It’s pretty safe to say that in this day and age social media influencers hold an enormous amount of power and influence over young people.
Firstly, what is influencer marketing? Influencer marketing is the process of reaching out to and building a relationship with someone on social media who has a lot of engaged followers. Social media influencers tend to be trusted figures in their chosen community and generally have a huge and loyal following. A prime example of influencer marketing would be the clothing brand Boohoo.com. Boohoo use reality TV stars from programmes, such as Love Island, The Only Way Is Essex and Made In Chelsea, religiously watched by young people to market their clothes. This means that young people, are exposed to the products when they’re scrolling through their Instagram feed, rather than being subjected to targeted adverts.
A key benefit of this is that organisations can reach a huge number of potential customers that they wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. But, it’s not just fashion, make-up or event companies that can use the influencer trend to their advantage. Universities can make the most influencers too to reach prospective students. It can be an incredibly cost-effective way to market to young people, as most teenagers have Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat accounts and login to them regularly throughout the day.
So… how can universities integrate social media influencers into their marketing strategy? It’s unlikely to lead to the direct sales that fashion and lifestyle brands experience, but there’s definitely a benefit to using a more authentic and organic approach to influence school leavers, and we’ve put together some tips for you!
Who knows what life at university is really like better than current students? Peer-to-peer marketing has always been around, and it’s extremely effective. Prospective students are more likely to take notice of people their own age – they’re likely to have common interests, relate to the same things and trust what each other has to say. It also means that the content will be more authentic.
Build up a network of engaged students who are already active on the social media platforms that potential students are using and who are happy to share their experiences and post original content.
During my time working in the marketing team at West London College, I built up a team of ‘student ambassadors’ who were happy to promote the College on their social media channels, do ‘social media takeovers’ of the college accounts and share their own experiences of life at college at events like Open Days.
Alumni, especially high-profile alumni with a large following, are another invaluable channel for HEIs to make use of. As well as share positive stories about their time at university, former students can give school leavers an outlook on what life after university can be like – what to expect after graduation and how the university helped them get there. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing from people who have already ‘made it’. So, staying connected with key alumni can be a great way to promote how your university can help students become who they want to be.
Invite alumni to share their stories via blogs, social media, webinars and also come back the university in person to do talks, attend graduations, open days or networking events.
Molly Southwood, Deputy Director & Head of Alumni Engagement at the University of Bath, shared the benefits of having high-profile alumni to help promote the university to prospective students;
When alumni become household names, or prominent in their industry, it helps to raise the profile of the University. Other graduates feel pride in the institution they attended and prospective students and parents, an increasingly important group of stakeholders, have the University highlighted to them. Strengthening the link between high-profile alumni and the institution reinforces messages about the importance and relevance of a university degree. As well as events, such as our sports Hall of Fame inductions, we also keep a list of ‘notable’ alumni on our website. We’ve held a few events recently with notable alumni who have written books, for instance, and the public image of these individuals certainly helps to draw in the audience. This in turn helps us to build our alumni networks, both for the benefit of graduates and the institution.
Industry faculty who are well known in their area of expertise can be a huge draw for young people who are passionate about their chosen field. If prospective students are aware that they could be taught by influential people that they follow and stay up to date with, they’re more likely to apply and get excited over their study.
One of the best examples of this is the world-famous Professor Brian Cox who teaches at University of Manchester’s Schools of Physics and Astronomy. With nearly 3 million Twitter followers and a highly engaged audience, Brian Cox’s influence changed the public perception of physics and increased applications to university physics courses by over 52% following his BBC programmes.
Ask faculty members to host workshops, online Q&As or webinars to share their expertise, and make sure they share this to their social media following! This will give perspective students a taste of what their learning experience would be like.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Influencer Marketing
Find the right influencers
Make sure you take into account the overall brand and style of the potential influencer to ensure that it is in line with the values of the University. When you align your brand with an influencer, you’re effectively showing support for their messaging - so you need to ensure that it matches up.
Focus only on the numbers
While high follower numbers are important, influence does not take into account popularity. Your influencers should be posting high quality and authentic content that their followers genuinely engage with.
Build a partnership
By working alongside rather than micro-managing an influencer, you’re able to build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.
Stick to one platform
While Instagram is perhaps the most popular social media platform among teenagers, making use of influencers who are popular on different platforms will give your university a wider and more diverse reach.
Allow influencers to be creative
Influencers became influencers because they know how to effectively engage with their followers. While it’s important to provide guidelines, it’s best to trust their expertise and allow influencers the space to create authentic content.
Rush the process
Influencer marketing isn’t a hard sell that quickly converts teenagers into enrolled students. Allow influencers the time to convey the message to their followers which will help to build a more solid brand awareness.