Have traditional student recruitment campaigns lost their bite?
Universities are allocating more time and money to marketing open days, engaging with students on social media, improving their prospectuses and developing their university websites, a Guardian survey finds.
The Sixth Sense survey, which polled 69 UK university and further education marketing teams, set out to discover which strategies universities are investing in and which have fallen out of favour when it comes to recruiting sixth formers.
Of those polled, 57% of marketers said open days were more important than five years ago, alongside external digital advertising (72%) and marketing on social media (98%). Advertising in the national and local press was seen as less important than it was five years ago, with respondents voting 80% and 76% respectively against this marketing strategy.
Respondents also thought international advertising and directories were less important than five years ago.
For the next academic year, over half of university marketing teams surveyed said they were allocating 0-5% of their university’s annual turnover towards marketing, with the majority allocating more of their budget towards marketing open days, website development, social media and their prospectuses. Few universities said they were planning to spend money on email marketing, local press or outdoor advertising.
Just under half of respondents said they weren’t allocating any money towards advertising in the national press, mobile optimisation of their university website, or towards developing their directories.
For marketing open days, 84% of those surveyed said the university website was a successful marketing tool, followed by social media (67%). Less than half (38%) of respondents said they thought the university prospectus was a useful way to attract students to open days.
The large majority of student marketers (96%) said they use Facebook to engage with students, with 88% using Twitter and 77% YouTube.
The move towards using social media and digital technologies to recruit students has been a general trend for a few years, says Rebecca Moore, web manager at the University of South Wales, who has been overseeing the launch of their new app aimed at recruiting students.
The app – Unibox USW – features over 270 pieces of content, including short videos of lectures, application tips, photo galleries and a showreel of past students’ work, and will launch at the end of the month.
“We decided to do it because there is only so much you can do to promote courses with text on our website,” said Moore. “We are giving people a real idea of what it’s like in the classroom when they get here.” One video features a forensic technician doing a blood pattern analysis to show where the source of blood might come from in a crime scene.
Many universities created standard apps a few years ago, which included news and directions to campus and so son, says Moore. “We wanted an app where people didn’t just download it and forget about it, but came back to use it – a platform where we could push new content out to them all the time, including new videos.”
The university plans to develop the app using iBeacons technology for open days. This will enable the university to identify where a person is on campus during an open day and provide them with relevant information, including people they can meet and where to use vouchers.
With universities seeking to invest more time and money into pursuing creative digital marketing campaigns, are we seeing a move away from traditional marketing models?
Alistair Beech, digital marketing officer at Keele University, doesn’t think so, and says a successful campaign is one that embraces all the key marketing techniques: “We still do traditional marketing at Keele, such as targeted mailing and poster campaigns, and a large proportion of our budget still goes on the prospectus.”
Beech said: “A lot of focus has switched to social media, but I’m not sure the budgets have.”
Having only established a marketing team five years ago, Keele has struggled to make itself known to prospective students. Beech is hoping their £4,692 (excluding VAT) digital campaign #NutsAboutKeele – featuring a dancing squirrels video, “I’m #Nuts About Keele because…” story cards, and a user-generated Storify – will help attract prospective students to the university.
By running the campaign for just two weeks, the marketing team think it will “retain a level of spontaneity and uniqueness”.
“Having a 6ft squirrel warming up with the Keele men’s hockey team before a big match isn’t going to happen every day,” Beech added, “If it did, our students would switch off at the first sight of him/her.”
Simon Pride, head of marketing and communications at Arts University Bournemouth, says universities need to start realising the impact creative marketing can have on student recruitment.
He puts the 15% surge AUB received in Ucas applications this year down to their marketing strategy and creation of their kscope app, which allows users to create a kaleidoscopic still image or short video through the lens of a mobile phone, upload to an online gallery and share.
“The purpose of this project was to start a conversation with young people and engage them in making something – we now have nearly 50,000 of them to date.”
Social media is a great marketing tool for recruiting students, but needs to be used in the right way, Pride says.
“Social medial should not be used as a form of advertising, but as a tool to engage. You have to invest in the stories you place there, whether that be capturing and celebrating the student experience or creating apps like kscope which are designed to provoke that engagement.”