Why universities need to be social media savvy

The vast majority higher education institutions in the UK are active on social media, but to what benefit to their institution? Is social media an effective platform from which universities can spread brand awareness, create a sense of community and attract the best student talent?

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A quick glance at official media usage statistics illustrates the benefits: Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes from 2014 found that three-quarters of 16-24 year-olds spend an average of 1.5 hours a day on social networking sites. With each university Facebook account amassing an average of 54,000 likes (not including Oxford and Cambridge, which have 2 million and 1.5 million likes, respectively), universities have access to a large pool of both prospective and current students with whom they can communicate their key messages. Engaging with current students bolsters the sense of community within a university’s social circle, which in turn, spreads brand awareness and attracts prospective students. 

But are prospective students utilising social media for the same purpose? 

According to the latest figures from Students Online: Global Trends, 53 percent of students considered social media an “important” factor in their search for information about universities, while 13 percent considered it “essential”. Although still a developing sector, these figures mark a steady increase from the previous year, demonstrating that social media is a key contender against more traditional offline communications, such as prospectuses, guides and other printed materials.

Facebook continues to be the most widely used social media platform for 48 percent of 17-24 year olds when making decisions about university, making the absence of 10 percent of the UK’s university population from Facebook appear even more uneconomical. In fact, most universities’ popularity on Facebook far outweighs their popularity on Twitter, as illustrated by University College London which has over 138,000 likes on Facebook, but only 13,900 followers on Twitter (with likes for Russel Group universities growing at a rate of more than 1,000 every month).

Although there is by no means a decline in the demand for traditional offline resources, there is an increase in the demand for online resources. Social media offers universities free access to their target audiences, from a platform that can be run cheaply and efficiently. It should be considered an integral part of any university’s marketing strategy. 

The majority of UK universities use social media as a tool to stay in contact with alumni. However, only a meagre 6% of universities have a Facebook page specifically targeting prospective students. This begs the question - how can universities use social media to strategically target prospective students and who exactly does this include?

Join us in our next post where we will discuss how universities can effectively manage their audiences on social media. 


Gerard Kelly & Partners (GKP) is a communications consultancy specialising in education PR. We work exclusively with organisations in education and businesses with an interest in education.