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The best ways to reach your prospective students

Towards the end of last year, a report on the US higher education market made a bit of a splash in the HE press when it quashed popular assumptions regarding the channels prospective students prefer to use to communicate with universities 1. The findings of the report surprised many, not least the admissions officers who were involved in the study: older technology, specifically university websites, email and even positively prehistoric channels such as post and phone were valued higher than newer digital channels like social media.

Not to blow our own trumpet, but none of this shocked UniQuest. Email and phone have been at the heart of our conversion strategies since we were an eight-person operation with a single client. To give you a sense for how communication channels compare here in the UK, see our analysis of the most frequently-used channels (shared below) by prospective students for our university clients.

Popularity of communication channels for prospective students by source country
Initial enquiry sourceNigeriaIndiaPakistanMalaysiaUSA
Email33%24%62%72%55%
Online enquiry form45%21%26%15%20%
Live chat9%4%3%2%2%
Phone1%0%1%3%4%
Social5%0%0%0%0%

The table above features five countries that are of interest to our clients. For this analysis, we took a sample of around 30,000 prospective students and organised them according to how they first made contact with the respective university clients.

The immediate and obvious result is that email is overwhelmingly the most popular choice for contacting universities. It lands top in four out of these five countries, and a solid second in another. What’s more, in the countries where it’s popular, it dominates, with a clear majority of prospects favouring it in those cases. This confirms the finding of Rogers and Stoner insofar as it’s far more popular than any other form of communication.

This suggests that universities should make sure that their ‘general’ email address (i.e., the one that’s called something like ‘enquiries@university.ac.uk’) features prominently in their advertising. Online enquiry forms are increasingly seen by universities as a good replacement for an email address because of the ease with which they can be used to harvest useful data about students. That said, our data on conversion rates by channel indicates that there may be a trade-off between the volume of leads you generate with email versus the quality of leads you can develop with online enquiry forms. To improve the level of engagement via forms, progressively profiling students with dynamic data-capture forms that don’t ask for a slew of information all in one go encourages use and provides a much improved user experience.

So, with email proving tried and true, where do we leave social media?

Social media is used by well over a billion people globally, but we’ve found, like Rogers and Stoner, that students are not as interested in using these channels to contact universities, with a statistically non-existent number of prospective students favouring social media. This is likely because social networks are considered informal outlets to connect with peers. As such, prospective students aren’t likely to use them as a way of contacting universities, any more than you’d send your CV to an employer via a direct message on Twitter (unless, perhaps, you were applying for a job as a social media manager). This doesn’t mean you should junk your entire social media marketing strategy, though: this analysis is looking purely at social media as a communications channel.

And, what about the good old phone? This is where our data diverges from Rogers and Stoner.

Amongst this international student sample, phone is a less popular channel for making a first enquiry. Our population perhaps is more reluctant to reach out to universities by phone due to the relatively high cost of international phone calls versus the domestic US calls that Rogers and Stoner reviewed in their study. Additionally, given that our US prospects were slightly more inclined to call a university than those from non-Anglophone countries, we reason that prospective international students may be concerned with a language barrier. Email feels a safer option for using English than testing out their conversational English with an admissions officer. While international students generally do not initiate conversation with a university by phone, we’ve found that they are responsive and happy to talk when universities call them. It’s just a matter of the university making the first move.

Between the Rogers and Stoner US-based study and our own analysis, it’s clear that email and phone remain relevant with today’s students. Don’t cast these traditional communication channels aside just yet in favour of the cool new thing.

To learn more about the data and insights we gather along the student enrolment journey, including intelligence on marketing campaign ROI, student demand, and student decision-making, contact Mary Evans at mary@uni-quest.co.uk.

 

Footnotes

1 Rogers, Gil and Stoner, Michael, Mythbusting Admissions: Where Prospects and Professionals Agree – and Disagree – on Enrollment, Marketing, Messages, and Channels, Chegg Enrolment Services and mStoner, Inc.: 2015

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