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5 simple rules to delivering a digital transformation in higher education

Rufus Spiller Creative Director (AsiaPac)

AIEC workshop in Brisbane

Public speaking.

It’s pretty nerve wracking and at Precedent I have been asked to do quite a bit of it as part of our marketing programme. To be honest I cannot remember how many pitches and presentations I have done over the last fifteen years but I think we can safely assume, based on at least one a week, that I have done well over a hundred. With that said, I am not a confident guy, I am always beset with the same fears before I step out into the limelight. My biggest fear is not the old standing naked on a podium moment but rather that someone in the audience will call out ‘charlatan!’ and I will suddenly be exposed. Left quaking on the podium with only a bottle of snakeoil and a salesmans smile to protect me. I once spoke to a friend about this and they ushered me to the side to tell me that they felt the same way. He divulged that was forced to assume that everyone must feel the same way.

For me to have some semblance of confidence I try to ensure that I believe in what I am talking about. I think that an unerring enthusiasm and faith in my convictions will come from a belief in the subject matter. I also know that I can always improve a presentation. At the start of the year I presented our mobile first seminar three times in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth over the space of two weeks. Each time I finished I took the presentation and amended it based on the questions that came up in the previous event. This was great because I felt that each time I progressed and challenged the presentation content giving me more belief in what I was talking about.

This October, Precedent were invited to speak at the Australian International Education Conference to present our Digital Campus concept. I have presented this several times since it came out and each time I have been challenged by questions after it. These then has informed how I present the concept the next time round. The biggest question has always been ‘how?’ so this time round I committed to leaving the audience with five simple steps to achieving a truly innovative and business changing digital program.

The Digital Campus was to follow two other presentations. First up was Fabian Marrone Vice President of Marketing APAC at Hobson’s who presented their research into the international student.

Hobson’s have been gathering data on the international student using a live survey that has, to date, polled 18,000 international students. This data has now formed a report that uses the quantitative data to expose insights and breaks down the audience into seven student types categorizing each by country.

Similar to our qualitative own educational research, Hobson’s have found that teaching quality is the number one priority for the international student. However, they have found, perception of ‘teaching quality’ is based on a number of factors, primarily that of course ranking.

Other insights in Fabian’s presentation included:

  • International students prefer to be contacted via email and weekly by education institutions.
  • For students in India safety is a major factor in which country they will choose to study in.
  • The decision making process for an international student follows; subject, country, institution.
  • Once a country is decided then decisions are based on; academic then course and finally university ranking
  • Above all the final decision comes down to annual tuition fees, course ranking and finally university ranking.

The following presentation was by Adriana Vélez from University of Queensland discussing their experiences running a Sina Weibo account for their Chinese audience.

Adriana prefaced her talk with this video which is a great explanation of the Chinese Digital Landscape.

Their Weibo case study acknowledged much of what we had found during our Weibo project with University of Worcester, namely that without a staff on the ground managing the account and gaining any traction is incredibly hard. Adriana mentioned that they currently have 11,025 followers broken down into 62% female and 38% male but they acknowledged the perils of zombie accounts citing the Yale story from 2013

Interestingly she mentioned that they have some success driving campaign traffic using TigTag which is a Chinese educational portal. However overall she acknowledged that they are in the early days of their engagement with Weibo and that the data they have now is being used as a benchmark for future development, which is a great outlook and one that we often look to push for in our projects.

After these two great a presentations I was determined to deliver the Digital Campus as an achievable vision for educational institutions. As mentioned, whenever I return to a report that I have presented before I try to add new insight, this keeps it fresh for me and allows me to do more research (which I love). This time round I had found a blog from the Guardian about student recruitment and social media with the following insights:

  • Although 65% of students use social media channels several times a day, students rated universities' social media presence as less influential and less trustworthy than more traditional sources such as prospectuses or open days.
  • Prospective students are keen to engage with their university through social media channels, with one fifth of students saying that universities don't make enough use of social media in recruitment.

The digital campus report itself deals with the idea of a single customer view that evolves over time to ensure life long loyalty to an institution. If you are interested in reading the report just sign up and request a copy. As previously mentioned the big challenge from the audience is always ‘how?’ and so the following are the five simple rules to delivering digital transformation in education based on our experience:

1. Be content curators not content creators
Rather than create new content, help to surface existing content through curation.

2. Release, review, refine, repeat
Develop ideas, build the minimum viable product, measure their success and then refine!

3. Digital transformation is a business priority not a marketing project
Get buy in from the top, secure year on year investment not project investment, investment should be on the same scale as physical infrastructure.

4. Don’t be afraid to decommission
You only need four things: Content Management System – Content, Email Management System – Communications, Customer Relationship Management System – Customer Data, Document Management System – University Output

5. The user is the centre of everything
The ‘user’ is not a buzzword, if a project is for the faculty or the institution then it will not deliver real value.

Of course at the end of the day when I sat down with the assembled tables and discussed their thoughts post presentation they gave me more points to consider for next time. On the plus side though, no one called ‘charlatan!’ and I am pretty sure I had all my clothes on.