions and their marketing initiatives across the globe, and technological initiatives taken by institutions for marketing their educational programs. You can learn more at www.igi-global.com/ijtem.
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