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How to Plan Successful Engagement Campaigns

7 min read

Many higher ed professionals run student engagement campaigns, but most are cutting corners on a very important part - the planning bit. 

Whether you're communicating with prospective students, current students, parents, or alumni, you need to have a strategy in place. Let's walk through the steps to executing a successful higher ed engagement campaign. 

🎙️ Watch the For Your Institution episode on Planning Successful Engagement Campaigns with Greg Bauch, Jessica Stonish and Lexi Croisdale.

First, let's touch on why it's so important to plan.

Why is campaign planning so important? 

  1. Having a clear, formalized campaign plan ensures you know what needs to be done and why, with goals and metrics that help measure your success. It gives you the foresight to see the best results from your efforts.
  2. It helps coordinate your efforts across channels and departments. You see the most results when pushing a consistent message across the most effective channels, since your audience is already engaging with you across email, social media, texting, and more. When multiple departments are pushing out communications across multiple channels, your message can get muddled or overwhelm your audience with too much at once.
  3. A plan gives you the framework to evaluate your success, defining data points to compare, and outlining what success looks like for your campaign.

Whether you’re looking to reach students, parents, or alumni, planning is a critical step in your engagement strategy. Measurable goals should be at the heart of every decision you make, from identifying your audience, choosing your channels, and coming up with creative.

Let’s dig into how you can plan the most successful engagement campaigns in higher education. Use this free template as you read through! 


Stage 1: Set Your Goals & Strategy

Clearly Identify Your Goals

What goals are you working towards with your campaign? Try to tie them to your departmental and high-level institutional goals. The scale and scope of these goals will depend on the campaign. 

For example, a short-term campaign focused on event registrants may have a goal of receiving 300 registrants. A long-term enrollment campaign may have a goal of increasing year-over-year enrollment by 8% and 400 applications submitted by a certain date.

Whatever your goals may be, make sure they’re clear and measurable. 

Define Your Audience(s)

Identify the groups you intend to reach and tailor your campaign and messaging accordingly.


Is your goal to increase enrollment? Look at engaging prospective students and their families with important deadlines and timely nudges. 

Engaging alumni for a giving day? Segment your alumni audience by interest and you can build out unique strategies for each.

đź’ˇ Strategy Tip: When communicating with prospective or current students, consider whether a unique strategy for parent communication would strengthen your campaign. A family engagement campaign can easily mirror your student strategy with nudges, deadlines, and important information, just in a different tone that resonates with that specific audience.

Identify Your Channels

Depending on your goals and the audience, different channels will provide a bigger impact on your success. For example, text messages, social media, and video may be effective for a prospective student campaign whereas emails, website, and texting may be more effective for parents. 

Identify 2-4 channels that can work in tandem to efficiently and effectively get your message to your audience. Consider your budget and resources– most teams can’t leverage all channels at once, especially when other departments are using the same ones. 

Determine the Length of Your Campaign

Establishing a clear start and end date gives you a time frame to measure against a previous campaign period.  How you track your campaigns will vary depending on your goals and how long you expect them to run. 

A campaign with a goal of 200 event registrants may last a couple of weeks, whereas an enrollment campaign could last the duration of the year. For a year-long campaign, you may want to monitor your campaign monthly to make sure you’re on track. 

What Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) would reflect progress toward your goals?

KPIs are quantitative measurements of the performance of your campaigns over a defined length of time. KPIs are key targets that you should track to make the largest impact on your strategic objectives, helping you make better decisions and track if the engagement campaign is successful. 

Define what hard numbers will you track over the course of your campaign. These may include enrollment rates, retention rates, melt rates, revenue increases, fundraising dollars, numbers of applications submitted, etc. Determine how often you will review your KPIs to make sure you’re on track to meet your goals.


Stage 2: Create & Execute Your Campaign

Craft Your Messaging by Channel 

Once you’ve identified the channels you’ll be using in your campaign and who your target audience is, it’s time to determine your messaging. 

It’s important to align your message with the channel you're using as well as the reader you’re trying to reach. Does it fit the medium's tone? Is it personalized for the reader? 

Don’t forget to include a call to action at the end of your message. In an email, this gives the recipient a clear next step to take. In a text, it will encourage contacts to respond and spark two-way conversations.

ThinkstockPhotos-538492932Coordinate with Other Departments

Whether you’re communicating with students, parents, or alumni, your department isn’t the only one reaching out. Inform others at your institution about your campaign and provide details on what and when you’re planning on sending communications. That way they can schedule their communications around yours.

Do a Double Take 

Remember, once you’ve launched your campaign, it’s live and in action. Before you hit send, ask yourself the following to ensure all the boxes are checked and you have set yourself up for success.  

  • Do I have permission to communicate with this audience? (Have these contacts opted into the communications from the channel I’m using? I.e. texting, email, etc.)
  • Is my messaging timely and relevant to my audience?
  • Is my message easy to understand and conversational in nature? (Does this message read like I talk?)
  • Do I have a clear call to action/next steps for my recipient? 
  • Have I coordinated with other departments that use these channels?
  • Does this message help move us towards our campaign and/or institutional goals?

Stage 3: Reporting & Results

Before you mark your campaign complete, it’s time to take a look at your results and determine if the campaign was successful. Ask yourself:

What worked well? 

Did you meet your KPI goals?  Define what was successful about the campaign and highlight what resonated with your audience the most. 

What can you improve for next time? 

What didn’t go so well? What will you do differently next time? These are the campaign elements that you get to adjust moving forward for better results. 

Dive into these questions and document your results so you can build on your campaigns over time. Share insights with your team and other departments involved to prove the success and receive feedback where needed. 

Give Yourself a Pat on the Back

Congratulations! You’ve successfully executed your campaign and have the results documented. Applying this plan to future engagement campaigns will allow you to create  a strong strategy and allow you to easily prove its success to others. 


Learn more planning successful engagement campaigns in our latest For Your Institution episode below. Join us live for the next FYI by registering here



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