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Webcast Blog 3: Best ways to reach students effectively to support the student journey.

May 12, 2022

Welcome to our brand-new student experience series! Over the next few months, we will be publishing weekly episodes about the latest trends, best practices, tips, tricks, and other insights regarding the general experience for university students. In this week’s episode, we’ll be covering a new, exciting topic; the best ways to effectively reach students.

Want to listen to this topic instead? Click here to check out the webcast.

Reaching students. It seems so simple but based on all the first hand-experience we’ve acknowledged that it is becoming increasingly harder to reach students. Why is that the case? In the view of Uni-Life & StudentPulse, two companies within the student experience domain, it has to do with two primary factors.

First is the diversity of all readily available platforms. If you were to pick a student at random and ask them to show their phone’s home screen, you’d more likely than not come across a whole list of social media and communication channels (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, Snapchat, Messenger, Discord, LinkedIn, and a whole lot more). Students have become used to utilizing lots of different platforms at the same time. Although Facebook used to be the primary platform where students would share most content, you’ll now see students using different platforms for very specific purposes, and sometimes even the same (e.g. Instagram Reels vs. TikTok videos).

This trend in student communication will have effects on universities too. For instance, did your Facebook groups work well 3 years ago? Tough luck, as in some countries student usage on Facebook has declined by up to 95% (ever seen one of those groups with tens of thousands of followers that always only gets a handful of likes?). A marketing director at one university told us that he does not believe students can be reached via one platform anymore. Instead, focus on what type of message you want to send to which students, and then decide on the best available communication medium.

Second is the decreasing interest of students to frequently open and read their emails. A lot of universities have indicated that the open rate for emails has plummeted to below 30%. Students are flooded with emails, and as a result, will only check when the information contained is extremely valuable to them (e.g., exam grades). In a recent survey completed by some universities in The Netherlands, students massively indicated they were being driven crazy by an overload of emails. On top of that, despite all universities providing their students with a university email, lots of students set up an auto-forward to their personal email (ensuring their inbox is flooded even more with personal emails they are receiving). 

So how can we solve this challenge? Based on our research, we suggest three approaches.

  1. Reserve emails for crucial information only, and approach students for non-crucial information via platforms that they are already using (TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat). Really spend a lot of time on defining the required tone, importance, urgency, and target group before choosing the best possible channel.
  2. Do not fall into the trap that one platform will solve everything (wishful thinking). If students are already using 4-5 platforms for food delivery (e.g., Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Too Good To Go, Just Eat), your university will not be able to create one platform that brings everything together.
  3. Get rid of platforms that are no longer effective. Although it may be painful to ‘kill’ groups or channels that have historically been successful, it’s important to move forward along and accommodate the needs of current students (which admittedly, are changing faster than any generation before).

To incorporate these solutions, the best way to start is to create an overview to map how students are currently being reached. Which organizations are sending them which information at what time through which medium? Although that may be quite a task at some universities, it will help create insight into the current situation for students. If possible, add as many metrics as you can to this overview as well. How many students are opening the emails from their faculty? How many students are checking out the news items on your university portal? How many students engage on your community platform?

In addition, highlight the information that is crucial. These should be the messages that get full priority. All non-crucial information should not get the chance to bother/frustrate students but should simply show up naturally on the platforms they are already checking anyway (e.g. coming across your university channel while scrolling on TikTok).

The more detailed your map becomes, the stronger you can start building a communication strategy that will work.

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