The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 1 year ago

The Authenticity of Peer-to-Peer: Influencer Marketing in Higher Ed


Prospective students aren’t as responsive to websites, emails, and mailers as they used to be.

These days, younger generations are looking more towards peer-to-peer input when making decisions about their college journey.

That’s one reason why Biola University started tapping into the power of influencer marketing. In this episode, Lee Wilhite, Vice President at Biola University, discusses how the institution approaches influencer marketing and the platforms they use to do so.

Join us as we discuss:

- Biola’s journey into influencer marketing

- How Biola uses ZeeMee to support their students

- The importance of parent CommFlows

Mentioned during the podcast: 

- Amazing Things at Biola with President Barry Corey and Zach King (‘12)

- Episode 32 - Diego Fanara from Unibuddy

- Reach out to Lee:

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Higher Ed Marketer in your favorite podcast player.

... whole communities out there. That's a great opportunity to engage them and really utilize what they've built for your benefit. You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don't have relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcomes the high end marketer podcast, where, each week Mark Haylor and I interview Higher Ed marketers that we like and admire. Today is no exception. We are interviewing Lee will hight of Bio University about their success in influencer marketing within Higher Ed. Yeah, Troy, this was a great conversation and I think that the whole idea of influencer marketing, whether you're talking about social media, whether you're talking about leveraging some of your alumni, whether you're talking about, you know, peer to peer type of communications, I think that it's a really important aspect of the Higher Ed marketers toolbox that needs to be leveraged. Sometimes we forget about it. Sometimes we're so focused on you know, view books and travel pieces and website and social media. All those are important, but then sometimes I think we miss some of them, more specialty tools that can really make a big difference. Your campus visits and you know the way that the campus is and and this idea of influencer marketing and lead as a great job in his role as as vice president enrollment and marketing and communications at Biola. He he really has put together a plan and he comes out of a marketing background outside of higher ad which I think sometimes, you know, people go back and forth. Is that? Is that a benefit? Is it is it a challenge to learn everything about hired from my background outside of High Ed? I kind of think it's an asset and when you can bring in a lot of you know, ideas from outside of High Ed, sometimes you can do things a little bit differently and I think that's being proved out at Biola. So really looking forward to sharing this conversation with everyone. I think lead as a great job of kind of articulating all that thank you, Bart. Here's Lee will hide. It is our pleasure to welcome Lee will hide to the hired marketer podcast. Lee, thank you so much for green to have a wonderful conversation today. It's great to be with you today. Troy. Thank you. And just between me, you and Bart and a few hundred of our faithful listeners, if you could give us a little taste of who you are and your role at Biola? Yeah, thank you. I serve as vice president of enrollment marketing and communications at Biola. I've been there almost seven years now. When I joined university I was asked to head up our communications and marketing team and about three and a half years into that journey, are enrollment management vice president retired and our president decided to combine both the enrollment management and the communication marketing functions together, and so I'm now three plus years into that role of leading the team of enrollment marketing communications. Didn't come out of higher edge, Troy. I worked in a marketing agency for about fourteen years before I came into Higher Ed, so I had to do quite a bit of learning and listening and and seeing where to make the impact. But that I wanted to make but it's been a great experience so far. I have a great team here and really benefit from your from your podcast, and look forward to our time today great. Thankfully. It's an honor to have you here. I know we've met a few times and and it's always good to have have someone on the on the podcast that I'm familiar with, the school I remember. I want to talk a little bit about influencer marketing today and and kind of your journey as...

