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.


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.


HENRYs paper is presented at the Academy of Marketing 2017 Conference

Gemma Kennedy has travelled to Hull this week to present results of exciting research on the role digital tech plays in the luxury consumption process of millennials. This project adopted innovative elements of netnographic research within focus group study. To communicate results of this research we have used original illustrations contributed to us by Lucy Turnbull, Arts University Bournemouth graduate.

Read full conference paper via https://digitalmebu.com/2017/07/06/let-us-present-henry-family/

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Let us present HENRY family :-)

by Gemma Kennedy

This exploratory study examined the influence that social media has on the consumption of luxury products. We all know that social media has created a different dimension of consumers in various categories of products and services, and for luxury products in particular. That being, the ‘aspirational consumer’, whose desires for luxury derive from content produced on social media. Often, despite their strong yearning for luxury goods, due to economic reasons, aspirational consumers are unable to frequently purchase luxury. Social media provides an avenue for aspirational consumers to conspicuously consume without the need to purchase, enabling them to use luxury brands to create value amongst themselves. Aspirational consumers are mostly found amongst HENRYs (high earners, not yet rich).

Would you consider yourself one of HENRYs?

Research into the consumption of luxury goods has frequently been studied through the prism of Veblen’s (1899) Theory of Conspicuous Consumption (Truong and McColl 2011). Studies around the influence of social media on conspicuous consumption are fragmented. The literature reviewed revealed there is a need for an in depth understanding of the influence that social media has on HENRYs consumers behaviour prior to purchase. A hybrid qualitative approach using online and face-to-face focus group data was utilised within this study to map a journey of HENRYs consumption behaviour. WhatsApp was used as a focus group facilitation tool and this in fact is considered as originality of this research as no published studies report on the use of messaging apps as the qualitative research tools.

The map that we have developed as per illustration below reflects the role that social media has amongst the conspicuous consumption of luxury brands.

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 19.23.17

HENRYs’ map of conspicuous consumption, original illustrations by Lucy Turnbull

Findings highlight that status consumption is prevalent amongst HENRY consumers. The proliferation of social media usage further encourages HENRYs need for status goods. Social media provides individuals with an immediate environment for luxury conspicuous consumption. Social media influencers and user-generated media allow individuals to demonstrate their luxury status through the creation of social media content. HENRYs wish to emulate these behaviours from status influencers to produce their own social media content as evidence of their own luxury possessions. The reactions that derive from status posting satisfy their narcissist ambitions.

This research has been peer-reviewed and presented at the Academy of Marketing 2017 Conference in Hull, UK. The paper was praised by all attendees of the Consumer Behaviour track.

Reference for the conference paper: Kennedy, G. and Bolat, E., 2017. Meet the HENRYs: A hybrid focus group study of conspicuous luxury consumption in the social media context. In: Academy of Marketing 2017 3-6 July 2017 Hull, United Kingdom.

Full version of the conference paper can be found here: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/29423/

Below, see presentation slides from the Conference.

Parallel Worlds

by Samreen Ashraf

Men have become the tools of their tools”

Henry David Thoreau

Walking down the road you might see someone wearing a Manchester United t-shirt, taking sips from their Starbucks cup while face timing on their iPhone. An onlooker might conclude that this person is an avid football (more precisely Man United) fan with a strong taste for coffee who loves the innovative side of Apple.

In a second scenario you come across various social media accounts of a successful manager where all of these accounts portray her differently. For example, she is a party goer on Facebook, twitter shows her a well-informed individual, snapchat indicates her crazy stories, Instagram shows her photographer side (and hence the attached picture) whereas LinkedIn has her all achievements listed.

By going through these two scenarios it can be easily inferred that almost everybody is living two lives these days, an online vibrant life and an offline real life.

Whether or not these people know that by consuming certain products offline (the first scenario) or online (the second) they are creating their persona about who they are, what they are like and what they enjoy the most depending on their situations. These personas lead to certain labels attached to these people which can be also termed their identities and these impact their decisions including consumption.

Thus consumption provides a chance to the consumers to build and express their self-image and identities through their product/service choices not only to themselves but to the people around them.

Consumer identity might not have been as relevant a topic before but now due to the explosion of social media, mobile technology and big data; it impacts on everyday aspects of life.


Parallel Worlds, photographer: Joao Sousa, model: Samreen Ashraf

This whole scenario has changed marketing communications throughout the globe and hence the ways companies interact with the consumers.

