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Mobile is the new way to reach students 'on campus'

Roger Warner explains how mobile can help HEIs build stronger student relationships

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | November 12, 2015 | Higher education

Almost half (44%) of young people in the UK pick up their phone over 50 times per day, so it’s surprising that most universities don’t use mobile as a primary way of communicating with students.

The way universities interact with students is disconnected from the way that they’re used to connecting with the world day-to-day. Traditional telephone lines, for example, are used by admissions departments, but students would prefer to liaise with them on the platforms they’re more familiar with.

Higher education organisations can improve engagement if they change their approach to marketing and communications to be student-first, just like the way they tailor their course content. By doing this, mobile could allow institutions to develop engagement by virtue of its visual nature and the data it’d provide would enable organisations to grow long-term relationships. 

Here’s why mobile should be a key consideration for higher education providers: 

1)   Put campus life in your pocket – The meaning of university life ‘on the ground’ has changed; it doesn’t just mean the physical campus, but online too. For universities, open days and face-to-face meetings are critical to building student relationships and driving recruitment. However, because people want to live life online, the campus experience needs to be amplified through digital. With a mobile-first website, institutions can prioritise the content that is needed to convert students. For existing students, messaging and prompts within apps, such as lecture and deadline reminders, would add to the experience. Mobile allows organisations to translate the real and interactive parts of university and take them further. 

2)   Marketing ‘with’ stakeholders – In order to develop long-term relationships with students, it’s imperative that you market ‘with’, rather than ‘at’ them. Put staff, students, and alumni at the heart of marketing. The immediate nature of mobile and social media lets students and staff create their own stories, which is mutually beneficial. For example, in the US UCLA allowed students to post to a group called ‘Our Story’ on Snapchat to visualise life on campus. This spread of brand messages allows universities to communicate a vision of who someone can be if they attend the institution. Digital cannot completely replace events, but it can augment them and extend their reach. 

3)   Visual engagement – University websites tend to be text heavy, but students today are more visual - think of images posted to Instagram and tweets of 140 characters. Universities need to use visuals to ‘show’, rather than ‘tell’ people about their brand. However, to do this successfully, they must consider the screen their target audience uses. As mobile usage grows, designing and optimising content for it is crucial. Additionally, YouGov estimates that wearable device owners in the UK will soon reach 6.1 million, this suggests that universities should start thinking about how they might replicate the brand experience for wearables like the Apple Watch.

4)   Use big data to build big relationships – Few universities are using data to inform the student experience they offer, which is a missed opportunity. Mobile devices collect detailed insights and a CRM enables universities to manage these interactions with current and future students. Smarter automation also allows higher education providers to build long-term relationships, because they have a profile of the target audience, and understand how they want to be engaged with across channels. 

Any ‘customer’ experience that doesn’t match up to services like Twitter and Instagram is poor in the eyes of a student, so organisations must think carefully about how they can transform their brand for mobile. It’s not enough to transition your entire website to a mobile app, the customer experience must be designed with the user in mind. The organisations that dive into mobile having thought student-first, rather than content or even device-first, will see the best success.

Mobile can portray campus life to the wider web, but only if the experience has been created with careful consideration to the way that their audience is using mobile.

Roger Warner is Head of Strategy at digital transformation business Squiz.

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