Universities: Top tips for ensuring your content resonates with students

Universities: Top tips for ensuring your content resonates with students

When planning successful content and digital marketing as a higher education institution (HEI), we believe there are three key things to consider when creating content to make sure it resonates with students and prospective students: showing authenticity, releasing valuable content and first and foremost: offering great usability on all devices. This article aims to provide you with some ideas to get you started on improving those core aspects.

If users can’t use your website, they aren’t going to read your content

Whatever efforts you put into your digital marketing and content creation, it’s ultimately worthless if your website lacks usability. Your site needs to be easy to use and run smoothly on all devices –  especially on mobile ones! But don’t take it for granted that your website will be successful just because it runs smoothly, UX and UI design are also critical parts of usability. The world of design is constantly changing so don’t stick to the same layout for years, make sure you evolve with current trends. Some to look out for in 2018 are the use of gesture-based interfaces, micro-interactions and oversized typography in combination with a greater use of negative space. With our attention span shortened to about 8 seconds nowadays, it’s also essential that your site loads quickly – millennials aren’t going to wait around.

Valuable content has a clear purpose, and is informative and meaningful

You don’t want to publish content just for the sake of it. People expect it to be informative and meaningful.  Share things like news about activities at your campus, insights on ongoing projects or podcasts about recent research, academic, sporting and cultural achievements. Best case scenario: you create unique content that makes your institution stand out in front of competitors. This isn’t necessarily easy to achieve, but at least one overarching purpose of your content should be to positively contribute to your reputation. To do this, you don’t necessarily need to stick to promotional content. Share recent staff and student research publications, or thought-pieces, and commenting on current developments in sectors your institution excels to ensure you remain part of the conversation.

Communicate an authentic message

Prospective students want to get a glimpse of how campus life might look like before enrolling. Besides the open day, the digital world offers a great number of opportunities to contribute to this. The following five tips are helpful to ensure what you communicate remains credible, and presents an authentic picture of your institution’s identity and message.

Tip one: Choose the right channel

Knowing your audience is the key here. Creating personas and executing small surveys are common ways to achieve this goal. Ask yourself a couple of questions about your target audience: which social media platforms do they use? How much time do they spend on them each day? What content do they most interact with on social media? To address your audience in the right way you should adapt your online presence according to the answers to these questions.

Tip two: Create short, snappy content that captures real experiences

Short-lived stories on social media or livestreams can be the perfect way to provide an authentic snapshot of campus life. Content provided by alumni can be very informative for prospective students too, as it can provide an insight into where studying at the university will take them in future. Another way to showcase the student perspective is to feature students, and their stories, on your institution’s social media channels. Youtubers like PaigeY and Joe Binder are good examples of student social media influencers. Both upload videos illustrating their campus life at the University of Cambridge.

Tip three: Find your influencers

Building on tip #2 - a takeover by a relevant influencer arguably paints a more authentic picture of an institution than the university posting itself. Before searching for popular influencers that might want to collaborate with you, it is worth looking at your student’s social media accounts. Some of them might already have a significant number of followers. These are the first ones to approach when it comes to offering collaborations or planning social media takeovers. When choosing the right influencer, it’s important to keep in mind that the number of followers is not the most important indicator for whether they are relevant to you or not – the most significant factor is addressing the right audience.

Tip four: Exploit the best of modern technology

Tools that incorporate VR, like virtual campus tours, or interactive maps, are popular now in the HE sector. International students in particular benefit from such content, as they may live too far away to attend open days. Another modern technology that is creeping into the HE sector is AI. By performing basic administrative tasks, chatbots answering common questions of prospective students, and using machine learning to provide personalised content recommendations, it offers great opportunities to improve the quality of your university’s services. A word of caution however, if the technology does not work as it is supposed to,  it’s more likely to harm than help the user experience.

Tip five: Create emotive stories

Emotions play an important role in our decision making. That is why you want people to have positive feelings and trust in your institution. An easy way to communicate these emotions effectively is storytelling. Though this itself isn’t new, in practice, short videos are a good way to do this effectively, as often it is easier to get someone to watch a short, well-produced video than to read an article. Make sure you consider the appropriateness of video content, its length and format, and adjust this according to channel. But don’t provide important information only through video – prospective students are likely to find this more helpful as clearly signposted written text. 

The millennial generation of students are more connected than ever before, and their expectations towards higher education institutions are changing. Creating content that resonates with them doesn’t have to be complicated. By considering these key things: ensuring you take into account the usability of your site, the purpose of your content, and experiment with ways to make your content more authentic, you’ll be in a stronger position to create a genuine connection with students and prospective students, from application, to graduation, and beyond.

If you want to find out more about our HE thinking, get in touch.

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