A significant difference is evident between the interaction methods used by the companies currently and ten years ago. There is a revolution in the way organisations are developing their marketing messages knowing what consumers stand for and the labels they attach to themselves. Consumer identity is also referred to as the core of customer relation management that means attracting the customers on the basis of congruence between them and the company. For example the Lloyds tag line and their TVC appeals the customers on the basis of trust and security which assures the consumers that the bank will always be with them regardless of their life situation. In another example, a person who considers him/herself environment friendly (green) would rather opt for an e cigarettes than traditional tobacco.

With examples like these, it can be concluded that incorporating consumer identities in marketing messages can be a way forward for companies to succeed in the global market place.

Digital Every Day

by Maria Musarskaya 

We live in a digital era, which can be described in various aspects: the digitalisation of information storage, the emergence of web society, the replacement of face-to-face interaction with digital social networks, the decrease in the influence of traditional media, and the constant need to be in-the-know of what is happening in the world. There are many characteristics of what the digital era is and what it offers the consumers and some of such characteristics are contradicting, for example: interactivity, dissociation, momentariness, timeless, and convergence. The discussion of social network phenomenon and traditional media crisis serves in revealing the following relevant issues of the information space: the information content creation, dissemination, and changes in consumer behaviour.


Digital Every Day, photographer: Andrea Gette, model: Maria Musarskaya

A recent trend in any business practice is to fulfill the need of transforming customer experience and customer engagement through mobile devices. As is seen in the relevant photograph, the consumer is present in a social setting, yet is using a digital device to communicate and to share her experiences with people other than those she is surrounded by. In this instance the real world and the online existence of the consumer are converged and her life is being lived yet is being transmitted online. The consumer is more connected than ever before, yet the social interaction in a physical setting is hindered by the presence of technology.

Maria’s life in the real world and online has merged as almost every aspect of her life in some way depends on her connectivity to the digital world.


Digital Technology in Education: The case of Peerwise

by David Biggins, Dr Elvira Bolat, Emma Crowley, Dr Huseyin Dogan, and Dr Mihai Dupac


Digital in Education, photographer: Mahmut Bolat, models: Marcus Redford, Rebecca Roulstone, Jack Simmons, Conor Sturgess, Abbie Thompson

For many education providers, student engagement can be a major issue. Given the positive correlation between engagement and good performance, providers are continually looking for ways to engage students in the learning process. The growth of student digital literacy, the wide proliferation of online tools and the understanding of why online gaming can be addictive have combined to create a set of tools that providers can leverage to enhance engagement. One such tool is Peerwise, https://peerwise.cs.auckland.ac.nz/, an online, multiple choice question (MCQ) and answer tool in which students create questions that are answered by other students. Why use MCQs? Using MCQs tests knowledge, provides reassurance of learning, identifies gaps and makes this data available to student and provider. Students use this information to focus their time on areas requiring additional work, benefiting from the early feedback provided. Formative assess- ments using MCQs are beneficial in preparing students for summative testing and are appreciated and liked by students. Providers can use this information to determine how the material is being received and react accordingly. Students use Peerwise to create MCQs that are answered, rated and commented on by their peers. Students’ engagement in Peerwise earns trophies for contributing regular use and for providing feedback, all of which act to stimulate further engagement, using the principles of gamification. Bournemouth University, a public university in the UK with over 18,000 students, has been embedding Peerwise in under-graduate and post-graduate units since 2014. The results experienced by Bournemouth University have been beneficial and correlate with other studies of using Peerwise. A statistically significant improvement was seen by one cohort of students compared to the previous year where Peerwise was not used. However, no correlation was found between Peerwise participation and a student’s unit mark. The processes followed by Bournemouth University and the advantages and disadvantages, backed by qualitative and quantitative data, will be presented so that other institutions can gain an informed view of the merits of Peerwise for their own teaching and learning environments.

Access full article Biggins, D., Crowley, E., Bolat, E.Dupac, M. and Dogan, H., 2015. Enhancing university student engagement using online multiple choice questions and answers. Open Journal of Social Sciences, pp. 71-76 below: 


Conference papers related to Peerwise:

Biggins, D., Crowley, E., Bolat, E.Dupac, M. and Dogan, H., 2015. Using Peerwise to improve engagement and learning. In: The European Conference on Education 1-5 July 2015 Brighton, United Kingdom. Japan: The International Academic Forum (IAFOR), 585-602.


