Why audience engagement journeys matter to your digital strategy, and what you can do about it

By Posted in - Audience engagement journey & Content Strategy & Journey Planning & Strategy and Planning on September 15th, 2015 0 Comments

This month on the Pickle Jar blog we’re looking at audience engagement journeys and the role they play in content strategy planning. We’ve written in the past about omniplatforms and making the most of your channels, as well as the importance of audience research in knowing what your audience needs from you. We’ve also talked about why creating personas can make your audience research more meaningful in crafting your content strategy.

The next step is to look at the journey your audience will take, the different stages of that journey, and what that means for your digital content strategy.

What do we mean by audience engagement journeys?

An audience engagement journey describes the stages a prospective customer takes when making a buying decision. From getting your audience’s attention, holding their interest, prompting them to make a decision and taking action, the engagement journey is an integral part of digital content planning. This is especially true for universities, colleges and schools looking to engage with their audiences through social media, whether they are looking to recruit students or encourage alumni to get involved.

We believe the decision-making engagement journey can be broken down into eight stages, which we explain in the diagram below. In this case we’ve used the journey of students applying to a university or college, but these stages are applicable across the board.



Define your audience and understand where they are with their decision

We know that people use different digital and social media channels before, during and after their student journey (in fact, that “journey” is really just a continuous process from the student’s own point of view). The question is, how can education institutions plan their digital strategy to meet potential, current and former students at each stage of this journey?

The first step is to identify where in their journey your target audience is. For example, if you are a university team working in student recruitment, it’s clear you want to speak to those just setting out on their student journey, 17 and 18-year-olds starting to research their ideal courses and places to study. Alternatively, an alumni relations and fundraising officer focusing on a giving campaign will need to ask if you are reaching out to all alumni, or just those in a particular age group, region or industry.

Thinking through the journey in a more granular way helps you to be much more strategic with how to plan digital engagement throughout that lifecycle. Before, during and after isn’t enough. If we’re thinking about student recruitment, where in that journey are they? Do they even have aspirations to attend university or college one day? Do they know that your university or college exists? Do they know that you offer the course that they’re interested in? Have they already been to an open day? Have they already submitted an application? The more you break the journey down, the more sophisticated and – ultimately – impactful your approach to digital content creation, content marketing and social media engagement can become.

If this level of detail is overwhelming to think through for every stage, then work out where are your pain points as an organisation. Every organisation should know these already:

– Do you have a problem with low awareness of your institution?
– Do you have no problem filling an open day, but find that they just don’t convert into applicants?
– Do you have a giant database of alumni contacts, but you find that they just don’t engage with you?
– Do your alumni contacts engage a lot with you, but you really struggle converting them to donate to your fundraising campaign or give their time to mentor a student?

By identifying where you have the greatest pain points, you can hone your strategy further instead of focusing on the full decision making journey.

Find your audience

The next stage is to find out where your audience is active online – search, websites, apps and social media. Use audience research to see which channels they’re using. Are your prospective students keen SnapChatters, for example? Do your alumni connect on LinkedIn, or are they more likely to use Facebook to stay in touch?

Remember that the way your audience uses social media will change over their journey. The undergraduate Instagrammer could well have moved on to a different platform as they progress through their studies, or they may be reluctant to engage with you on Snapchat when they’re making those first tentative looks at your university, but this may change later on when they’ve shortlisted you as one of their favourites. It’s important to keep connecting with them at each stage of the journey, using an omniplatform approach to provide compelling content and solutions that holds their interest and keeps them engaged.

Put yourself in your audiences’ shoes (use audience research to do this) – what does a prospective, current or former student want to see from you online? What else is going on in their lives that could be detracting them from engaging with you, but could provide a great opportunity for you to recapture their attention with a compelling content strategy that’s more aligned to their needs and less to your own? If you had a problem or a question and wanted to get in touch, how would you do it? How would you want to stay connected with your school, college or university after graduation?

Keep up the conversation

It might be a cliché, but it’s still worth stating that social media is all about conversations. Your audience isn’t some homogenous mass, defined simply by their relationship to your institution. They are people looking to interact, connect and engage. You have to talk to them when, how and where they want.

By finding out who they are, where they are in their journey and how they prefer to get their content, you are on your way to an effective digital content strategy that will allow you to communicate effectively with your audiences. Get their attention early on in their journey, keep them interested throughout it, help them stay connected and give them a call to action (to volunteer, advocate or donate) and you can reap the rewards of effective journey planning.

Got a question about journey planning? Want to find out more about developing a content strategy? Get in touch with us to discuss your challenges and see if we can help you.

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