STUDENT LIFE / MAR. 13, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Student Recruitment Increasingly Goes Digital

UK universities are using marketing open days as well as digital campaigns through social media to recruit students, a Guardian survey revealed. The Sixth Sense Survey, which polled 69 UK university and further education marketing teams, examined which strategies universities are using and which have become unpopular when it comes to recruiting six formers.

Among the key findings of the study are:

- 57% of marketers said open days were more important than five years ago, along with external digital advertising (72%), and marketing on social media (98%).

- Advertising in the national and local press was deemed less important than it was five years ago, with respondents voting for 80% and 76% respectively against this marketing strategy.

- International advertising and directories were seen as less important than five years ago.

Marketing Open Days and Social Media Among the Most Popular Recruitment Strategies

More than half of the university marketing teams surveyed said they allocating 0-5% of their university’s annual budget for the next academic year in marketing. Most of them plan to invest in marketing open days, website development, social media and their prospectuses. Only a few universities were reported to allocate their expenditure on email marketing, local press or outdoor advertising.

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 vast majority of student marketers (96%) use Facebook to engage with students, with 88% using Twitter and 77% YouTube.

Recruitment Apps

Meanwhile, it seems that universities are harnessing the potential of digital technologies to recruit and keep students engaged. Rebecca Moore, web manager at the University of South Wales talks about the launch of their new app, Unibox USW, aimed at recruiting students: "We decided to do it because there is only so much you can do to promote courses with text on our website. We are giving people a real idea of what it's like in the classroom when they get here."

The app 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. 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.

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.

Arts University Bournemouth boasts the kscope app, with which users can create a kaleidoscopic still image or short video, upload to an online gallery and share. Simon Pride, head of marketing and communications of AUB states that "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".

He also notes that social media is a great marketing tool for recruiting students, but it should not be used for advertising purposes but as a means to engage. According to him “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".

All in all, it is clear that universities invest more time and money into executing creative digital marketing campaigns alongside marketing open days. Whether traditional student recruitment strategies have fallen out of favour in terms of recruiting graduates this is still debatable. What do you think of this issue? Are digital marketing campaigns taking over traditional forms of recruiting students? Which of the two strategies would you prefer and why? Please comment. 

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