...biole university and of that. I remember just a couple you know, references to that. I had a CCCU conference there was a team from bio that talked about, you know, leveraging influencer marketing in Instagram and I thought that was a very good presentation. And then I remember doing some work with knack cap back in the early teens, two thousand and thirteen probably, and they were working on their on their their their book that they put out every year for for Christian and high schools and it just represents all the Christian colleges and universities and I remember one of the one of the elements within that book and I was working on the website for for Chant Thompson of the time and and it had a picture of Zach King and had a testimonial of him from from his experience at Biola. And I remember my teenage kids were walking through the room when I was working on that project and I was like they were like how do you know who that is, Dad, and it's like it's Zach King, it says here on there. Like well, how do you know him? Like well, I don't know him, he's a student. And no he's not. He's this guy on in and on the Internet who does these cool magic tricks. And so I got educated by my kids on WHO ZA king was. But obviously he's a very successful Internet marketer. Everybody can look him up if they're not familiar with who he is. But he is a Viola Grad and I was really impressed when I saw Biola lean into that and have him do a video for enrollment marketing and things like that. And and certainly was a fun video with Dr Corey. And so tell me a little bit about this. I mean not only you know, have I seen you guys leaking into the influencer marketing? You know, for some reason, by all it seems to be in the right places at the right time. I saw, you know, a viral video of Justin Bieber and, you know, serenading Dr Corey at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and so it seems like there's a lot of that around Biola and and not all of that is prescribed. But just tell me a little bit about how you guys have kind of leaned into some of that. Yeah, Zach King has been a fan favorite for us here at bioll. He's a great alum. He he's done some wonderful videos and from ootional things for us and God's really blessed the work that he's done. It's exciting to see the you know, the impact he's making today and he's been a great, great voice, a great endorser of bill over the years. And Yeah, you mentioned Dr Corey and in Justin Bieber. Maybe it's our proximity Bart we're located, course, here in southern California. We're not far from from Hollywood and you know, I can tell you that that moment wasn't scripted, that that was something just kind of you know, happened in the moment. But but it was a great, great moment indeed. So yeah, we you know, we have learned over the years and and this probably isn't new for a lot of your listeners, but these upcoming generations and how they look at corporate brands, university brand, some of these institutional kind of messaging and thing that's out there. You know, these are things that, you know, traditionally we've been we've been trying to promote those messages, we've been trying to to really carry the overall kind of institutional message across. And more and more students, especially in these young, younger generations, are looking for more peer input. There looking for maybe it's our maybe it's our shopping habits. You know, we go to Amazon and we're looking those customer reviews. We're trying to see more of a first person kind of assessment of how people experience a product or service or those kinds of things. And and we just saw an opportunity years ago of the power of a student to student communication stream. And so when you look at someone like Zach, whoever went, you know can relate to and then you look at some of our student udents enrolled at Biola today, you know it's it's that that peer to peer, you know, reflection, firsthand account of their experience at Biola the trust level is higher. Somehow it feels to like cut through some of the corporate speak, or university speak, if you will, and it really does, you know, connect people more to peer level and I think it's a more of a trusted more of a trusted relationship, if you will. So we have, yeah, we've been about that for a number of years. In two thousand and seventeen, we started at what we call our student influence or program here, where we literally went out and scoured some...

