Enhancing the Impact and Effectiveness of Higher Ed Marketing Through Generative AI
Mike Southworth | Director of Marketing of Arizona Online, University of Arizona
Generative artificial intelligence has become a dominant topic of conversation over the past year. While its benefits—namely increased automation and efficiency—are widely recognized, its rapid evolution can sometimes feel overwhelming, even scary. And in the world of higher ed, where change happens in slow motion, it can be difficult to make the most of these radical advancements. Luckily, marketing and communications are one area where AI’s technology can gain major steam on campus.
At the University of Arizona, our central marketing and communications team has worked diligently to get up to speed on generative AI and ensure our entire department develops a working level of AI literacy. Over the past nine months, we’ve moved steadily forward to ideate, test and implement several initiatives designed to help ourselves and our campus partners embrace AI while improving our marketing efforts. Here’s what worked for us.
Involve Your Team
When the topic of AI first came up at our annual planning retreat, we knew that we couldn’t ignore it. To ensure its prioritization, we baked AI into our annual plan. We focused on simple, achievable milestones designed to build AI literacy, encourage experimentation and let innovation flourish within our team structure.
We then formed a volunteer committee to explore AI’s potential at every level of our staff. Our committee approach incorporated marketing and communications professionals from a wide range of specialties and points of view. Our working group includes marketing strategists, content and social media professionals, news writers and web experts among others. By casting a wide net, we’ve already identified more than twenty potential areas where AI could make our roles more efficient and creative.
It can be challenging—or intimidating—to wrap your head around AI’s seemingly endless possibilities. Where do you even start? It can seem like there are a million different directions to go. But with some practical approaches to implementation, you can quickly find the areas where AI can most readily assist you and your team—areas like the following.
This is probably the easiest place to start using AI in your day-to-day efforts, requiring nothing more than a sign-up to access a free AI service like ChatGPT or Google’s Bard. And when it comes to brainstorming, content writers aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of AI to generate ideas. We’ve found that everyone benefits from having AI as a brainstorming partner. Our web team, strategists and designers have benefited from ping-ponging ideas back and forth with AI Personally, I love feeding content calendars into the prompt for seasonal ideas or update suggestions.
We each have those tasks that make us ask, “Why is this taking me so long?” Well, AI may seem perfect for those things—because it is. Our team has experimented with having AI generate blog posts, marketing email copy and social captions to name a few. We also hope to employ AI to make simple updates to annual pieces for our marketing cycle. One word of warning: Always check all AI-generated written materials for accuracy before printing or posting. And remember to be transparent about using AI by including a disclaimer wherever possible.
Along with written content, image generation can pinch-hit when you’re in a jam. It’s not always easy to access photo and video assets or talent, especially for areas like social media that demand a consistent stream of visuals to keep our audiences happy. DALL-E is a fantastic resource that our team has just begun exploring. And as with AI-generated written content, be sure to include a disclaimer wherever you find yourself using auto-generated images.
Online enrollment optimization
While we remain committed to safeguarding sensitive enrollment data, AI offers us a unique lens to view our processes. For instance, our AI tools can now spot-check the advanced Excel formulas our team uses for enrollment analysis and projections, ensuring that we’re leveraging the most effective methods for data comparison. This application not only make our analysis more accurate but also sparks innovative ideas by providing alternative suggestions for data comparison.
Grow Over Time
As our team develops a comfort level and knowledge base for AI and its capabilities, we hope to spread our wings into areas like social media analysis, data reporting, optimizing digital ads, supporting student success and chat functionality. Personally, I’m curious to see where AI can support always-on jobs like social media community management or front-facing customer service.
To Sum It Up
While AI’s rapid evolution can seem daunting, it’s essential to remember that integrating AI is an ongoing journey without a fixed endpoint. So, get the right people involved, start small and grow over time.