Women in the Digital

by Dr Parisa Gilani

In 2015 the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) published an extensive report on the state of the UK Digital and Creative Sectors. The Digital sector was defined as consisting of primarily telecommunications, computer programming and related consulting activities, information service activities and the repair of computers and other goods (UKCES, 2015). The study found that despite the growth of the sector (which was seen to be growing at a faster rate than the UK economy as a whole), only 27% of those employed in the UK’s digital industries were women, compared to 33% in 2002. This is less that the UK average of 47% for female employees

At a global level, Google is a good example of this trend in practice. Data from last year demonstrates that 31% of Google’s employees are women. This figure is considerably less at 19% when we solely look at their tech employees, although this is a slight increase from 18% in 2014 (Google, 2015).

Despite a clear picture of these trends both in the UK and further afield, there is much debate about why the representation of women in the digital sector is so low. Tara Mussell, two time Venus Award Winner and founder and Chief Operating Officer of Ratio, a successful software company based in Dorset, said in a recent Venus Magazine interview ‘I think the female voice is definitely lacking from the digital space. It seems the further you get away from London, the less women there are in senior positions in the digital space’ (Venus, 2016).


Women in the Digital Sector, photographer: Mahmut Bolat, model: Elvira Bolat

A UKCES 2012 study indicated that women are less likely to enter the digital sector as well as progress in it. Furthermore it suggested that there are still few female students studying related subjects at A-Level and degree level. UKCES cites a 2014 report by e-skills UK, which found that females accounted for only 12% of applicants to computer science and IT related education courses in 2013.

Whilst this perhaps creates a rather a negative picture of the state of the digital sector, and women’s role in it, there are a number of steps being taken with the UK to try and increase female representation. For example the Tech Partnership is a network of employers who work together to create skills for the UK’s digital economy. One of their particular focusses is on inspiring girls aged 9-14 to develop their technological skills and become interested in digital careers, through their TechFuture Girls School Clubs. A similar approach is being adopted in the US though the non-profit organisation led ‘Girls Who Code’ initiative (The Tech Partnership, 2016).

There are also important initiatives aimed to encourage and support the development and progression of women more widely in technology. For example the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)’s Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 and aims to ‘encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research’ (Athena Swan, 2016). Bournemouth University have recently been awarded a Bronze Award from Athena Swan, recognising its focus on trying to tackle gender inequality in higher education.

There are clearly efforts being made in the UK to address the lack of women working in the Digital Sector. However there is a still a long way to go. With the UK digital and creative sector expected to grow substantially by 2022 (UKCES, 2015), it is vital that as much as possible is done to ensure that progress continues to made!

Moreover, expansion of women-led start-ups being successful and competitive is due to digital technologies enabling access to resources and capabilities that were not available to business women before. Image below is taken by Wandering brand team showcasing the founder and owner, Giorgia Gabriele, using mobile tech to capture brand installation for marketing and connecting with consumers purposes.


Women in Business with Digital Help, photographer: Wandering brand team, model: Giorgia Gabriele

References and Further Reading

Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). 2016. Athena Swan Charter [online]. London: ECU. Available from http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Gibbs, S. 2014. Women in technology: no progress on inequality for 10 years, The Guardian [online], 14 May 2014. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/14/women-technology-inequality-10-years-female [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Girls Who Code, 2016, About Us [online]. Girls Who Code. Available from https://girlswhocode.com/about-us/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Google, 2015. Focussing on Diversity [online]. Mountain View: Google. Available from https://blog.google/topics/diversity/focusing-on-diversity30/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

The Tech Partnership, 2016. About the Tech Partnership [online]. London: The Tech Partnership. Available from https://www.thetechpartnership.com/about/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

UKCES (UK Commission for Employment and Skills), 2015. UK Commission’s 2015 Sector Skills Insights: skills and performance challenges in the digital and creative sector. UKCES Evidence Report no. 92 [online]. Wath-upon-Dearne: UKCES. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/433755/Skills_challenges_in_the_digital_and_creative_sector.pdf [Accessed 30 October 2016]

UKCES (UK Commission for Employment and Skills), 2012. UK Commission’s Information and Communication Technologies: Sector Skills Assessment 2012. UKCES Briefing Paper [online]. Wath-upon-Dearne: UKCES. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306419/briefing-paper-ssa12-information-communication-technologies.pdf [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Women in STEM, 2016. Tackling the gender imbalance in the UK tech sector [online]. Mediaplanet. Available from http://www.womeninstem.co.uk/women-in-tech/tackling-the-gender-imbalance-in-the-uk-tech-sector [Accessed 30 October 2016].