...of the social media platforms and following of some of our enrolled students here at Biolas many of them have, you know, thousands and thousands of followers. For different reasons. They've kind of built their own communities, if you will, and we thought, hey, wouldn't this be a great opportunity to leverage and utilize some of these students that have a passion for Biola, but also have a passion for some of the varied things that they're about as well. So some number of years ago we came up with this idea and so we we put some criteria to the table. We wanted to have some, you know, students that had at least a few thousand followers that they had, you know, kind of grown up. That was important was we wanted to make sure they had a positive reputation, if you will, that aligned closely with our value system. Of course we want that missional alignment as much as possible. That's that's important, especially if they're advocating on your behalf as a student. We were. We were looking for students that were advocating for diversity and inclusion and wanting to make sure that they had a broad reach in terms of their their influence. And then, of course, they were involved, you know, in the Bible of culture and all that we were bringing and so we looked at some of those criteria points. We found some student influencers that fit that bill. We reached out to him and talk to them about this idea and they loved it. They loved it, these students, you know, they were given the opportunity to step into kind of a relationship with bioll of that way, to help us with some of our promotion and advertising, if you will, marketing and so forth, and but we allowed him to do it within the context of what they had built within their own followers, and I think that was that was the key, you know, to come in and say, well, we've got all of these points as a university we want you to make. You know, we gave them some guidelines, some some kind of a framework there, but we really gave them the latitude to kind of express their firsthand, you know, account of their bile experience, based on based on you know, how they typically built their followership for their for their you know, respective platform. So it's been a great it's been a great under undertaking for us. Well, I love that because it kind of touches on a number of things that I'm seeing kind of the the trends in Higher Ed Marketing. You know, the idea of authenticity, I mean whether you want to call that a trend or not, you kind of referenced it earlier in the conversation. Was the idea that we've been so used to being corporate speak and maybe kind of the official line. I mean even to the degree of, you know, when we do a video, we need to make sure it's polished and broadcast quality and all those types of things. Well, you know the community, you know, community actions and marketings really change over the last several years and I think the pandemic kind of accentuated and actually you know, increased the authenticity where. You know, sometimes now, I think generation z especially, become suspect if things are too polished, if they're too perfect and if it's too right. And so I think that, you know, allowing your student ambassadors, in your student influencers to have some leeway, to have the ability to be authentic, to be personal, to be able to connect with those other students in a way. I mean, just look at the explosion of Tick Tock. I mean the idea of of that platform is really all about authenticity, real you know, it's it's a lot of it is. Is just kind of on the spur of the moment type of thing, and so I think that that really really hits well with that and so try. I know you had a couple questions about about some other things that by all was using with that. Yes, I was curious about their use of the platform that enables the student or peer to peer connection in communication. If you could kind of first let us know how you were introduced to the platform, how you utilize it and the thought process that went into using Zemi? Yeah, thank you, Troy. Yeah, zeenis A it's a social APP that we discovered a couple of years ago we launched this for our student community. It specifically oriented towards perspective students that are on this college search journey and they're really trying to understand what a college is all about. You know, you can read the website, you can read the printed material, you can get kind of, you know, data points...

...from different family members and friends and people like that in the line of attended the school, but there's nothing that's that. You know, the replaces that idea of stepping in and stepping in a conversation into community with others that are that are living that experience. And so so we identify this platform, Zee me, launched it two years ago, really as a place for us to to engage prospective students in and relevant topics. We're going to campus life and student wellness and student resourcing, and students were introducing themselves and say hey, mom, I'm from the bay areas anyone else applying to Biola from the area where you from? All of a sudden connections are being formed. You know, there's community being built and and then, you know, we interject in that and we do some promotion of some some events or some things coming up, like that or some topical kinds of things will introduce and in address or respond to some of the chatter that's out there. It's been a great platform for us is to engage these prospective students in hopes that as they discern that college search journey, they're going to have a better understanding what Biola is all about and and then as they come to visit campus and so forth, they're going to have a better better picture of what an enrolled student life you would be a Biola. So so it's been a great it's been a great undertaking for us. We're just a couple of years in, but we've got thousands of students that are in this in this space, and you know, it's you go into these things thinking, well, we'll use it this way, but you know, unbeknownst to us, you know, we're learning even more students or finding roommates through this platform. They're figuring out like, you know, which hall, which dorm, should I try to get into? You know, all those other kinds of things. What's what's that campus food really like a Biola? You know some of those things. So you know, it's truth and advertising. It's the lived experience. You know, through the student life comes through those, those kind of platforms. But it's been a it's been a great, great APP for us. That's great and it reminds me of, I think in the early two S I was working with a couple of schools and that was when facebook was just coming out. I mean it was it was kind of the all the rage for what would be the tick tock crowd. Today, now that grandma and and mom and dad are on facebook, it's not as popular for the younger Gen z but you know, early on I remember working with some schools and when we had this idea of hey, let's set up just a class of two thousand and twelve, you know, facebook group. You know, let's see if anybody would be interested as a freshman, as an incoming student. Same thing it was happening there. It's like, you know, boy, they build these relationships, they're starting to, you know, build roommates and get get these things going and and you know, obviously social media platforms like facebook and then everything kind of shifts and see it's harder to kind of keep your finger on that pulse, whereas using an APP like Zemi, I think, is kind of that's the purpose the students understand that. That's why they go to that APP and it's a way that they can then better engage with with the school. So I think that's really great. We we had another peer to peer APP person on a couple weeks ago, Diego from you know, Buddy, and you know it's the same thing. If some we wants to learn more about those APPs, you know we can listen to that episode. Might see if we can get somebody from Zemi on sometime as well. But I think that's a really good way because, again, it goes back to what we talked about earlier, the authenticity, the realness. I'm not having to talk to the official channels of the school. I'm actually able to talk to other people, other students, and kind of get their experiences. So I think that's a it's a really great way to go. Tell me, has it really kind of how has the pandemic impacted all this social influencers and even like the Zemi? Have you seen an increased or decrease based on the pandemic? Yeah, it's a great it's a great question. Bar Tonight here in Los Angeles County, which is where we're based out of, we had even some of the more stricter even, you know, guidelines for us here. You know there's there's eight hundred thousand college kids and La County Alm are just county in the state of our United States, and so you know, we had some really challenging times. We weren't an open campus last year. We were fully remote, and when you look at that remote status, that's where that's where platforms like Zeeni become so important, because we're fostering community student student peer to peer.

