7 Strategies Local Businesses Can Use to Engage College Students
This article was originally featured in the Huffington PosT
1. Advertise student discounts and events.
Much of a student's time and budget is spent studying and networking. Student discounts will challenge them to step out of their residence hall bubble and become familiar with the community. Advertising for a music and food event (i.e. "College Nights"), pop-shop, or information table on campus draws students to meet new people. Live entertainment connects them with your location and they are more likely to try your product and remember your brand. If the interior of your business allows, provide study space for students to converse, share ideas, and perform their best work!
2. Partner with CSA organizations.
If you are a restaurant or café that supports local vendors, contact a CSA program affiliated with a nearby university. Community Supported Agriculture, also known as "slow food," is reasonably priced and accommodates student schedules. Associating your business with on-campus organizations and causes will build customer loyalty.
3. Participate in startups happening on campus.
College campuses are the birthplace of groundbreaking ideas. By offering guidance and partnerships, you become a part of the classroom learning process while expanding your customer audience. According to an article from Newton Needham Chamber of Commerce, small businesses and college students share common needs. Michael Alexander, President of Lasell College, says these needs include:
"a sound business plan to ensure long-term success... strong leadership and the ability to turn on a dime if the economic environment experiences a precipitous change. They both seek investments of human capital, financial resources and an infrastructure to support diversification and growth."
University students are the future of small businesses and while their ideas are still fresh, include them in your journey.
4. Pay students for their fresh ideas.
Assuming that you are on the creative end of your business -- finances, audience research, and new marketing tactics may fall at the end of your priority list. Management, event planning, and customer service take enough energy and brainwork to begin with! CareerBuilder.com suggests hiring an intern will give you a "fully trained employee who is well versed in your company and available for any opening." This concept will strengthen your competition against "big name companies in terms of attracting quality job candidates." Asking a college student to perform hands on research will broaden their skills and keep your business relatable to several demographics.
5. Sign up to participate in community fairs.
Community fairs are essential to connecting one-on-one. If students can "physically" interact with your brand and understand your link to campus life, you've got their attention. Provide your social media contact first. If possible, offer email sign-up on an electronic device as opposed to a contact sheet. Using an iPad or mobile device prevents illegible email addresses and forms relationships on the spot. Even if you are late to apply for a community fair, contact university event coordinators about booking a space in a highly populated area like student centers and cafeterias.
6. Collaborate with a fellow business owner and schedule an open Q&A session.
Take advantage of the community you are already a part of! Contact a business or vendor you frequently communicate with that pairs well with your brand. Schedule an information session about why local is important, how students can be proactive in their community and "think like an entrepreneur." Offer universal advice on how to standout and be heard. Open up about your experience in developing a brand and marketing strategies.
7. Communicate regularly via social media.
Please be on social media. Aside from Google -- Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the search engines of "Generation Y". We want filtered photos, witty slogans, and convincing information prompting us to explore YOU! Be intentional about your communication on social media. Ask students what they would like to see on your menu, clothing rack, and how they can be involved. Honest feedback is critical and what you make of it can grow your audience immensely!