Trying to reach a target audience that changes annually, fierce competition from other institutions, and a student body of thousands whose tastes change frequently... these are just some of the constantly evolving challenges that university marketers face.
It’s a tough balancing job, requiring audiences of vastly different interests and professional levels to be identified, understood and engaged with throughout the year. We sat down with Shai Vure, digital marketing manager for the University of Chester, to find out how he finds these people, how he connects with them, and how Audiense helps.
Vure: Throughout the year we’re in various different stages of recruiting students, so what we focus on is seasonal. Our main recruitment phase runs from March to December for the following academic year. After that, we focus on students who’ve already applied to Chester (but haven’t made a final decision on which university they’ll go to) by talking to them about visits, by publishing engaging blog posts, and delivering targeted information via platforms they're using. During summer we also have a big push for clearing, and on top of this we’re recruiting for post-grad courses throughout the year.
Another major pillar is reflecting what's happening on campus throughout the year. This involves conversations with current students, helping them, directing them, and communicating what they’re up to. We also need to cover major campus events such as graduation, Freshers’ Week, and exams, when we’ll see big spikes of traffic and activity.
As a university trying to appeal to multiple audiences across different locations and ages, how do you find the right voice?
I've been involved in the University since 2009, so a lot of the voice came from experience - of seeing what resonated. By paying attention to the students and what’s going on, you gain the understanding necessary to develop a tone that's professional yet conversational. We use a lot of our own students’ content, as they shape the voice as much as we do. We monitor different platforms to find them and look for graduate stories as well.
What metrics form the basis of your KPIs, and why are they important?
It’s vital to ensure we’re relevant and engaged with a significant proportion of our students, and we also want to reach a high volume of potential students. To see how well we’re doing this, I track against our nearest ten or so competitors, as identified by course application data.
I produce monthly reports looking at where we rank against them on social media, tracking things such as which of their posts have been successful, their number of mentions, how responsive they are to messages, and where we stack up against them. One of the first things I did using the Audiense platform was set it up to track our progress against them.
What research do you do into the people you're targeting, whose tastes will likely change each year?
We work closely with our market research team, which has conducted a prospective student survey every six months since about 2013. This includes social activity, and it shows the different, shifting patterns among age groups in prospective students and current university. We see over time how different platforms rise and fall, which allows us to invest on areas that students are using. We also use Audiense to build lists of the audiences we’d like to target, and then research their personalities and tastes on a large scale.
In the last couple of years we’ve seen a rise in Instagram usage among students, so it forms a bigger part of our strategy now. Snapchat has also become widely used among our audience, so we're looking more into that too. This research allows us to capitalise on recruitment opportunities on those platforms, and do it in a meaningful manner.
How is Twitter used in your strategy?
Twitter is the biggest open source of conversation, so for us it's about being part of the conversation around the university, and academia in general. On top of that, we use it to tap into those conversations and build our targeting strategy for particular audiences, based on what they're talking about and info in their profile. Having access to that rich amount of data is hugely valuable to us.
Being able to develop audiences around a particular subject or area of the university by locating students’ Twitter conversations allow us to build audiences who could potentially acts as ambassadors. It also helps us unearth any issues or questions people are having, and direct them to people or departments who can help
Is there a paid element to your Twitter activity?
We recruit for particular courses, postgraduate placements and clearing via Twitter too, and there’s a paid element to that. The very precise requirements of who we’re looking for make it necessary for us to drill into some very specific interests. This was quite a challenge as the targeting options in Twitter’s native platform doesn’t allow us to be as accurate as we’d like.
How did you overcome these issues?
Audienses offers a depth of targeting that allows far more nuanced advertising options on Twitter. So, by building audiences of active Twitter users using terms such as “A-Levels” or “college” with “exams” we reach an audience that is a lot more specific than before, which we need in order to reduce our cost-per-acquisition. We can even tailor it to specific courses - for example, if someone showed a strong preference towards gaming we could direct them towards game development courses.
How else do you use Audiense?
As we use it more we find other use cases for building custom audiences. For example, we identified students at Chester, ones who studied here, and specific subjects, based on specific Twitter bio terms. This allowed us to research the campus conversation, to see what local events or topics concern the people here. It also gave us a chance to reach out to students who might wish to be ambassadors for the university in some capacity.
We also uncovered some incredible user-generated content, giving some real world examples of the student experience here at Chester. We used it to enhance the topic pages on our website in order to increase conversion rates. We couldn't do this at the scale we needed to without an advanced level of audience building, so Audiense saved us a substantial amount of time.
By identifying different prospective and current audiences, we’re also able to put them into appropriate workflows when they follow us. For example, prospective students who follow us get a response that offers a prospectus, or gives them information about applying. What’s great is that once it’s set up, it runs in the background without much maintenance and gradually increases sign-ups for events, university tours, or other activities.
What is the key best practice that you feel works best at universities?
Definitely to make use of the students you already have. They're living their lives at the university through social, so celebrate their success, help them, and amplify the experiences they want to share publicly. Finding and using that user-generated content is really important. Essentially it’s about using those ambassadors to talk about student life at Chester, in order to bring in the next generation of Chester students.
The University of Chester is one of thousands of Audiense customers - see how others are using our platform here. We also have social media interviews with brands such as PUMA, the World Economic Forum, and Pizza Express.