Millennials: How to Market Universities to a Digital Generation

Millennials: How to Market Universities to a Digital Generation

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To become an effective marketer of universities, it is necessary to know your target group. In the 21 Century, the so-called “millennials” are often at the centre of the marketing strategies of universities worldwide. Millennials are often insulated from traditional marketing techniques, as this generation of young adults have lived through the social media revolution, use mobile devices on a daily basis, and solve real life problems through online research and social media channels.

As explained in a report by the Council of Economic Advisers of the Executive office of the President of the United States, millennials have been shaped by technology and have come of age in a world in which the frontiers of technology have appeared unlimited.

how to market university to the millennial generation

Millennials consume information digitally, so in a world of massive online content, to be engaging and relevant becomes an absolute must when approaching this generation of prospective students. 

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How do millennials convert?

In the conversion funnel of student recruitment, the main areas to use creativity and a multichannel approach are the first stage of awareness and the second stage of informing and research. At this point, the goal is to inform as many relevant prospective students as possible about your institution and program, and awaken in them the interest to continue researching and to inform themselves about opportunities at your institution.

While it is true that conversion rates often vary according to the marketing channel and the type of institution, the key factor in the success of your campaigns lies in the effort and assertiveness in choosing the right communication channels. You need to deliver the right message to the right students and remind them about your institution and/or program at the right time on the right channel. So how can you approach this young generation of students effectively?

Improving your website

Master’s students and bachelor’s graduates highlight university websites as the most important source of information. Once they have a clear idea what to study, and more importantly where to study, it is very easy to use engines to find a program in a specific discipline in a specific university.

But not all candidates are so “active”. As a university marketer, you will also find young people who are browsing around looking for help to take the right decision. It is at this stage that friends, professors and social media are considered a good source of information. If a student is not sure about what to study, the most natural reaction is to ask directly for help, for example to their professors or friends with previous experience.

Even more typical for Millennials is to pick up a tablet/laptop/smartphone, enter their favourite social network (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest) and browse around for any piece of information that could help them, sometimes even to post an open question in hope of getting a useful answer.

Getting digital

When you start to think like your target group, it becomes clear that traditional print material, university websites and study fairs are not enough to reach people consistently. To use aggregator websites and social media, to establish collaboration with popular brands and to base your campaigns on authentic content will bring you more traceable results, lower costs and more engagement.

Currently, institutional efforts of universities focus mainly on persistent work to leverage their reputation through rankings, partnerships, student fairs or international offices. There is no doubt that those resources are very well assigned and invested. However, the recommendation here is to think additionally about digital content and to unlock the potential of online marketing techniques, social media, aggregators and ambassadors for universities and programs. For instance, to encourage reviews that provide high quality academic opinions about the level of education and opportunities offered by a particular institution can be a great tool for marketers and admissions, even more if these activities are not only shown on your own university page but also on partners’ websites.

Millennials will search for information about your institution on the web, so why not to encourage your own staff and students to share their great experiences and help to grow your student and research community? Even more, why not create unique content and stories about your institution to highlight the golden years at your campus and research facilities?

But it's a good thing to go digital. It means the range of marketing channels available to you are almost endless. Currently, most millennials are using Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, along with a whole host of other, smaller social media sites. You're spoiled for choice for ways to get your message and your university's brand out to the younger generations.

Then there's also blogging - a generation of millennials using Medium to catch up with their favourite people's activities and insights into the world. Having a blog that delivers excellent continue on a range of themes, especially on more complicated topics like admissions processes, can be invaluable.

And for the really tech-savvy? A university app. Leeds Beckett University provides freshers with a 100 Days To Go Freshers Countdown app that offers advice and reassuring messages for new students to the university. This app is specific to the university itself, of course - whatever you make, write or market has to relate to your own university's particular story, brand, and feel. And to that end...

Telling your story

But it's not just about making sure you're ahead of the curve digitally. Millennials aren't just interested in statistics and reputation - they want to feel something. This means it's important to tell the story of your university, and what sets it aside from other institutions.

This could be something like showing that your university has a strong community feel, from students to faculty. It could be presenting the fact that it has famous alumni - Cardiff University, for example, has several Nobel Laureates, including Sir Martin Evans for medicine. It could even just be showing the beautiful landscapes of where your university is presented, or (assuming your institution isn't in the UK!) the beautiful weather.

Some universities have started doing this, by, for instance, documenting the lives of their students throughout the school year and marketing it as an example of the university's community. This gives prospective students a taste of what it could be like studying at the university, and, rather than focusing on stats and academic rankings, shows the emotional side of university life.

Be responsible, be authentic

Millennials are a socially responsible generation. They care about sustainability, the environment, social justice - all things that can make you stand out if you market them properly.

Studies suggest millennials are willing to pay more for things that are made sustainably, especially clothes. Highlighting the fact that your university is green is a good way to create a brand and show millennials that you care.

But it's not just about the environment. In a modernity of post-truth politics, authenticity is a key attribute to get young people to trust your brand and see what you're presenting as valuable. Use pictures that represent what your institution really stands for. Be honest with your marketing campaign. Be authentic with who you are and the value you're trying to give prospective students.

Keeping it human

Millennials, and Generation Z who come after them, are more than ever looking for a human touch to what's going on. Some of the biggest marketers out there are social media influencers - a single person (though often with a team behind them) who can authentically market to a generation addicted to their devices.

For example, scholarship companies are starting to harness the power of influencers. They give a student a scholarship to study at a dream university, and in return the student makes Instagram posts that promote university life and the scholarship programme he or she has been gifted. It's an effective way to promote a company that provides academic opportunities. For a university, it would be a perfect way to promote whatever values you want to get across, be that a community feel, a beautiful campus, or an excellent sports society.

There's even some evidence to suggest that companies (and in this case, universities) that admit to their faults fare better during marketing campaigns. For instance, when Domino's Pizza received complaints for the quality of their pizzas, rather than ignore them they made a video that faced the issues head on. Intelligent, human and honest content will always win.

How 11 Academia Networks can help

On 11 Academia Networks we are ready to help you to enhance the added value of your institution by giving you space to showcase the best experiences of your members. With excellent content about your institution (institutional profiles and reviews), listings (online announcements), influencer marketing and social media boosts, we can help you to get quality enrolments and successful recruiting campaigns. Not all universities have the same recruitment needs and strategy, therefore we are ready to listen to your goals and suggest different channels to reach a targeted pool of prospective students.

If you have any questions or if you would like to arrange a free telephone or Skype consultation with us to analyse your recruitment strategy and discover how we can help you, please contact us at

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For more information about student recruitment, see these articles:

>> Top 10 Marketing Ideas for Summer Schools

>> Niche Targeting: How to Optimize your Recruitment Strategy

>> Social Media for Academic Recruitment


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