Pearson, the world’s largest learning company, wanted to change the way students perceived their brand.
The company offers technology, materials and services to help students reach their highest potential… but many college students just saw Pearson as a textbook vendor.
“We needed to build brand affinity,” says Lindsey Erlick, Senior Manager, Student Advocacy & Marketing at Pearson. “We wanted students to know that we are more than just textbooks and that we genuinely care about their future career success. Our top priority is to put students at the center of everything that we do.”
In February of 2016, the company launched an advocate marketing program (using Influitive’s AdvocateHub platform) to drive student advocacy, loyalty and engagement.
The program, called the Pearson Student Insiders, is an exclusive student community that gives members special opportunities, resources and perks for building their employability skills and engaging with Pearson. This helps Pearson build stronger relationships with students and collect valuable insights to inform their products and marketing.
Within a year of launching the program, Pearson:
Dramatically improved their brand sentiment among students in the program
Filled their blog with student-created content on a daily basis—three months in advance
Grew the community to over 3,100 college students who are now better prepared to find internships and employment after graduation
Collected 3,250+ pieces of student feedback to inform product and program development
Boosted content and social media engagement metrics. “We doubled our mentions and positive sentiment within a month of launching,” said Lindsey. “Our social media team was shocked and wanted to know what we were doing.”
Below are the steps Lindsey took to mobilize Pearson’s student advocates and put them at the center of everything Pearson does. (You can use them to uncover your brand’s advocates, too!) Watch her video, and read on for her tips.
1. Define your business needs
To make your advocate marketing program a success, you should first define your company’s greatest needs. “To be successful, you must measure on your goals. You can’t have goals if you don’t know your business needs,” says Lindsey.
To find yours, consult with other teams who may want to tap into advocates when selecting your success metrics.
Lindsey knew that the marketing team wanted to improve brand sentiment and uncover more student stories, while the product team needed more user feedback. So, she made the program’s top goals raising Pearson’s brand perception amongst college students, increasing content creation and getting more product feedback.
To do this, she set a goal to mobilize 1,000 student advocates by May 2016.
2. Identify your advocates
Successful advocate marketing programs are exclusive. Lindsey recommends that you don’t ask everyone to become an advocate right away.
To start, target your happiest users who have an expressed an interest in interacting with you. Then, create a special place for them to do it, such as an advocate community.
“About 800,000 college students use our products,” says Lindsey. “When we initially invited advocates to join the Pearson Student Insiders program, we narrowed it down to students who gave us a high Net Promoter Score, and had opted in to hear about our programs through web surveys.”
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Lindsey suggests getting to know your advocates before making assumptions about what they’ll like or be willing to do for you.
When new advocates joined the Pearson Student Insiders program, they were surveyed about their interests and which products they used.
Lindsey then created segments so she could target specific student groups with relevant content and requests. This was helpful when the product team wanted to hear from students in certain majors who used certain products.
Lindsey also hosted monthly video talks where students chatted about their challenges and interests. These talks allowed Pearson and students to exchange ideas and learn from each other.
“The video hangouts have been successful in helping us get to know students and find out what they’re passionate about,” says Lindsey.
4. Give your advocates something before you ask for anything
Before you can ask for a favor from your advocates, you need to give them something of value.
For example, advocates like to feel special. That’s why Lindsey made her advocates’ very first interaction with the program highly personal. “We created a welcome video that shows new advocates our personality, humanizes our brand and lets students know how important we think they are,” says Lindsey.
A still from the video advocates see when they enter the Pearson Student Insiders Program
Advocates also want things that make their lives easier and help them achieve their goals. That’s why Lindsey provided her advocates with professional development content, such as tips on building their resumes or networking, early on.
5. Build a stronger relationship by making your advocates feel heard
Before the Student Insiders program, Pearson’s product development team didn’t have a central system for collecting meaningful student feedback.
So, Lindsey asked students to take polls, join focus groups and serve as beta testers through the program. (This is where the information she collected from advocates earlier allowed her to create targeted feedback requests to certain majors, product users, etc.)
Within a year, Pearson received more than 3,250 student responses for feedback.
These insights have helped Pearson put students at the heart of every decision they make—and make students understand that Pearson values their opinions.
