How to become a digital leader in education

Posted by Jemma Legg

You and your team have most likely overhauled your digital and social media practices over the last few years, ensuring all your content is digital and your website mobile-first. You may have even thrown a Tik Tok dance into the mix for good measure. But all instiutions rely on digital channels to engage with students, so how can you ensure you're leading the digital charge?

If you are a university marketer looking to power up your digital marketing, take a look at our hints and tips below.


Student personas

Mapping out different student personas for your institution will help you choose the right channels and content later, which will help you attract the most 'valuable' students to your institution. The definition of 'valuable' will vary from one institution to another, but the principle of creating personas will be the same. Many marketers assume they know their target audience but looking at the data you have on past and present students may surprise you.

There are a few ways to discover your institution personas and some excellent free tools to help you start. 


Rethink your marketing methodology

If someone asked you to describe your marketing methodology or values, would you be able to answer them? In the business sector, many marketing teams feel the pressure of ensuring the brand and offerings are seen and heard by as many people as possible, making it a bit of a numbers game. While mathematically, this will get you some wins, the chances are the cost per applicant (budget, time, and resource divided by the number of applicants who engaged with your efforts) will be very high. So, is it really a win?

Marketing methodologies like the inbound methodology focus on returning the power to the customer or, in this case, the applicant, connecting people who are genuinely interested in your offering with your content at the exact time they start looking. This type of marketing builds trust, reputation, and offers your audience something they cannot get from a prospectus alone.


Social media 2.0 

You have the hashtags, student contributors, and takeovers, so why are your posts not getting the impact they deserve? Digital marketing, mainly social media, is continually evolving, and what has worked for you over the last couple of years may no longer be enough. Your content may be getting lost in a sea of similar Instagram stories and posts from other institutions. How can you take your social media to the next level?

  1. Influencers. Gen Z highly reveres the influencer's role with 76% of 13-16-year olds following people on social media who could be considered an influencer and 30% of those say they follow many influencers (Morning Consult Influencer Report 2019). Dig into your data and see if you have any alumni who are influential to your personas and who will work with you.
  2. Reviews. Perhaps it is the rise of review videos on YouTube or the gospel testimonials of online influencers, but young people want to make sure they choose the best - from their phone contract to their education. Star ratings and reviews may feel a bit e-commerce for some, but perhaps consider a visual infographic or animation with student feedback and quotes. Be authentic; studies reveal that showing only 5-star reviews and testimonials comes across as 'fake news' to millennials and Gen Z. Include the 3 or 4 stars and explain how you intend to, or have already, improved on them instead.
    Enjoying this blog? Get more like this direct to your inbox.
  3. Be available 24/7 with automation. Reduce student application anxiety with chatbots or automated instant messaging - this way, they can get their answers at 2 am or in a different time zone. Many studies show that Gen Z want real-time action, so making them wait for a reply may mean you lose out to a 24/7 institution.
  4. Respect the applicant's preferred communication methods. If they have reached out to you via chatbot, ping them back an instant message to follow up. If they registered for an open day via an Instagram post, slide into the DM's. You can always ask them to move to another communication channel, but let them stay within the communication comfort zone for initial contact.

Did you know?

It is widely documented that Gen Z and millennials have a genuine aversion to phone calls. With almost everything at their fingertips, making a traditional phone call has been seen to cause anxiety and even distress to some young people. The technical term for this is Telephonophobia.


Alternative digital channels to consider.

Have you considered looking outside the standard social media channels? Be the visionary of your office and take a look at some of the alternatives below.

  • Spotify - Spotify owns a 35% market share of global music streaming, and over 150 million of these are non-premium subscribers (so are subject to paid audio and visual advertising). Spotify Ad Studio allows you to easily make audio adverts so you can reach people whilst they' stream what they love.'
  • Twitch – Twitch exploded in 2020 due to lockdown, providing live streaming of quizzes and games to beat the boredom, but Twitch has been popular with Gen Z since 2017. 43% of their 17.5 million daily visitors are aged 13-24 (Civic Science, 2020). This platform is a great way to get in front of its predominantly male audience (81.5%) whilst streaming games like Fortnite and Among Us.
  • Image editing apps – With so many of the Gen Z demographic following influencers, it stands to reason they would want to make sure their 'Gram' or video content is on par with the professionals. Apps like VSCO and Unfold are hugely popular with Gen Z as they attempt to get the right aesthetic for their images. Consider partnering with an app and create your own filters or use these apps as targeting tools for more general paid advertising.

Free persona building tools

Persona Generator:

Make my persona:

Hootsuite buyer persona template:


Subscribe to your blog for more content like this.



LinkedIn Twitter

Discover Tribal for Higher Education
Find out more about our products and services for Higher Education...