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Campuslife's 5 Rules of Engagement

Engaging with students is tough. There’s a constant flux in their communication, whether that’s with the apps they use to stay in touch or even the words used to describe life (know what a BNOC is? Don’t worry, keep reading and you’ll find out).

Just when you think you’ve got it cracked, September rolls around and the whole process starts again, as this next cohort will be different from the last.

One of our regular internal student panels, used to keep us informed with student trends.

I’m proud to say student engagement is something we’re pretty good at. We’ve spent the last 12 years engaging with students, both face to face on campuses across the UK and online through creating written and video content that gets our clients’ messages out to their student audience.

So I’d like to share with you the 5 ‘rules’ we use which help us get the best results in student engagement.

1. Assume nothing

It’s too easy to assume you know exactly what students want at uni, but not finding out runs the risk of missing an opportunity to provide them with important information they’re trying to find.

Students taking part in one of our Chinese Insight focus groups

Example: Through our research work with Chinese students, we found out a really random bit of information that lots of female Chinese students wanted to know - what’s the best shampoo to use in the UK?

They believed that the difference in water might thin their hair. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but it was strangely high on their list of things they wanted to know before they came to the UK.

2. Listen

Students at a focus group at Heriot Watt University

Following on from the above, it’s so important to listen to your students. If you want to provide them with the best experience, find out what they want from that experience.

We regularly run student focus groups for several of our clients to help them uncover what their students want, what they enjoy and how all of this can help them improve their offering.

3. Keep it real

For a generation that is so intertwined with a virtual, digital world, it’s ironic that they crave realism in authentic, honest, peer led content. This generation can see through marketing messages a mile off.

Compare the current all time low engagement rate with ‘influencer’ posts on Instagram with the continual rise in popularity of vlog content on YouTube.

Unsurprisingly, students place huge value on other students’ opinions of a product or service. We’ve found this through our Watch Me Think service, where we watch students explore our clients’ digital presence, understanding what they’re clicking on and why, then feeding this back to our clients to help refine their offering.

Screengrab from one of our 'Watch Me Think' services

Example: When choosing student accommodation, we’ve seen students explore the official university accommodation site, then head off to sites like The Student Room, Student Hut and YouTube to find out what ‘real’ students say.

Think about where you are online to answer these questions and what content you’ve got which shows students an authentic, honest experience of life at your uni. That’s the content they’re after.

4. Pre-empt

For most students, this will be the first time that they will have gone to university. They won’t know that they’ll start to feel nervous and homesick once Fresher’s Week dies down and the lectures start; won’t know the stress of finding new housemates for 2nd year (roughly 6 weeks after starting 1st year) and certainly won’t know all the ups and downs that living away from home brings.

Gemma running one of our Content Strategy Workshops at FutureLets, Coventry University

But for anyone working in university departments, this will all be very familiar. You’ll see this year in and year out. Yes, the students may be different each year, but you can guarantee certain things will happen at certain times of the year.

We run content workshops with our clients to help them understand these themes from a big picture point of view, allowing them to pre-empt these issues with content that answers students’ questions before they get asked.

5. Don't take things too seriously

Humour has always been a huge part of our DNA at Campuslife. From our beginnings showing students how to cook with our website studentcooking.tv, we never took ourselves too seriously.

Instead of creating a simple, dry 'how to' recipe, we showed students how to make a recipe by doing things like pitting the University of Leeds’ football and netball teams against each other; or later on we worked with students at Loughborough University to show off their accommodation, describing it as ‘prime real estate.’

We loved making it, students loved watching it. Job done.

Hopefully these pointers will help you focus on ways you can better engage with the students at your institution. And who knows, maybe they'll soon make you a BNOC.

(Big Name On Campus)

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