6. Nurture your relationship with smaller asks
Before asking for something big—such as an entire blog written by advocates—Lindsey first asked what topics interested the Pearson Student Insiders. Then, she asked them to pitch their own blog ideas.
This benefitted Lindsey in two ways. First, she could gauge which students could potentially become blog writers. Second, Pearson’s content would be more reflective of the diversity in today’s colleges because ideas were coming from real students.
She also targeted student bloggers based on things like major, school or interest. For example, students who said they enjoyed mentoring were directly asked to write blogs during “Mentoring Month”.
“Before launching the program, we got about 40 pitches per semester,” says Lindsey. “This past year, we’ve received almost 1,200 blog pitches from students across North America. The Insiders program has enabled us to reach out to more students and give them the opportunity to tell their story.”
7. Prep your advocates for success
While Pearson’s student advocates were eager to contribute to the blog, many didn’t feel confident doing so since they didn’t have blogging experience.
To overcome this, Lindsey held training sessions, where their top student bloggers and campus ambassadors gave new potential writers pointers.
Lindsey also hired a student editor to work with new writers to make sure their posts met Pearson’s brand guidelines.
“Training our bloggers is a lot of work, but it brings us huge rewards,” says Lindsey. “You can talk about your brand all day, but what you say doesn’t mean half as much as what someone else says.”
8. Position your requests as an opportunity, not a favor
Lindsey positions blogging for Pearson as an opportunity for students to build their online professional profile and improve their writing skills—two skills vital to getting a job after graduation.
“In the past, we struggled to publish one blog post every other week,” says Lindsey. “Now, thanks to our advocacy program, we publish new blog posts every week. And we have posts queued three months in advance!”
Pearson’s blog comments and social shares have also increased, as advocates both relate to the student-created content and want to support other Insiders. In the past, Pearson received 1-10 comments per month across all of their student blogs. Now, they get 10-20 comments per month.
Pearson also doubled their social engagement from advocate stories—generating 4,114 social shares over the past year. This has helped Pearson:
Increase post reach by 10%
Boost post engagement by 5%
Increase conversion rates and clicks on their blog posts by 5%
9. Measure advocacy’s “before” and “after” impact
Pearson videotaped students talking about the company before and after they participated in the Insiders Program. These videos showed a big improvement in their brand perception, and made it easier for Lindsey to highlight the program’s success internally.
Here’s some of the things students have said since joining the program:
“Before I joined the Pearson Student Insiders program, I thought that Pearson was this big company that churned out textbooks and MyMathLab and that they didn’t care about student success. Now that I’m a Pearson Student Insider, I’m completely convinced that they are dedicated to student success.”
-Liz Tabak, University of Central Oklahoma
The program helped Pearson get 30 video testimonials and 70 written testimonials from students.
10. Be a cheerleader for your advocates
When advocates help you out, it’s important to let them know they are appreciated. This way, they will continue to advocate in the future. “You want a reason for people to come back,” says Lindsey.
To make Pearson’s advocates feel valued, Lindsey gave them a shout out on social media or sent them a customized video whenever they helped out the brand or achieved success (like acing an exam).
Lindsey didn’t always have the time to speak one-on-one with every advocates. That’s why she created special badges and points that automatically rewarded advocates when they completed a task. They could redeem points for special perks, or gain clout on the community leaderboard.
Lindsey also switched up what she offered advocates so they’d stay engaged. “Freshening up the rewards or educational opportunities from month to month keeps people interested.”
Building a community of 3,100+ student advocates
Within a year of launching the Pearson Student Insiders program, Pearson engaged more than 3,100 college advocates. Lindsey also achieved her goal of improving Pearson’s brand perception.
“Our Insiders no longer see us as a big, faceless company,” says Lindsey. “Instead, they see us as friends who can help them succeed in their careers.”
Lindsey wants to help more students succeed. With more than 19 million college students in the United States, she sees endless possibilities for growth.
“Before, we had no way to give students access or show that we wanted their input,” says Lindsey. “Now, we can easily tap into our ever-growing list of advocates.”
The Pearson Student Insiders is an online advocate program where students share their voice to shape the future of educational technology. Join a network of 3,100+ college students, and gain access to exclusive career development skills here.
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