Universities need to adapt commercial brands-led marketing practices of social media listening and user-generated storytelling

by Elvira Bolat

UK universities still need to come to terms with the fact that the whole sector is experiencing great changes triggered by marketisation of higher education (HE) sector. However, given the changes are impacting the sector with such a speedy pace, commercial brand and marketing communication practices need to be adopted immediately – to remain competitive. In times of Teaching Excellence Framework when each UK university is graded for its commitment to teaching quality and student service, we now admitted that students are consumers. However, we still may argue that consumption of higher education is still a different process where prosumption, co-creation of experiences and students’ active role within the consumption process are significant elements of the educational journey. This is not the point we have tried to make in our recently published paper at the Journal of Marketing Management. Instead, we are calling higher education institutions (HEIs) to adopt “market-driven business practices” and attempt “to listen to and leverage student-generated social media content” (Bolat and O’Sullivan, 2017). “However, the power of content creators needs to be left or shifted to students, whereas the role of HE marketers, educators and other stakeholders is in listening and engaging via students as brand personas, students who truly believe in a specific HEI brand but also are able to generate authentic stories and conversations with current and prospective students” (Bolat and O’Sullivan, 2017).

The paper itself is based around a social media artefact, ‘This Is Where I Study’ (TIWIS) Facebook page, created by students in the form of dialogues and content.

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Oxford as Student Destination: TIWIS team’s field trip to Oxford, May 2015. Photographer: Mahmut Bolat

Extract from the paper adds:

“TIWIS is essentially a ‘social journalism’ artefact that caters for international students seeking to study in UK universities. TIWIS utilised the social media and marketing expertise of BU journalism and marketing staff and students to produce reportage that prospective foreign students can draw from… BU students worked with teams from other UK HEIs for content production. The BU journalism team was drawn from MA Multimedia Journalism students, with the marketing team drawn from MSc Marketing Management students. The ultimate intention of the TIWIS project was to create student-related and relevant content with the intention of stimulating continuous students’ conversations which would first benefit and improve experiences of international students studying in the UK and second enable the generation of student-generated data that can be analysed and underpin the UK HEIs’ marketing initiatives as well as other business decisions.” (Bolat and O’Sullivan, 2017).

We have adapted three-stage analysis of netnographic data related to engagement with TIWIS page and content and found that:

“students’ engagement with social media platforms such as Facebook is dynamic in nature. It comprises behavioural expressions (manifestations and actions such as likes and shares as well opinion comments) and individuals’ experiences (subjective in nature stories and comments of personal experiences and views). Hence, netnographic analysis allows capturing actual behaviours via longitudinal ‘big data’ sets and support HEIs in proactive branding. Analysis of social media data demonstrates the value of encouraging and making accessible authentic conversations in order to create student-centred content.” (Bolat and O’Sullivan, 2017).

Read full paper at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0267257X.2017.1328458?scroll=top&needAccess=true

Full reference: Bolat, E. and O’Sullivan, H., 2017. Radicalising the marketing of higher education: learning from student-generated social media data. Journal of Marketing Management, pp.1-22.

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