Student to student marketing guide
How universities can leverage their own students to boost the effectiveness of their marketing and student recruitment efforts.
Your own students can be one of your university’s strongest marketing assets for student recruitment. But bringing student voices into your university marketing must be done authentically to be effective.
The key is knowing where to relinquish control, and where to retain it.
Why student to student marketing is effective
Reviews are crucial for attracting customers in any industry, and universities are no exception. Students are more likely to trust their peers, and so bringing the student voice into your university’s marketing can be highly effective for boosting student recruitment. Students value insights from other students when they are genuine. Just using quotes in polished marketing materials is not enough. What you want is to establish is an authentic peer-to-peer connection that students can relate to.
The International Student Survey found 37% of students cited recommendations as an important factor in choosing a University, above factors like its graduate employment rate, affordable accommodation and the quality of the careers service.
Leveraging your students’ own experiences is an effective way to drive recruitment, but to work it needs to be by students themselves and reach them in the right places
Authenticity comes from relinquishing control. If you seek to control the message too tightly then the resulting content will be stymied, and prospective students will see through it.
Recruit the right students, give them licence to be honest so long as it’s fair and positive, and let them create the content that matters to them. The University of Lincoln has had great success with its student-run TikTok account. They paid students to make content for Instagram, TikTok and a new ‘Student Life’ website. They kept this deliberately separate from the institution itself so it could have free rein to go ‘off-script’.
The Uni of Lincoln Student Life TikTok has successfully grown to over 6,600 followers, generated 336,000 likes, all using a community marketing approach where students share the topics that matter to them.
For the University of Lincoln student life project, they found the most effective content is often the simplest- things like cooking tips, what to pack or things that spark debate such as halls etiquette. This couldn’t be something you focused on with official university accounts, but by establishing separate student life accounts and handing the reins over to students, they can focus on what works best to create engagement.
Choose the right channels
Choosing the right channels to use student voice content on is crucial. There’s no point in creating excellent, authentic content from your students if it’s only being used on channels that prospective students rarely interact with. We recommend using short-form video content on TikTok and Instagram reels, as these have the highest level of engagement from Gen Z, which includes the 18-20 age range which is the most relevant for Higher Education Institutions to attract.
Engage Student Ambassadors
When looking for students to create authentic content for your university, you don’t have to start your recruitment from scratch. Your university will already have a cohort of Student Ambassadors for events such as open days. These are the perfect people to draw upon, as they already know what it means to represent the University and talk to prospective students. You want to make sure the content creators are motivated, so that they’ll produce positive and engaging content. Think about including the following to ensure that it’s a coveted position:
- Pay fairly, don’t expect it for free. Even if it’s just a couple of paid hours per week, it will make the students feel valued and keep them engaged.
- Give the role a desirable title that will look good on a CV. Students are understandably keen to get valuable experience whilst at University and develop a strong CV, so this can make the role stand out.
- Let them create content in their own time: Don’t be too prescriptive about when students work on content creation. Focus on the outputs, just tell them how much you want them to produce each week and let them work it around their studies.
- Give them licence to try new things: If you’re overly prescriptive, the content won’t excite, and you won’t generate an organic social following. Let them know you want them to think outside of the box.
Once you have a great team of students you can trust, you can delegate and allow them to speak their minds confident that the result will be positive for the University.
Bringing student to student marketing into your website
Your university’s website is your single most important strategic marketing asset. As well as student recruitment, it also needs to fulfil a range of other roles, such as serving existing students and faculty, presenting research and engaging stakeholders. Bringing student to student marketing onto your website can be effective, but you need to be careful with how you manage it.
Unlike setting up separate Student Life Tiktok and Instagram accounts, the lines of separation are blurred when you bring student-generated content onto your website and so you need to ensure you maintain control.
The Yale School of Art is an example of a University Website that has given too much control to students and in doing so impaired its usefulness. Although it’s an interesting experiment, you wouldn’t want your university’s homepage to look-like this. We recommend maintaining control but giving students ways to connect one-on-one with other students via the University website.
One-on-one student connections
Prospective students value the authenticity and honesty of being able to hear from real students. You can set your website up to foster student to student connections that allow them to get the answers they need. Our website re-design project for SOAS, University of London includes a ‘chat with a student’ page, which lets students ask questions to SOAS student ambassadors. They can filter by area of study to put their questions to the most relevant students. Since 2020, over 13,000 questions have been answered by their students
Fitting it into your student recruitment strategy
Student to student marketing can play an important role in your student recruitment strategy at certain key points in a prospective student’s decision-making process. Different types of student-created content will suit different marketing objectives. Running student life Tiktok and Instagram accounts will help raise awareness, so see it as a way of getting interest into the top of your marketing funnel. Don’t try the hard sell too early, think about useful next steps, like mentioning when open days are coming up.
Direct student to student connections to answer questions such as in the SOAS example above serve a different purpose. They help convert students who are already actively considering your course/institution. Because student to student marketing can play a role across the marketing funnel, it’s best managed not as a distinct pillar with one set of KPIs, but rather as a tactic that can be used at various points to boost the key metrics your university’s marketing department will already be working on. If you’d like expert advice on how to best employ digital tactics to boost your student recruitment, get in touch with our team via [email protected]