7 Surefire Ways to Boost Higher Ed Event Attendance

by Belfort Group | Higher Education , Thought Leadership
September 10, 2019


When marketing events and driving signups, it’s imperative to ask yourself, “Would I attend this event?” Be honest, would you?

If the event sounds routine and doesn’t have a “draw,” guess what, you’re probably not the only one thinking, is this event worth attending?

Sometimes event marketing is easy. If you’re giving away $1 million or hosting the celebrity du jour, then you’re almost guaranteed a packed house. But if you’re on a shoestring budget and there’s nothing special to lure people to sign up, things can get challenging.

Luckily there are steps you can take to maximize your chances of increasing headcount:

Know Your Audience

Rule number one, know your target audience. How old are they? What’s their income level? In what industry do they work? Are they offer driven? Will they respond to a discount code? It’s always good to develop audience personas so you and your team can develop marketing that attracts the right people to sign up.

Where Does Your Audience Live and Play?

If you need to attract hundreds of young people from the iGeneration, stay away from Facebook. Are you tasked with recruiting older professionals? Instagram and Snapchat are probably not the right channels. Take time to craft compelling copy and post it on the right platform to secure eyeballs and conversions. Whether you deploy a street team to generate buzz, implement an email lead nurturing flow, or engage in a text messaging campaign, remember it’s important to create as many touch-points as possible to get prospects to convert.

Consider Hashtags & Tagging

To increase attendees organically on social media, consider using hashtags. Whether you create a hashtag to include in social copy, or piggyback on existing hashtags that are relevant to your audience, clever is good, but memorable is better. If your event is being held as part of a conference, use the official conference hashtag to drive signups. While hashtags work on Instagram and Twitter, there not as effective on Facebook. Knowing what platform performs best for your audiences will enable you to drive traffic, engagement and fill the room.

Paid Advertising

Organic posts are necessary, but paid digital advertising is advisable. Creating a paid post or advertisement on social media ensures you’ll reach more people, but it also ensures you’ll reach the right people. By creating “personas”—identifying the types of people who are the perfect attendees for your event—you can target these people on social media. Provide clear calls to action so people know where to click to register or sign up. Consider investing in paid or sponsored influencer campaigns to supplement digital advertising. Influencers not only bring credibility; they also provide access to their followers who may be prospects for your event.

If you’re running recruitment events all over the globe, using Paid Facebook can be an effective way to drive traffic to events. Armed with “personas,” you can identify potential students to recruit that have a high probability of attending your enrollment event. Our client, MIT Sloan School of Management, runs recruitment events around the globe in places like Israel, India, South Korea and Argentina and tasked BG with driving applicants to attend. While email is the main driver of registrations for their events, using a blend of paid social and social media, as well as interesting photos and videos, we’ve been able to get an average of 14 additional registrations per event.

Media Outreach

If paid media isn’t cutting it, you can always try the earned route. Securing media coverage is tough so you’ll need a compelling news hook to convince journalists to attend the event (unless you have a national speaker, this is difficult to accomplish). But if that’s not possible, a news piece in a prominent outlet prior to the event is a great way to generate signups. Don’t forget calendar listings in area newspaper and on local websites—especially if the event is being sponsored by a non-profit organization.

Use Visuals

While pictures are supposedly worth a thousand words, videos are worth more. It’s imperative to use and create visually compelling assets because that’s what people click on. Their eyes may glaze over your well-written copy, but an eye-popping picture or an attention-grabbing video will catch their attention and drive them to your website or a landing page to sign up.

Focus on Quality Storytelling

Yes, the goal is event attendance. But instead of just focusing on the event topic to generate signups, identify stories about the people who are involved with the event.  Maybe it’s one of the keynote speakers or panelists. Perhaps it’s an event organizer who overcame significant obstacles. We’ve learned that people are much more likely to respond to content that’s about someone instead of something.

Use the best story possible to capture attention. Sometimes soft selling the event will help achieve the desired enrollment results.

Belfort Group uses earned and paid traditional and social media to increase enrollment for colleges like MIT Sloan School of Management, Northeastern University, Bentley University, Landmark College and others. Find out more about our higher education marketing expertise.

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