Universities must be more digitally savvy to stay competitive
Ashwin Saddul, MD at Better Than Paper, on how universities can use digital content strategies and tools to engage with - and attract - new students
With a marked drop in student conversion, the competition has never been so tough for the 150 universities and higher education providers in the UK, as they compete for the attention of prospective students across the globe. Universities must therefore think hard about how they evolve, so they’re best placed to attract both UK and international students – and help these ‘consumers’ make one of the largest investments they’re likely to ever undertake.
Integrate for insight
The first step for universities is to better understand the behaviours of potential students and view them more as potential customers. This means making structural changes – especially where the core functions of marketing, recruitment & admissions are all working in isolated silos. A swift alignment of these functions will enable better knowledge sharing – so greater student insight can be gained.
For example, this may involve discovering what factors influenced existing students’ selection decisions. This will lead to a more strategic, integrated approach to marketing – so more informed, effective, external communications can delivered to potential students.
Universities must also understand that digital is now a student’s favoured method of communication for content consumption and engagement. It’s changed the way students select universities, as they gather information from a wide variety of online sources such as social media, blogs, student forum, videos, virtual tours etc. They now expect an improved digital experience, with tailored content that’s relevant to them. Therefore, to successfully communicate and connect with these students – universities must understand and exploit digital channels better – or be left behind.
With student conversion becoming increasingly challenging, many savvy universities are taking swift action by prioritising the digitisation of their university prospectus. Done well, the prospectus is still the most powerful sales tool for attracting prospective students to apply for admissions. ‘Done well’, means a prospectus that’s no longer just a paper brochure – but a dynamic and amendable, online publishing solution – serving current, targeted, and personalised content.
Especially important, is that a prospectus facilitates a two-way dialogue between university and student, and can be easily accessed by a wider range of young people – through multiple devices. A digital prospectus must also be deliverable across ios, Android and Desktop – as they are the largest device platforms used by most students.
To help create a digital prospectus, look at publishing solutions that feature integrated CRM functions to help generate targeted, student-orientated content. Also to be considered are digital tools that geo-target content so the language and message nuance can be tailored in different countries.
Data from analytics within publishing solutions can provide universities with a wealth of information on audience interests and preferences – such as dwell time, which courses are most viewed, etc. Armed with this data, universities can then deliver more personalised communications in real time – tailored to individual students. As well as creating a meaningful and interactive dialogue with students, this insight can also help inform product development, such as course amendments or new modules etc.
The importance of social media as part of a university’s student recruitment strategy is steadily growing, so content publishing must integrate with social networks. Using social media, allows universities to be more personal, and offer an unfiltered view – to make it more appealing to a millennial audience. Peer reviews and student-generated content should also be encouraged to build advocacy among past and prospective students too.
Become fast & efficient
By using a digital format for content marketing, universities use fewer resources to conduct real time editing and publishing. This may include updating news, case studies and open day content and then instantly pushing it out to prospective students.
There is also a major cost and efficiency benefit of digital publishing – especially with the savings generated – compared to using traditionally expensive print production & global distribution. New courses can be added into a digital prospectus, or changes made – which is impossible to achieve with traditional paper – without incurring further, re-print expenses.
Ultimately, universities must look to improve how they communicate and connect with potential students, by using the best digital marketing methods and tools – so they remain relevant in this ever-evolving sector.