Cara Skikne

Digital Marketing and Recruitment for Universities during COVID-19


Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the higher education industry has drastically changed. The current situation is forcing academic institutions to go digital. This applies to teaching, but also to the marketing and recruitment efforts for reaching their (future) students.

While most institutions have are already put some digital initiatives in place, such as online counselling, webinars, and virtual campus tours for prospective students, there’s a bigger need to redesign the HE marketing and recruitment process and to really prioritise the digital strategy.

Why? Based on our recent research amongst education professionals, it can be expected that there will be a significantly smaller pool of international students due to COVID-19, while the program offering from institutions will remain the same. The growing competition among HE institutions during and post- COVID -19 will therefore require marketing & recruitment efforts to be scaled up considerably. Digitalisation of marketing and recruitment cannot be neglected, on the contrary, it calls for expansion.

Universities must also consider the shifts in the student market: there are fewer students, but also their financial means will change and due to the virus, their information needs are also different during their enrolment journey. At Studyportals, we experience more questions from students and uncertainties, which implies – the same will be the case for institutions – that extra personal service and attention is required.

Another advantage of digital marketing & recruitment is that results can be tracked and measured. In the previously mentioned research, we learned that HE institutions expect to have lower budgets for travel, staff, marketing, and recruitment actions, and therefore they’ll need to work more efficiently with the resources available. The momentum is here to digitise the marketing, recruitment, and support for your future students.

Start from the student

Knowing your students and their needs is fundamental when implementing further digital marketing and engagement strategies.

Some gold standards for successful digitalisation:

  • Redesign the student experience across the entire recruitment funnel, rather than separate parts or channels.
  • Start by replicating the face-to-face journey as closely as possible: Through various media channels, virtual tours, promotional videos, and other services that can be offered to interested students. This approach will reveal opportunities to offer more tailored services and differentiate from competitors.
  • Identify gaps and opportunities by mapping what is offered at the moment and what is asked by students. This way, you can fill in the gaps and offer diverse, relevant services to students.

Youtube or Instagram or Google or Studyportals ?

  • All of the above! There is no one size fits all solution. Georgia Tech University recently launched a successful student focused YouTube channel with guide videos, student profiles and ‘Day in the life of’ videos. Perfect to reach the audiences between 18 and 34 who spend a lot of time on video platforms. The same is true for the social media platforms. It is advisable to implement a multimedia, multi-channel approach to engage with future students, combining engagement via social as well as professional & recruitment focused platforms like LinkedIn and Studyportals.
  • Whatever the channel or platform, ‘Put mobile first!’ The target group of higher education marketing are mostly young users who are digital natives (Millennials, Generation Z). To attract their attention, create clear and informative content, which is easily accessible on mobile devices. For example, over 50% of Studyportals users access the page via their mobile devices which is a significant and important amount to take into consideration.
  • Student audience segmentation is a great method for HE institutions to differentiate the content and engagement with different student audiences across the globe. Studyportals’ email marketing solutions allow for segmentation and targeting based on the level (e.g. Bachelor’s or Master’s), the discipline of interest, and of course the region/country of origin of a student.
  • Invest in quality: High-quality ads equal high-quality institution: Students directly associate the quality of marketing to the overall quality of the academic institution. Low-quality ads are interpreted as if the institution does not have any assets worth advertising.
  • Authenticity is key to stand out to your audience. People – younger ones in particular – can smell fake from a mile away and are more inclined to engage with brands and organisations that share their true values. Having authentic and consistent messages and engagement during the enrolment journey has a big impact on the experience and preference of the student-to-be.

While this is a time of many uncertainties, universities and colleges can also see it as an opportunity. Now is the right time to speed up digital marketing and recruitment strategies to remain competitive and relevant!


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