[Koh Howe Soon, Eugene]
I chose to delve into the social media strategies of Universities (SMU, NUS, and NTU) to find out how each college uses social media to engage with its stakeholders (current students, prospective students, and graduated students) and to attract prospective students.
These are my research questions:
- How do Singaporean universities, specifically SMU, use social media to engage with its stakeholders, and
- How does SMU uses social media strategies to attract prospective students and how do they compare with those from competitor institutions such as NUS and NTU?
The primary data was collected from 29th February to 14th March 2016 and on three social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. These dates are critical in the university’s crafting and delivery of social media content for prospective students.
- 4th March: Release of ‘A’ Level Results
- 5th & 6th March: University Open House (SMU & NTU)
- 12th & 13th March: University Open House (NUS)
Primary Research Findings
Overall, SMU produces the most content across all platforms, with a large percentage (66%) of these posts falling under the ‘Freshmen’ category (refer to Figure 1 and Appendix 1). However, most of the content under the ‘Freshmen’ category by SMU were only created ex post. Hence it is unsure how effective these posts were and whether they made an impact for prospective students to attend its open house. Unsurprisingly, this similar phenomenon is also observed with NUS (44%) and NTU (67%) producing a substantial amount of content for prospective students over the two weeks.
One of the key strengths of SMU’s social media strategies is its usage of a recognizable hashtag “#SMUGGER”. Although it is unsure whether social media expedited the common usage of “SMUGGER” or vice-versa, it is a fact that SMU students often identify themselves as “SMUGGERS”. Hence, SMU has been successful in connecting with its current students and portraying an authentic SMU student life.
The other clear key strength of SMU’s strategies is its clear ‘Call-to-Action’ message for prospective students. Around 53% of its Facebook posts contain links for prospective students to apply to SMU. This figure increases to 71% when just considering the ‘Freshmen’ posts. Therefore, SMU is good at provoking a response from prospective students.
Despite posting the most content over the two weeks, SMU is still weak in engaging (based on likes, shares, and comments) with its followers especially on Facebook (see following figures 2 and 3 and refer to Appendix 3). The abnormal peak on 10th March for its Instagram platform is due to a video called “4 Types of SMUGGERS You Will See on Campus”.
Although SMU also created the most number of videos on YouTube, its engagement rate is still far below NTU’s (refer to Appendix 3). This is perhaps due to the type of content created, as SMU tends to portray generic content such as its new ‘SMU-X’ courses while NTU creates content that features student researchers and their work and how it benefits the world.
The other weakness in SMU’s social media strategies is its Open House contest that it held on Instagram. The contest required participants to take a video with a caption “Live at #SMUOpenHouse2016” but it did not specify participants to make their posts public. Hence, with only 14 public video posts on SMU’s Open House, the reach and exposure of the event was highly reduced.
Secondary Research Findings
Despite the fact that students spend a large part of their lives online and on social media these days, research done by Rogers and Stoner (2015) show that prospective students still use and value “legacy” media such as print media and email. Offline resources are as indispensable as online resources for most prospective students (TopUniversities, 2014). Surprisingly, the study showed that the youngest respondents were the least likely to prioritize online resources. Therefore, universities need to put in more attention and investment in these areas rather than distracting marketing resources by paying too much attention to social media platforms.
Even though considered as a comparatively less important resource, social media still remains influential for some students. Separate research conducted by EduVentures (2014) and TopUniversities (2014) arrive at the same conclusion – around 20 – 25% of prospective students state that social media sites play a part, whether minor or major, in their enrollment decisions because they are highly useful for students to learn about universities. The most-used social networks that prospective students are Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.
In terms of information-finding and sharing, research by TopUniversities (2014) show that prospective students struggle to find information on scholarships and college funding the most. This happened across every age group and geographical region.
With the internet sphere already in Web 2.0, customer self-service now takes precedence over customer service. This means that SMU should rely on its social media platforms to communicate information that its stakeholders need. Secondary research by TopUniversities (2014) show that prospective students are most interested in but struggle in finding information on scholarships and funding, SMU should thus be intentional in creating relevant content to deal with this issue. This could be done in various formats, such as video content or infographics .
Secondly, SMU needs to improve response times on its Facebook platform as expectations have become even more demanding. Engaging with SMU’s audience and responding quickly and specifically is just as important as listening. With platforms such as Facebook’s instant messaging function, SMU has the opportunity to lead the conversation and take control of its brand image. Similar instant messaging functions could also be embedded in SMU’s website for prospective students to engage with a school administrator and answer their queries immediately .
Thirdly, while SMU has done well in creating a casual and easily identifiable persona on Instagram, it could do better in crafting its posts related to prospective students with the same strategy. Instead of just promoting or posting pictures of the Open House event itself, SMU can learn from its competitors by showcasing videos of students from different faculties and the work that they are doing or researching on. “#DiscoverADifferentU” would be an appropriate hashtag strategy for SMU instead of “#SMUOpenHouse2016” to attract prospective students because of the existing brand personality of SMU.
On YouTube, SMU could learn from Yale University in creating fun and engaging content to attract prospective students (click for link). Research conducted by eMarketer show that Singaporeans are most likely to share funny or entertaining content on social media. Hence, instead of just posting updates on courses, SMU could collaborate with undergraduates and alumni with the admissions office to create content such as the one done by Yale’s.
Lastly, SMU should introduce custom Facebook welcome tabs as what NTU has already done. These can include sneak peaks of the campus or even virtual tours of the campus and leveraging on location-based technology to highlight key areas of interest and tips. In addition to this, SMU can also include an admission tab to answer frequently-asked questions and give key information that prospective students and other stakeholders require.
While primary research shows that SMU is good at creating content, it still needs to improve on creating engagement with its audience. However, secondary research shows that social media may not have a very huge impact on a prospective student’s decision. This does not mean that SMU should not invest in social media strategies as there is still a portion of prospective students who find social media platforms are useful in deriving information about a particular college. With Facebook providing a more professional portrayal of any university, SMU still needs to focus its resources on the platform as compared to Instagram because it gives a sense of legitimacy.