Justin announces the findings of our joint research with social community site, The Student Room.

Much has been made of fee-paying students as ‘customers’ making more consumer like choices in terms of where they choose to study. With the growing infiltration of social media into every aspect of young people’s lives, Communications Management, partnered with social community site The Student Room to find out to what extent social media channels influenced which universities to apply for.


We asked 305 potential or current students what role social media had played in their decisions and were surprised to find that despite an increased investment in social media by universities, the top three most influential communications channels are all traditional. 90% cited the university’s own website, 76% open days and 72%, good old university prospectuses, with The Student Room featured as the most trusted and influential source of information from a social media source.


Mainstream social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, despite being used many times a day by two–thirds of those surveyed, featured very low in terms of influencing where people chose to study.


Our research with those leading student recruitment campaigns, shows only 40% admitting that the growth of social media had really changed the way they approached student recruitment and 60% planning to increase investment in it over the next year. All those we spoke to continue to make use of both traditional and social media, with half reducing spend on traditional marketing channels, on paid advertising in particular. Several universities felt that prospective students continue to prefer face to face and printed or online prospectuses with social media channels seen as “expected” and used to enhance this information, providing a way to head off problems and answer questions quickly.


One-fifth of potential or current students felt that universities really didn’t make enough use of social media in recruitment which meant they didn’t expect or look for information there. One respondent said, “I didn’t even think about going on social networking sites to find out which universities to choose.”


This may be the nub of the problem. Universities have more to do before potential students seek out and see social media as a credible source in determining which universities they choose to apply for. As the daily use of social media by this target market continues to grow and ‘people you know’ and network with become ever more trusted in terms of consumer decisions, universities that don’t embrace social media will find themselves trailing behind.


Click here for a larger view of our infographic

  • Despite 65% of students using social media several times a day, traditional channels were more influential in university choice than social media channels.
  • Fewer than 1 in 5 students were influenced by university Twitter accounts.
  • Only around 1 in 4 students were influenced by university Facebook pages or blogs.
  • More than three quarters of students found open days influential, while 9 out of 10 students were influenced by university websites.
  • 100% of universities surveyed had increased social media activity, and 50% have decreased time and budget spent on traditional marketing.


TheStudentRoom.co.uk (TSR) is the UK’s largest online student community, receiving around 6.5 million unique visitors a month. Students aged 14-26 meet to get support, socialise, discuss and proactively research their academic choices, career decisions and every other aspect of life. In the past, TSR has hosted discussions between students and Prime Minister, David Cameron as well as with the leaders of all the other main political parties.


Here is some feedback from universities on the subject:


“I wouldn’t say social media has changed the approach but it has certainly given it a different dimension and new communications channels. SM is part of a myriad of influencing factors. It adds value to the student recruitment experience rather than doing something completely different. SM has come about at a time when unis need it most. With higher fees, people are less passive in terms of decision making and need more information about where they are spending their money.”


Emma Leech, Director of Marketing, Communications and Recruitment, University of Nottingham (participant in the research)


“Social media is used to share experiences, for example of the recruitment and admissions process, and to compare notes and this information may ultimately have an influence on the choice of university. It is therefore important for universities to engage in some capacity with social media – if nothing else to understand what is being said as a guide to what we need to improve. The key to an effective student recruitment campaign is to integrate a range of activities, including traditional media and print, web-based information, events and activities and social media throughout all stages of the recruitment process. In this sense, a student recruitment strategy with no social media component is ineffective, just as is an approach which relies too heavily on social media. The trick is to get the balance right and to be ever close to, and responsive to, prospective student needs.”


Tim Longden, Director of Marketing and Communications at City University London


“We have added social media into the mix of activities we undertake, but still use ‘traditional’ methods such as our website, open days and prospectuses. We link to our social media channels from the traditional media, through links on our website to Facebook and Twitter, and QR codes in the prospectus directing readers to our YouTube videos, for instance. Social media are also important in engaging with our current students. I don’t imagine that we will give up any of the ‘traditional’ activities for a number of years, but the balance may shift as universities develop expertise in using social media and prospective students become more aware of the many ways in which they can engage with universities.”


Anne Whitehouse, Head of Marketing at Buckinghamshire New University