UPCEA Marketing Conference Emphasizes Role of Social Media

The annual Marketing Seminar, sponsored by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), has provided a forum for updates on the latest developments in marketing for professionals in continuing higher education for twenty years. Taking place this year in Las Vegas, Nevada, November 16-18, the 2011 seminar attracted marketing professionals and administrators from higher education institutions across the nation.

OU Outreach Marketing and Communication Interim Director Jerry Jerman attended the seminar. Also attending from Outreach were Marketing/PR Specialist Gina Montoya; University Student Programs Specialist Jeff Roby; Marketing/PR Specialist Melissa Caperton; and IT Support Technician Laura Stone. They attended informational presentations, collecting information that will facilitate continuing improvements in marketing to lifelong learners.

“This year’s seminar was much different than the last time I attended,” Jerman said. “Previously, the emphasis was on print and a limited amount of online promotion. The focus of this conference was almost entirely on social media and online marketing.”

Featuring sessions that showed conference attendees ways to improve aspects of their online marketing strategy, including presentations on the analytics of website evaluation, client management systems and customer relations management, the focus on online marketing speaks to the increasing role of social media as an integral part of reaching out to and connecting with current and prospective students as well as the broader community.

“Online marketing is becoming so important because it allows institutions to track what is and is not working in their outreach strategy,” Roby said. “Plus, online marketing reaches a vast amount of people nationwide and internationally.”

“We recognize that our social media presence -- writing blogs, creating events on Facebook, posting those 140-character messages on Twitter -- is essential today,” Jerman said. “Many of the people who learn about our programs do so on their iPhones, on their iPads, and on our websites. In fact, online is where 90 percent of that information-gathering now occurs. If we aren’t present on it in a big way, we’re neglecting a huge tool with which to educate people about our programs.”

Jerman added that part of the recognition of the increased importance of social media in online marketing is a heavy emphasis on the constant evaluation of the effectiveness of an online marketing strategy. Critical to that mission is being knowledgeable about new techniques in how to measure a strategy to ensure that it is implemented and working effectively.

“JMH, one of the marketing vendors that partner with the College of Liberal Studies within Outreach, delivered a session on conversion optimization,” Jerman said. “That is, improving your website so that you are turning prospective students into current students. The strategies they talked about – the architecture of a landing page, the simplicity of the form that is used and word choice – were very helpful. Another helpful session addressed maximizing the efficiency of pay-per-click usage in online marketing.”

In addition to the formal informational workshops, what contributed to the usefulness of the seminar as venue for learning about developments in online marketing was its dual role as a networking opportunity; as a forum allowing marketing professionals from disparate institutions to meet and communicate their own experiences with social media as a way to maximize communication between their organizations and their audiences.

“In marketing [OU Outreach], we often run into roadblocks in implementation. We go to these conferences and see people from many different institutions experiencing the same problems, who sometimes solve them with very limited resources compared to ours,” Montoya said. “It’s important that we are able to find encouragement from these other programs. I can talk to them and get more details about how they’ve implemented something new in their marketing strategy, or they can help us solve an issue that we’ve encountered. Overall, that exchange benefits Outreach.”

“I am never disappointed with the content attached to the UPCEA Marketing Conference,” Roby said. “If continuing education entities are looking for innovative ways to market their programs, this conference definitely delivers.”

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Michael Carter

Michael Carter contributed to college marketing efforts while working as a student writer.