All higher education marketers know the importance of getting real engagement with their students – it makes for a better student experience and, by extension, happier students! But, how to do it, particularly across the institution? Well, one person who knows is the University of Lincoln’s Director of Digital Student Life, Tom Wright. And, quite handily, he’s here to share some wisdom with you.
The University of Lincoln has a strong reputation in the HE sector for its commitment to student engagement. This was built on initiatives such as Student as Producer, which involved students collaborating in research-engaged learning and the production of knowledge. This was groundbreaking in its time and was subsequently followed by other initiatives such as Co_Lab, which used digital tools to enable student-staff collaboration and the transfer of skills, knowledge and pedagogies across disciplinary boundaries.
I joined Lincoln in June 2016 in the new role of Director of Digital Student Life with the remit of developing a similarly collaborative approach to how the University communicates with and engages students outside of the curriculum. After recruiting a couple of graduate interns and some students to create content, we set up the Student Life blog and social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) to deliver student-generated content to current students. We decided to focus the promotion of these channels on new students starting in September 2017 and developed a content plan and related social media events to run from immediately after A Level Results Day up to the start of term.
Part of my remit at Lincoln is to encourage Schools and Departments to make more use of digital tools to engage students and so a key tool that we used was Facebook Live. We worked with colleagues in our Accommodation Office and in Student Services to set up and run student-led Q&A sessions aimed at new students, although the most successful event we ran was a student-led tour of the newly-built Cygnet Wharf student accommodation in the week after A Level Results Day.
The tour of a flat in the building, which hadn’t previously been accessible to view, had a reach of 8,020 with 4,827 video views and 282 reactions, comments and shares.
Student Life Facebook page likes – showing the increase caused by the live accommodation tours and Q&A sessions in the week after A Level Results.
The reach of the post and the interest in the tour helped boost our Facebook following from 314 likes at the start of August to 911, a 290% increase, by the end of September 2017. It also led to our Accommodation Office recruiting a graduate intern to help develop their use of student-led digital content. We have also continued our collaboration with them to produce video content to support the messages that they want to convey to students, such as this vlog aimed at students moving from halls of residence to rental properties.
Other techniques we used when promoting the Student Life initiative to new students included student-led cross-promotion of the Facebook Live events and the blog via Snapchat and Instagram.
We also used print promotion sending flyers designed by a Creative Advertising student out to all new students in their welcome packs.
We also had a Student Life stand at the Freshers Fair manned by our student bloggers.
This focused cross-channel promotion of Student Life led to a 142% rise in page views on the blog compared to the previous period with the percentage of 28 day active users (return visitors) increasing by 204%. Our YouTube channel saw the largest increase with a massive 957% increase in video views and a 1,370% increase in watch time when comparing April-June to August-October.
Since the start of term, we have built on the success of the promotional campaign by developing other student-led initiatives such as #StudyHappy week, developed in collaboration with the University library, which involves a series of events aimed at easing stress levels during the busy second term.
We’ve also developed a campaign with the University’s Student Services Department aimed at improving community relations in the West End area of Lincoln, which has a relatively high proportion of student accommodation. This has involved students interviewing local residents asking them for their neighbourhood tips with the focus on positive, constructive advice rather than anything that could be perceived as negative or finger-wagging. Local residents interviewed by the students include the local MP, Karen Lee, the Vicar of a local church and George “Woolfie” Woolfenden, who owns a stables in the area.
These projects have built on the success of the Student Life initiative and have been positively received by staff, students and local residents. We’re now planning on expanding the student-led approach further with new initiatives for international students and alumni and the development of local Student Life-style blogs for Schools and subject areas. We’re also looking at how we can support other University initiatives such as the roll-out of an institution-wide student peer mentoring scheme and helping to deliver more academically-focused pre-arrival guidance and information to new students in the next academic year, as well as getting students involved in the development of a new online digital hub.
The work is ongoing but, for me, the most important aspect of the whole initiative is the positive impact it’s had on the students who have been working with us, as demonstrated in this video made by our student video team.