Who should universities target through social media?

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? 

Going Social Blog Education PR

International Students: In 2015, 19 percent of the student population in the UK was composed of international students. For some universities, the percentage is much higher – 60 percent of University College London’s student population for the academic year beginning 2014, consisted of international students. Creating a specific page on social media to target international students gives universities the opportunity to tailor information to the needs of those students, including fees, bursaries, language requirements and application deadlines. Such a page would provide a cost-free channel through which students can contact members of the admissions team with any queries, avoiding the sometimes-difficult time differences that arise with international communication. 

Faculty: After international students, it’s worth considering creating a page specific to university faculties, publicising the ones which receive the least interest from prospective students or are particularly quirky (surf science, anyone?). When you consider that each faculty may also have its own admissions procedure, the advantage of having a page with tailored information means that prospective students will gain a greater insight into the details of specific courses. One of the great aspects of faculty pages is that they often have a dual appeal – showcasing the achievements of current students which is then viewed favourably by prospective students. Aston University School of Languages and Social Science do this particularly well on Facebook, posting information on relevant events, faculty news and student success.  

Socioeconomic background: New reports have shown that the number of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds attending seven of the top UK universities, including Oxbridge, has declined in the past decade. The UK’s top universities can help to minimise this trend by promoting Access events on social media pages. This is an especially effective way of reaching students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, especially as their own schools or colleges may not already be taking the initiative to liaise with universities and particularly given their familiarity with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A recent anthropological study by UCL (see footnote) found that in some field sites, low-income families often saw social media activity as “a useful skill enhancing literacy and providing a route to alternative, informal channels of education.”  Universities should not underestimate the importance of using social media to dispel myths and commonly held misconceptions that can often put students off attending their university. Social media allows universities to exhibit the informal side of student life, enabling them to depict the university as an inclusive and diverse place to study.

Age: According to the Higher Education Statistics survey, 24 percent of the student population in 2014/15 were postgraduates and 60% of the total student population were mature students. What’s more, increasing numbers of professional workers are quitting their careers in favour of academia, pursuing master’s degrees and PhD opportunities. Of all the possibilities, LinkedIn is undoubtedly the best platform to use in order to reach out to established professionals seeking a career change. Posts regarding master’s courses or PhD opportunities are, when posted on the correct platform, more likely to have a certain resonance among disaffected professionals seeking new career opportunities. 

Join us in our next post where we will discuss how universities can effectively manage their content through different social media channels.

Footnote: Source Miller et al., How the world changed social media, (London: UCL Press, 2016). 


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.