By all measures, nurses are in high demand. Nursing jobs will grow by 12% over the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — far exceeding the 5% average growth rate for all occupations. The COVID-19 pandemic will only accelerate this trend as hospitals prepare for an entirely new future in healthcare.
Just as employers struggle to fill their ranks, marketers of advanced degree programs for nurses face a competitive market for students. The marketing and advertising landscape has also become more complex, as young professionals consult a growing variety of online and personal resources. Engaging them requires a multichannel, value-driven marketing approach.
Appealing to a New Generation of Nursing Professionals
Today’s nurses are highly age diverse, where younger nurses bring their own unique habits, expectations, and career objectives to the profession. Younger nurses consume content differently than their older counterparts; they are more likely to be skeptical about marketing that doesn’t engage them honestly and directly.
Smart marketers perceive this as an opportunity, where the right digital marketing techniques can differentiate their advanced degree programs from competitors. Consider the following six marketing techniques when engaging new candidates for your advanced degree programs — featuring 2020 survey data from more than 1,000 nurses in the field.
1. Content Marketing
Content marketing is characterized by the creation and distribution of value-added content, or content that has inherent value to its audience. This differs from traditional advertising in that the content itself is an asset, not simply an enticement to take action or seek additional information.
Content comes in many forms, but it is most often associated with digital assets, such as:
- written content, such as blog posts, journal articles, or downloadable white papers and eBooks
- audio content, such as podcasts and webinars
- video content, such as webcasts, YouTube videos, or livestreamed events
A 2020 survey of more than 1,000 practicing nurses found that, among nurses seeking advanced degree programs, 31% cite webinars, webcasts, and podcasts as preferred learning sources, for example.
Unlike advertising, content marketing must focus on the delivery of immediate value to your audience. Nurses seeking advanced degrees, for example, have unique challenges they hope your content can help them solve.
In our 2020 survey, we identified several of these challenges among nurses seeking advanced degrees. Some of the biggest challenges include:
- Balancing program quality with overall costs — the two most common factors nurses consider
- Finding programs that align with their goals, such as improving care (40%) or career advancement (39%)
- Achieving flexibility through either online, traditional, or blended learning programs
- Finding reasonable education financing options
Your content can help them solve these problems, guide them towards solutions, and position your brand in a genuine and favorable light. Content marketing is therefore a more “authentic” form of engagement, with proven results in terms of conversions.
2. Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing has become highly effective for all types of marketers — 91% of U.S. companies had a social media marketing program in 2019. This most often includes a free company page in the case of Facebook or LinkedIn, and regular social posts on the part of your employees.
But social media marketing also includes the use of paid social advertising, which can push your social content or custom ad content directly to target audiences. Users exchange personal and behavioral data for use of these platforms, which makes this targeted approach possible.
In general, social media marketing is flexible and affordable for marketers. But while the barriers to adoption are low, the relevance of your activity is all the more important. Users approach social media to build real relationships, and they approach brands on social media with those same intentions.
Fortunately, users are more likely to recommend content to friends and professional contacts. This is good news because nurses trust their colleagues: Word of mouth is the most widely preferred learning resource among nurses seeking higher education programs, our research finds. Most platforms provide advance analytics that report on this type of sharing, content engagement, and other activities as well.
Content and social media marketing overlap in that you must post frequent content to social media channels to look active and remain relevant to nurses. However, unlike content marketing, social media marketing requires greater participation on the part of your employees. Expectations for immediate responses are higher among social media users — your teams must be equipped to respond to questions and guide actions on short notice.
3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your website so that it attracts more unpaid visitors from search engines. Since SEO is mostly confined to your own website, it’s affordable and approachable to marketers. But successful SEO requires time, expertise, and ongoing improvements as your website evolves.
There are countless techniques associated with SEO that a trained expert can implement. But broadly speaking, an effective SEO strategy includes three basic components:
- Building a technically proficient website that is easily “crawled” by search engines
- Ensuring on-page SEO fundamentals are in place and optimized for the right keywords
- Establishing domain authority and links to your pages using content marketing tactics
The last component is perhaps the most difficult because it involves external sites. But it is among the most important when engaging nurses. Nurses seeking advanced degrees often turn to nursing specialty journals (30%) and journal articles in general (24%) as preferred resources when looking for information on advanced degrees. The more third-party websites of this kind that link to your web content, the more likely nurses will find you online.
4. Email Marketing
Email marketing remains among the most successful form of digital marketing to date. That’s because email marketing requires an initial action on the part of your target audience — an exchange of their email address in good faith for something of value. Companies of all types often use downloadable content to drive engagement and capture emails for this purpose.
Nurses are especially responsive to direct email from universities: 25% of nurses seeking advanced degrees claim it is among their preferred learning resources for higher education, our study finds.
But while email marketing remains successful in marketing terms, its efficacy is fading because of volume. Audiences of all types simply receive too many emails, many of which are malicious. As a program director, it’s critical that you nurture your relationships with key best practices in mind:
- Personalize emails for recipients in a way that forges a one-on-one relationship
- Avoid salesy language
- Ensure your email content is user-friendly, no matter the user’s device
- Be concise, to the point, and quick to drive value for recipients
- Drive users to your site or other content with a prominent call to action
Leverage every insight you have about your audience before creating email content. Personalizing emails effectively is what distinguishes you from unwanted solicitors in nurses’ inboxes.
5. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a paid-advertising method of ensuring certain search criteria direct browsers to your website. Paid Search ensures links and descriptions of your content appear at the top of browsers’ search results when relevant search terms are entered. SEM also includes search engine advertising, where more robust content appears separate from search results when users enter relevant search terms.
Nearly half of nurses seeking advanced degrees (48%) consider university websites a preferred learning resource when seeking advanced degree programs, according to our study. Marketers who ensure their websites appear at the top of search results — through SEM, SEO, or some combination of the two techniques — are more likely to connect this audience to their website content during search.
SEM is similar to social media marketing in that is approachable and affordable for most marketers. Google and other providers support pay-per-click (PPC) options that help marketers manage their budgets while maximizing results. The question for most marketers is not whether they should invest in SEM at all but, rather, how much.
6. Third-Party Display Advertising
Third-party display advertising can be expensive, but it is an effective way to ensure your advertisements appear alongside third-party content your audience finds desirable. For nurses, this may include specialty journals and other articles they seek out as professional resources.
Nurses seeking advanced degrees are generally responsive to advertising. And when they respond, they will most likely take action through digital channels. The vast majority of nurses (92%) who take action after seeing a higher-education advertisement will do so by visiting the school’s website. Nearly one-third (31%) who take action after seeing a higher-education advertisement will click on the ad or follow a link for more information, and 12% of nurses who take action will even fill out a form for additional follow up.
Traditional advertising involved taking out an ad in a relevant magazine our journal. Display advertising is similar, but on a much broader scale. Advertisers often connect to relevant publications through programmatic advertising — an automated method for buying ad space online. Advertisers connect to a provider with dozens or even thousands of partnerships with publications and optimize the distribution and display of their ads across those channels.
Take Your Next Step
Next-generation nurses are ambitious, with broad intent to advance their education, their career prospects, and the quality of care they provide. But connecting with them successfully means providing content and value on their terms. Take your next strategic step as you engage these digital natives.