Higher Education for the Next Generation

by SIOBHAN MULCAHY & VALERIA PERILLI | Published on November 26, 2020

Welcome to our fourth #ThursdayThoughts social media blog, where we discuss the latest trends and cultural events that are taking over the social media industry and creating new opportunities for hundreds of organisations in the higher education and employer brand space. This month, we’ll be focusing on how universities in the UK have used social media differently this year.

The direction education marketing has taken over the course of this pandemic can be summed up by TikTok’s latest initiative “Don’t make ads. Make TikToks.” – an industry-wide invitation to change the face of social media marketing with creativity and authenticity.

Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed perfection taking a back seat, while authenticity has become the key to building trust on social media, enabling brands to create stronger connections with their audience by being ‘human’.

With universities reconsidering their traditional marketing approach and letting go of expensive stock photography to instead feature students’ testimonials and users-generated-content (see University of Chichester & University of Glasgow’s TikTok accounts), what once was a one-way conversation has become an open dialogue, with social media becoming a place for generations of students to connect, through relatable content made by students for students.

With the spread of Covid-19 and all face-to-face initiatives becoming online conversations, social media has become even more instrumental for universities to keep their students informed and engaged.


This has led to a real shift in education marketing content, with universities no longer focusing on self-promotion, but rather the emotional and physical wellbeing of their students.

Some organisations have turned to social media to become their students’ most trusted advisors, by keeping them informed on the latest government guidelines (Nottingham Trent University), while others captured students’ lives off-campus to build light-hearted episodic content (University of Westminster), or used social media to make their 3rd year students’ online graduation just as unforgettable as they had imagined (University of Greenwich).

Whatever the purpose or execution, it’s clear that universities are relying on social media to overcome the communications barriers set by the pandemic, using social platforms to entertain educational conversations with their students, such as the celebration of Black History Month (Middlesex University) or successfully organise and run virtual open days and events (King’s College London).

As expressed in Voxburner’s latest Gen Z panel, students are already targeted with an overwhelming amount of careers and university-related ads on a daily basis, so universities should continue focusing on the quality of their organic content and storytelling versus the quantity of their ads, making students’ experience as native as possible.

So, what will make universities stand out from the crowd this year and beyond?

Leading with emotion and authenticity, making both empathy and entertainment a key part of their social media strategy – and turning their self-promotion into an entirely user-generated affair, which is starting to align with their students’ expectations.

Paying close attention to behaviour changes – the dramatic changes in our daily lives is having a huge impact on behaviours and media consumption. The Havas Education Tracker 2019 report identified the role that social media plays for students and where they can be reached. The report found YouTube as a key platform for students to research universities whereas Snapchat, WhatsApp, and The Student Room were found as favoured channels for sharing and discussing university-related information.

Researching and understanding the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on students. A series conducted by Havas Education called Life Interrupted! looks at the wider implications, such as changes in attitudes and beliefs and key lessons learned. Knowing students’ thoughts and behaviours and reacting to these will promote universities as a key competitor. 

Implementing these changes will ensure universities are prepared for higher education of the next generation.