How Higher Education Marketers Are Navigating COVID-19


How to plan your marketing efforts and campaigns during the COVID-19 crisis

With the rapidly developing Covid-19 pandemic, many colleges, universities, and their partners are quickly working to shift their marketing focus to both address the crisis while continuing to support current and potential students. Over the last few weeks, our team has analyzed search trends, monitored the market responses, and brainstormed ways to best help our partners respond to this crisis.

Our goal is to provide you with the best practices and strategic recommendations for marketing your institution and programs during this crisis.

Brand Positioning

Positioning your university during a pandemic can be difficult to do, so our suggestion is to focus on your mission and how you can help students make an impact. Try to highlight how faculty, students or alumni are making a positive impact during the pandemic. If your faculty, programs, or students are actively making a difference in their community, then address COVID-19 in your messaging directly, but don’t tie a CTA to that add.

Our VP of Marketing, Joe Lapin, also pulled together a variety of examples and research to create some brand positioning best practices during the pandemic. You can check out these recommendations, as well as his full, in-depth video below to see examples of what brands are doing right and what they’re missing the mark on, in order to better understand how you can position your brand positively and effectively during this crisis.

How Circa Interactive Is Advising Our Clients On Navigating COVID-19 and Their Advertising

Digital PR

COVID-19 has impacted every industry and the majority of the population in some way. Its wide reach means that every faulty member has an expert voice they can lend to the conversation.

Faculty members possess key knowledge to reduce panic and combat misinformation around COVID-19, so use their expertise to add to the conversation. Our team landed 80% of our media placements in COVID-related articles and stories.

Organic Search

As you might’ve predicted, we’ve seen increased  search interest around healthcare words and sporadic increases in education and leadership degrees. Search terms like “online healthcare degree”, “online master’s degree”, and “online course” have seen a spike in search interest.

From the programs we work with, education, healthcare, leadership, and emergency preparedness programs saw increases in clicks from the SERP. Our resource guides and blog content that are COVID-related have largely driven increased organic uses and session.

Paid Search

Cross-channel strategies are more important than ever to mitigate the drop in overall Google searches and changing behaviors with YouTube, Display and Social efforts.

For the higher ed industry, there has been approximately a 10% and 8% increase in ad impressions for new career and vocational related queries respectively. Mobile ad traffic is down 24% while tablets are down 19%.

As expected, more COVID related searches occur every day.  Queries need to be monitored closely to reduce wasted spend. Be sure to think about behaviors that are not directly COVID such as policy and economic trends, and expand negatives as needed.

Social Media

The higher education industry is showing evidence of increased social media engagement. Universities need to be more strategic about push marketing efforts (paid social) as people are more sensitive during this crisis, so we need to be more empathetic to our audiences

Improve brand awareness and messaging to serve people now by thinking about users and their current situation and how a university can help. Some universities are seeing success with free courses during this time. With the abrupt shift to distance learning with students and remote operations with faculty and staff, the need for effective, efficient community engagement is paramount.

As we look to our mobile devices for connection and communication, perhaps now more than we ever have, take advantage of social media tools to keep your community engaged.

Through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, institutions have the opportunity to inform, help, connect, and entertain.

Turning Insights into Action

It can be daunting to look at your current campaigns and initiates, as well as think about launching new ones, so we’ve summed up our recommended next steps for both current and future campaigns.

Audit Your Existing Strategies

  1. Audit existing ad copy, landing page copy, and content across channels to ensure messages that could be perceived as insensitive to the current situation are removed or updated (ex. “Come visit our campus!”)
  2. Tweak messaging to ensure it reflects the mission of the program and university to avoid being too promotional during this time
  3. Re-adjust on-page optimizations to better align with Google Trend data

Create New Strategies That Align With Trends

  1. Draft new ad and landing page copy that reflects the mission-driven values of your college and programs
  2. Identify content topics that are timely now, but will also still be relevant post COVID-19.
  3. Identify new priority programs by focusing on increases in search demand and volume

This article first appeared in

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