Unleash your brand ambassadors for online education

Online learning is exploding and everyone at colleges, universities and trade schools is adapting. Here’s how leveraging brand ambassadors and testimonials can be a key differentiator to finding success and can set academic programs apart.
By: | September 14, 2020
University of Florida Online's testimonials page highlights several graduates and their successes.University of Florida Online's testimonials page highlights several graduates and their successes.

My path to becoming CEO of Investis Digital was shaped profoundly by my experiences achieving an undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemical engineering at Rice University and obtaining a Master of Business Administration at Harvard University. So, it’s been especially painful to see higher education whipsawed by the ongoing fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colleges and universities are facing an unprecedented challenge to their viability. Many are adopting an online learning model, either fully or partially. The reality is that online learning was already becoming a more popular mode of education.

Don Scales, Investis Digital

Don Scales, Investis Digital

Online learning taking hold

It may very well turn out that traditional colleges and universities will adopt the model in some fashion permanently. To do so, they need to adopt a new mindset about online learning: it’s an attractive format, not a necessary alternative. But colleges need to amplify this message more so than they are doing now. How? I believe colleges and universities need to learn some lessons from educators that adapted the online model a while ago and are succeeding today with it. One of these lessons is levering the power of your students as brand ambassadors.

Students fearful of the online experience need to hear from other students about the reality. They need to know that an online education is the path to greater success. They need to know that you can enjoy a fulfilling college experience online, too. Many online educators are doing that right now.

Testimonials show what success looks like

Happy customers bring in new customers—and the education industry is no different. It’s especially important to feature testimonials in online education. Prospective students need to hear from other students to get assurance that online programs help people succeed.

One of my favorite examples is the University of Florida and its online program testimonial page. Not only does it do a great job in showcasing diversity but also in the variation of the online programs offered.

Video is a powerful tool and the testimonial of former student Mikeisha whose son was diagnosed with cancer is not only compelling but inspiring. Because of University of Florida’s health education and behavior online program, she was able to complete her education and set an example for her daughter who the video goes on to say wants to attend the school just like her mother. The storytelling humanizes the university and gives prospective students examples of what success looks like. To further supplement the video, the page also includes key statistics that a prospective student should know—like its U.S. News ranking, exclusive benefits when joining the program and financial aid. The site iterates that the online education degree received is no different from one attained on campus.

Schools that excel at offering testimonials do several things well. They:

  • Make testimonials easy to find on their websites.
  • Use video and photos to make their stories relatable.
  • Stress the impact of their programs.
  • Make it easy for prospective students to talk directly with a current student for a direct conversation.

For instance, Minerva Voices consists of interviews with students who discuss why they chose Minerva. The testimonials feel authentic because the students hit head-on potential objections a student might have. Khan Academy us a nonprofit with the mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone Khan Academy features powerful testimonials from all over the world – stories of people overcoming personal challenges and economic limitations. The testimonials also speak to Khan Academy’s global impact.

Social media elevates the learning experience

Social media gives educators a powerful way to bring to life what it feels like to receive an online education. When this is done through the eyes of students, social media makes the experience more authentic.

The University of Phoenix does so exceptionally. Its Instagram does a great job using visual stories to give insight into the lives of its community. The university uses filters and hashtags combined with photos of its students integrating the online experience with their everyday lives, such as a recent post that showed students studying at places ranging from the park to their pillow forts. Other Instagram posts help you understand more about students’ lifestyles—their families, their exercise routines, and many other aspects of their lives that provide a fuller picture.

A way forward

The only certainty we know is this: higher education is changing forever. Universities that adapt now will make that change work for them.

Don Scales, global chief executive officer of Investis Digital, has more than 30 years of digital experience. He previously led global operations at interactive agencies iCrossing and Agency.com. Investis Digital is publisher of The Connected Content Guide to Online Education, available for download here