Aiming for the apex of engagement

By Max du Bois of Spencer du Bois

In this second article in the series, Max du Bois talks about the power of sourcing brand ambassadors, and the ineffectiveness of constantly playing catch up and trying to influence reputation on every social platform

In last months article we established that the current maturity of universitiesdigital brands shows a remarkable opportunity for forward thinkers and an established order waiting to be upset. As with so many other markets, those who master the ability to connect will reap benefits and those Luddites that don’t will slip into irrelevance. 

Universities now need to embrace a more nuanced, rich way of understanding what engagement looks like today. Whether they like it or not they are being re-shaped, and if they continue using traditional means of marketing themselves they risk becoming faceless.

Prospective students no longer accept the polishedversion of what a university can offer neither do they want a cookie cutter response to their questions.  Which is why the real experience of a university is already being created via tweets, Facebook updates and forums. 

Yet social media and smart devices have become a boon and blight for marketers in that theres never been more ways to reach audiences, but, with the floodgates open and content awash, grabbing attention, and subsequently that all-important ‘engagement,’  seems elusive. 

The goal therefore is for universities to get their stakeholders to the level of wanting to remix what they are talking about. Cultivating this kind of engagement is achieved without being intrusive or opportunistic and it hinges on turning students into co-collaborators, supporters, and eventually fans.

Universities need to delve deep into their hearts and define the spark that will make them special to this increasingly savvy and critical audience. This unique spark is something I have encountered with every university I have worked with,  from the University of the West of Scotland, the University of Hull, to Imperial College and their business school.  

Every university has it, and communicating it means shifting away from the usual generic, paper thin platitudes that currently pervades. In a world where league tables often act as judge, jury and executioner, this is precisely where the transformation will come from; showcasing unique facets that stakeholders themselves have defined. 

Without doubt evolving a universitys digital maturity with a vision to lead, inspire and nurture is going to be challenging. Key to its success is to create an agile structure that is able to deal with change as a constant. 

The thriving university of the future will always retain its own unique approach to education but it should allow itself to be moulded by its audiences and responsive to societies needs

For a higher education organisation to thrive in an environment of change, spun ever faster by technology, what are the behaviours they should address to make best use of technology?A change in attitude to assets and knowledge is a first step. The thriving university of the future will always retain its own unique approach to education but it should allow itself to be moulded by its audiences and responsive to societies needs. As terrifying as it may sound, relinquishing control is part of the necessary change in behaviour that a university needs to accept before being able to become a transformational organisation. 

To evolve the digital maturity of a university means shifting away from siloed executions focused on a particular platform and getting involved, gathering insight and co-creating a living breathing brand that is relevant to the very people who will be using it because it was created by them.

In our experience, the focus needs to be on sharing rather than selling, joining the conversation rather than taking over the microphone. It is no longer about the individual, it is about the group as a whole and it is as far away from good old fashioned persuasion as a marketing team can get.

This shift to universities generously handing over the reins focuses on using digital to converse rather than broadcast and it should involve the academics, whose research and teaching shapes our bright young things and combine this with the students themselves who are at the cutting edge of crafting their own future. When this occurs co-creation will effectively tap into students core drivers and emotions and get to the very essence of what the university means to them. 

Finally, we are not advocating replacing the learned staff with crowdsourced, socially influential bloggers. In fact being digitalneednt change “how” teaching is delivered and inspires the worlds future scientists, engineers, biologists, creatives and mathematicians, instead it means openly celebrating what education is achieving and empowering all voices to share this authentic experience. 


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