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How do your prospective students use social media to make their university choices?

On clearing day last year, Staffordshire University made the unusual choice of offering last-minute places via Snapchat. Sheffield Hallam made offers on Facebook Messenger, and Southampton Solent encouraged admissions staff to use emojis when connecting with prospective students. This is a novel use of social media, and it points to a new future for HEIs.

Andréanne Orsier Divisional Director, Higher Education 25/09/2022
Social media is often the preferred method of communication among students. Most would prefer to connect with you online and many are more comfortable with social media than with talking on the phone.

Social media is a small but powerful decision-making factor for prospective students. In this month’s snippet, we’ll reveal how social media influences university choices and what prospective undergraduate and postgraduate students are looking for on your social media channel.

Facebook: as important as your open day for postgraduates?

We asked prospective postgraduate students which sources they used while researching university courses. Our data showed that the university Facebook page is used just as extensively as the Open day (both by 10% of respondents).
For undergraduates, it’s a different story, with the open day ranking much higher as third most important. However, social media still features in their research process and final decision with 7% reporting to use the university Facebook page for information.
Undergraduates were asked: When you were starting your research into universities you might apply for, which of the following sources did you use extensively to find out information?

YouthSight’s (now Savanta), HE Marcomms, 17/18. Question 8a. ‘When you were starting your research into universities you might apply for, which of the following sources did you use extensively to find out information? [Possible to select up to 5 sources] Base: 2300 UG pre-applicants, UG applicants and UG first year students
When making a decision, prospective students are trying to project themselves into their imagined life over the next three years. Will they make friends? What societies are available? Do they share values with the university? These questions are particularly important as students come to make their final decision this summer. HEIs should therefore use social media to give prospective students a real glimpse into life on campus. One undergraduate applicant said:
“Maybe get universities to learn how to use social media to their advantage, but not in a trying too hard, middle aged, parent-on-facebook sort of way.
“That would make me like a uni more and get more of a feel of what they’re about, than cringey and cliché Spotify or Facebook ads. Save the facts about facilities (etc.) for your own website, and league tables.”

Which social media platform is most effective?

Students use different platforms for different purposes, and HEIs should adapt accordingly. As you can see in our table below, students look to Facebook and Instagram to find out more about the social life on campus, but to YouTube for accommodation.
Q: When you were choosing which university to set as your firm choice, what information did you look for from the universities?

YouthSight’s (now Savanta), HE Marcomms, 17/18. Question text: ‘When you were choosing which university to set as your firm choice, what information did you look for from the Universities?’ Base: All applicants who made choices or got a confirmed place and all first year students that looked at this.
Nottingham University gets this balance right by using YouTube to publish video tours of its halls, and Facebook to promote campus life, societies and core values.
An undergraduate applicant said:
“[…] social media is a good means of gradually giving people a feel for the university, by sharing events that are going on at the time etc., without deliberately and overtly advertising the university.”

Speak their language

Finally, remember that social media is often the preferred method of communication among your next cohort of students. Most would prefer to connect with you online and many are more comfortable with social media than with talking on the phone.
Hull University uses social media particularly well, operating a manned Twitter account from 8am-6pm. Prospective students can ask questions and find out more about university life. Think of social media as a vital, ‘real time’ part of your customer service and communications. The best social media strategy is one that utilizes all of these platforms and creates unique content for each. HE Success Suite subscribers get access to much more in-depth data about student decision making and social media usage.
Our specialist HE researchers (formerly of YouthSight) have helped over 100 UK universities solve their marketing challenges to boost their recruitment and attraction goals. Download our brochure to find out more.

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