We're injecting we're giving some helpful insights and tips and Instruction and things like that along the way, but I mean it's creating this place that students can can continue to hang out, they can ask honest questions, they can get some real firsthand accounts and experiences from people. So really critical we had, you know, like many maybe your listeners, you know, you had to reimagine so much this last year in terms of how to how to recruit students and admit students and all of that, but even the student lived experience on campus was so different, you know. And so here we are trying to utilize platforms like this. We're thankful that that we introduced it when we did and we had a good year and a half under our belt before the pandemic hit, because it really helped us kind of whether that whether that challenging season that we're not out of yet. So that's exactly right. It's exactly right. So well, another community that I think is important. I mean we talk about peer to Peeris being so important and influencers. Well, number one influencer by far and all the research that you read his mom and so we talked about parents. Tell me a little bit about what bile is doing as far as parent con flows, because I mean, you don't necessarily have a Zemi, but you've got to still also do hey, what do other parents think? How our other parents, you know, engaging? So tell me about that. Yeah, thanks for asking that part. You know, one of the things we know from this the from the younger generations. So they're not they're not actually looking for email. You know, we can send a lot of communication out that way in behalf and the university and they're not getting it. I've got all three of our kids a bile of this year and you know, I have a chance to kind of Heye, you get that email from the school? No, no, I didn't look at well, it's there, you'll pull it up. Kind of a thing. And so, you know, guilty as charge. Even even my own kids don't look at the email, you know, like they should. And so you know, it drives the more text platforms and drives the social platforms. Were talking about other ways to get the communication out. But to your point part we're just seeing more and more the importance of engaging mom and dad in the communication of with these students, so so in it. In the case for you, here in Biola, we've got a separate parent communication track that that runs right along parallel to the lot of the student student communication that we're getting out to to our perspective, students, and is interesting. I was just it was just a couple of weeks ago we gathered with a missions counselors here in southern California and other Christian universities that are here and we have a number here in the South Southern California area. We're just checking in, as we do periodically with them. How are you doing? How are your schools doing? What are your numbers looking like? What are fall applications looking like? What are you hearing from from your high schools that you're, you know, working with and there were some really good insights that came out of this and in a lot of it ties to the pandemic that we were just talking about. You know, these high school seniors this year have been through a couple of really challenging years at high school. They've been in a remote learning environment many of them they have not had the kind of facetime with high school guidance counselors that they needed. We're discovering that a lot of these high school seniors this fall are not adequately prepared. They're not they're overwhelmed. It this idea that now I've got to apply for schools. I'm not quite sure how to really do this. They haven't really been maybe guided through that that high school you know consideration journey, if you will. You know, on at their high schools. It's all been it's been remote for so much. So you'll look at that. You look at things like universities implementing a test optional, you know, approach here across really across us the country. That's that's confusing for some of these students. It's like what should I should I get the test anyway? Is going to increase my chances? Is it not? You know how how really you know how much? Are they really factory that in or not? Those are questions. And then, of course, when you just think of the uncertainty that all of our families have really been through the last year to have with job loss and with health concerns and and you know just the continual changes there, it just feels like a very uncertain time for a lot of high school seniors right now. So the point I'm driving towards is that even more important, even more important that you're engaging mom, you're engaging... in this college application process. We're we're finding ourselves doing many more educational kind of conversations around, you know, filling out the Fastva or what is college looked like, especially for