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Universities finding more creative ways to recruit students through digital campaigns

14/11/2014

Universities are joining in the digital marketing revolution as they compete for talented students.

To hear the sentiments expressed by some people after the government controversially raised tuition fees in 2011, it might have seemed the age of British university expansion (outside Scotland, at least) was over.

The reality, however, is very different. Higher Education may have progressively become a more expensive pursuit - first with student loans in the 1990s, followed by the introduction of fees in the 2000s and now even higher charges - but the fact remains that millions of young people still aspire to go to university.

Moreover, British universities also take in tens of thousands of overseas students from all around the world. And while Scotland recently decided not to become a foreign country, students there are not charged fees, unless they are from elsewhere in Britain.

Even so, the cost means prospective students will need to be more focused on university life as an investment in their futures than was the case a generation ago, coupled with the fact that more graduates means certain jobs are much harder to obtain.

This being the case, each university needs to persuade students that it is a good choice for their time and money. Increasingly, they are turning to social media and digital campaigns to do so.

Indeed, just as marketers everywhere have been increasingly using digital technology, universities have been doing likewise for a few years now.

Our latest survey of marketing teams in higher education institutions found they were spending up to five per cent of annual turnover on marketing. This represents an increase on past budgets and while some of this has still gone into old-fashioned recruitment tools like prospectuses and open days, website development and social media have also been part of the mix.

Indeed, given that facilities like the university's own Facebook page or website can be highlighted on printed literature from billboards to prospectuses, the old and new marketing measures can and will operate in tandem.

All that suggests universities looking to recruit marketers will increasingly rely on people who have digital skills and know how to use social media, particularly as the core demographic they are recruiting from is a prolific user of this means of communication. Having the finger on the pulse is crucial when seeking to interact with social media is therefore vital.

In practice, this means not just having a presence on sites like Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, but also some of the latest channels, such as Instagram, Flickr and Buzzfeed. After all, the wider a university can spread its message, the more effective its recruitment efforts should be.

Before implementing a social media strategy, however, it is important for universities to download the various apps and use them to evaluate how to make best use of them. This will mean that when it comes to recruiting marketers, universities will know what their social media strategy is, how it should develop and therefore be able to ask the right sort of questions at the interview stage. 

By doing this, universities can be sure of having the kind of marketers on board who ensure the special media strategy is the right one - and can successfully bring in talented students.