As the dust settles on results day and Clearing, hopefully the phone is ringing a little less and your staff are catching their breath. For us, it’s one of our favourite times of the year because we finally get to see the communication strategies that our HEI clients have been working on.
Here are a few of our top picks for the most stand-out marketing strategies & campaigns that surrounded the day…
This year, The Telegraph reported that the top-grade A-Level results (the As and A*s) have hit a 10-year low and there was a 1% drop in the number of students opting to go to university. Yet the number of students accepting places through Clearing is still on the rise, with a record 60,100 students securing their spot through this route last year. Why is Clearing becoming so popular? Are applicants trading up? Changing their mind at the last minute? Whatever the reason, it feels like yet another sign of a trend towards a clear 'buyer's market'.
As an increasingly competitive and constantly changing HE market emerges, who’s disrupting and who’s adapting during Clearing? We’ve trawled through the social media accounts of universities from across the country and here are some of the campaigns that caught our attention.
1. Interactive posts about Clearing
Key insight: Applicants are comfortable communicating on social media, so don’t be afraid to start a conversation!
On the eve of results day, we saw a flood of polls and gifs sweeping socials, as many universities took the opportunity to start the conversation about Clearing. The survey option (on all social media platforms) was a popular way to get the audience involved!
And what’s more interactive than speaking to your audience on their favourite social media – the University of Wolverhampton took to Instagram to offer Clearing spaces via DMs!
2. It's all about the 'feels'
Key insight: Recognising that Clearing students may not have visited the university they choose to attend – fill this gap for them!
At YouthSight, we know that applicants turn to social media to get an idea of what life will be like, and whether they can envisage themselves at the university by watching students on YouTube or scrolling through the Instagram feeds of clubs and societies.
The University of Hull recognised that Clearing students may not know much about them, and so focused their campaign on the Hull community and lifestyle. This year’s posts gave potential Clearing students a ’feel' for what the (potentially) unfamiliar city and university is like.
3. It's all about the 'feels'
Key insight: Humour always wins online!
At this extremely stressful time of year, it’s nice to see that universities haven’t forgotten their sense of humour. HEIs from across the country were adopting the language of their audience in tweets and 'Gram posts. Memes were repurposed and shared by many HEIs to lighten the mood – either as main social media posts or as replies to comments.
One university that we were particularly eager to hear from this year (following their controversial campaigns last year) was the University of Essex. Their ‘cheeky’ 2018 Clearing tweets to rival universities landed them in hot water and subsequently led to a public apology. This year, they took a more practical approach and focused their creativity on a ‘results day survival guide’ to help prepare students for what to expect on the day.
However when results day finally arrived, the University of Essex returned to their ‘cheeky' humour, only this time they drew on popular culture memes to get a laugh...
4. An empathetic approach
Key insight: For most students, Clearing is full of mixed emotions and is overwhelming – alleviate their distress!
While Clearing is a difficult time for HEIs, it’s first and foremost a very stressful time for people going through it. Clearing involves quick, independent decision-making which results in a lot of personal pressure. All this at a time when 27% of 16-17yr olds have already spoken to a professional about their mental health (State of the Youth Nation) and 81% of 16-24s think that schools, colleges and universities should do more about the mental health of their students (State of the Youth Nation).
As a result of this, a lot of HEIs have recognised the need to empathise with the situation and posted supportive, empowering messages to prospective students before, and on, results day.
To learn more about the early experiences of Clearing students – read our snippet here.
And our Undergraduate Success tracker confirms that showing empathy during this stressful process can boost conversion for your institution. When asking applicants to tell us the key reason they picked their university, the helpfulness and relatability of the university staff comes up as a swaying factor… unprompted!
“When I went into Clearing the ability to make me feel wanted by the institution swung my choice to them and away from others” Politics student, Swansea University
“The staff were kind, helpful and supportive during the process of Clearing” Psychology student, University of Westminster.
5. Live broadcast from the university
Key insight: Clearing can be a faceless, depersonalised process – offset this by putting a face on your institution!
Our Marcomms Success tracker reveals that 50% of Clearing students felt they didn’t have enough information about the process when they had to go through it. That’s a lot of confused prospective students trying to navigate a route to university that they hadn’t considered before.
This year, we saw HEIs continue to experiment with social media functionality to help demystify the Clearing process. By broadcasting live from their university (primarily via Twitter), HEIs were able to show prospective students who would be answering their call, and crucially, remove any barriers that might prevent them from making that call.
6. Relatable and genuine Clearing stories
Key insight: Without much prior knowledge about the process, it’s reassuring to hear positive stories from Clearing students.
As the dust of results day settled, we saw universities ramp up their comms once again to promote Clearing, with many using real experiences from past students who have been through the process.
We live in a ‘review’ society, where every purchase is judged on the experiences of those who have bought it before and even our consumer behaviour is rated by apps like Uber who score us as passengers. It therefore makes sense that savvy Gen Zs will want to hear about the Clearing process from those who’ve already been through it to help them make their university decision.
7. And if in doubt, include a cute dog picture...
8. Looking forward
Finding the right balance between humour, relatability and authenticity when communicating with Gen Z isn’t easy. We have looked at quite a few tactics from HEIs and there have been good attempts at establishing dialogue with prospective students and dedramatizing what is a very distressing process for most. As we are well and truly in a buyer’s market, with HEIs competing to get prospective students through the door and more power given to applicants to pick and choose (look at the new self-release option launched this year for example), it is crucial for universities to ensure that their marcomms hit the mark.
So the real question is, how can you nail your messaging to maximise attraction and conversion? How can your comms work harder for your institution? How will you get cut through with Gen Z?