Firstgen families. It don't have a history of this. So so there's a lot of education we're doing. We have a we have a high school class. It's that's the right now. I don't think is maybe has the kind of readiness or even equipping or feeling a sense of ability to kind of enter into that college application journey. There's we're seeing a lot of lags. A lot of schools here in socal at least. are seeing a lot of lags and applications as fall. This pandemic is still, you know, the tail of this thing continues on, and so all the more important that we engage, you know, parents in this journey. That's great. That's really, really good, Troy Lee. As we close the episode, would like to know if there is an additional idea or thought that you could share that would either be implemented immediately by a peer or something that you've come across that you feel worthy to share. Yeah, it's a great question. You know, I was I was thinking back to three words of advice I got years ago from a from a mentor of mine, and it was this build on success, build on success, and this idea that start, start with something. Start Small, start with maybe one student influencer that that you can identify within your student body. Talk with them about the idea of influencing, you know, their communities with that. Get them started on that. Build upon that. You know, we started with just, you know, three and a year and we've grown it to to five and seven a semester now, where we've got students that are taking that that kind of role with us, and so I would just say start small, build on success. That will drive momentum, that will win a fan base. That will earn you more budget, that will earn you, you know, greater you know, appreciation and trust for what you're implementing there and and so I would I would encourage a listeners today. If you're not doing it, think about the importance of peer to peer communication in a more significant way. And as these social media platforms are developing today and students are building whole fan bases, whole communities out there, that's a great opportunity to engage them and really utilize what they built for your benefit. Shut Bill on success wonderfully and thank you so much for bringing your wisdom, your authenticity and also your energy, which I can feel and I can't wait for the listeners to experience this episode. If someone would like to reach out to you and contact you for any reason, what would be the best way for them to do so? Yeah, they can always reach eat by email. Let's Lee got will hike. That's L E got W I l Hie at Biola, the IOLA DOT Edu. Lee Dot will hide at Biola Dot Edu. We appreciate you, lie thank you. Thank you, troy. Appreciate you and Bart as well, and it's been great being with you today. Thanks for the good work you're doing. Our pleasure. Bart, any final words from you today? Yeah, I just wanted to kind of really appreciate Lee's final word there with build on success. I think he really pointed out some really good things. And again, so many times we talk about these big concepts. I'm you know, somebody probably did a search or you clicked on the title of this episode. Had something to do with social influencers and and you needed to learn more about it, and I think that lea did a great job of kind of laying that out and how biola is doing that. And you might be a smaller school than Biola, you might be a bigger school than Biolah, but you might be figured trying to figure out how can I do this? And I really like to Lee's last comment. They're built on success. Try only just one maybe, you know, just try to figure out how to do that. You know, take a look at you know, if you can't afford Zemi or you can't afford uniboddy or something like that, figure out... you can at least create a student ambassador team. You've already got some students that might be giving tours. Maybe the part of that is that there offer their text their cell phone to students to be able to text them with any questions. figure out what would fit for you with these concepts and I think that might be a good way to start and as least at it. When you build on success and you you know, maybe you gain a few more students next year because of that, or or fifteen or twenty. Well, your budge is going to change a little bit. Maybe you can do other things as well. So I think those are just a few thoughts that I have, Troy. Thank you, Bart everyone. That winds up another episode. The hired market of podcast is sponsored by Taylor solutions and education marketing and branding agency and by thing patented, a Marketing Execution Company specializing in printing, mailing and other digital marketing assets. On behalf of my cohost, barred Taylor, I'm Troye singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple podcasts. We'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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