Follow us on Twitter

7 Tech Trends & How Universities Can Wire Into Them

Posted on Sep 26, 2016
7 Tech Trends & How Universities Can Wire Into Them


2016 has seen the rise of the chatbots. Chatbots are another step into the AI world and enable brands (and universities) to strike up an automated chat with you. Back in April, Facebook announced that these bots could now be built to live within its Messenger app. And Facebook Messenger has over 900 million active monthly users. So that’s a lot of people for the chatbots to try and corner with conversation. And so now we have ‘Dom the Chatbot’ (sic) taking Domino’s pizza orders right within your messenger screen. And Pizza Hut are at it too. No re-direction, no downloads, no apps. No waiting for the oven to warm up. Just straight in.

Higher Education marketers and recruiters should take note and consider what their slice of the action could be. The chance to run chats, host tours and share open days all spring to mind. But surely the ultimate is to ask a prospective student (or their parent) what they want to know, and have an engaging conversation on the plate and ready to go.


We live in an increasingly ‘always on’ world. The days of the 7/11 have since been replaced by the 24/7, and as consumers we expect everything whenever we want. Take today’s teens’ attitude to TV and music. Netflix and Spotify are just two channels to satisfy their ‘on-demand’ need. How many of them actually sit and watch TV in order anymore? Many now have almost everything, whenever they want. And so it’s no surprise to see the big brands building the toolkits and help guides to compliment this unscheduled and impatient environment. Apple are just one example of a brand that have created a suite of support available at a press of a button. Short videos, screen grab tours, GIF help, and even stepped photo galleries are tweeted back to answer questions.

It’s got to be the perfect approach for universities too. There’s a multitude of questions to be answered and help to be given. But we can’t just rely on just the FAQs, the threads, webcasts and forums. Today’s students are warm to the kind of screenshot tutorials that Apple provide. Tomorrow’s students will expect it. When they tweet, or post, or snap, they’ll want something back. So our advice to universities is to create those personal statement guides, those engaging (but very short) videos, the 3 step GIFs, the application journey planner, and more. Complimentary to the people led interaction of course. And then keep it all switched on.


But just as the media landscape becomes increasingly unscheduled, we get a new influx of live social media broadcasts just to balance it all out. Facebook Live is now accelerating its offer, amongst rivals You Tube, Periscope, Meerkat, Tumblr and lesser apps, to direct the big push, reeling off millions of new smartphone adventures. Its popularity will soon be amplified considerably as desktop access is made available.

Higher Education marketers have to try this out too. Not least because Facebook’s commitment to the platform is enabling significant timeline activity – this may be the free, shared content that you actually see. Anecdotally at least, Facebook Live has busted a few algorithms for universities. And then there’s the content itself – a great opportunity to broadcast the live experiment from the science lab (the more dangerous the better); or the plenary activity from the open day; maybe even the rainforest field trip or the study abroad adventure. Just keep it interesting! And remember, it’s not just one hit. The film can live and breathe on your wall for a lot longer, but, more importantly, you have the ability to share the highlights on a number of different platforms.


Well we’ve been talking about VR for some time, but now it’s definitely about to go up the gears. Quite literally too, as Samsung and its Gear headset have been key protagonists in taking the technology mainstream. And although Oculus Rift has just enjoyed its big launch, it’s Sony and the PS4 that could have the biggest impact yet. On October 13 they are due to ship the very first headsets out to teenage bedrooms across the world. And with 50 VR games rumoured to be in the pipeline we can expect that Generation Z will start to embrace the 360 first-person experience quicker than most.

But this all leads to a warning for universities. Don’t expect your VR 360 corridor tour, or even your drone flyby, to get students as excited as you hoped. Remember they may have come to you fresh from a battle with aliens in their bedrooms, from a world cup final in their kitchen, from a cliff hanging thriller on the edge of a virtual rainforest or even a hyper jump through a black hole. Virtual classrooms and coffee shops might not impress them as much. Some universities are imaginative though. There’s UC San Diego who have been promoting their ‘shakeboarding’ at open days. Students get to wear an Occulus Rift headset whilst riding a wave or two at the local (pretend) beach. But as they watch and listen they also get tilted, fans blow wind at them, and no doubt there’s a little water around too. Virtual Reality goes 4D. And as they meet the ultimate wave caused by seismic disruption then they experience the university’s earthquake research credentials, and sustainable surfboard technology at the same time. A little more interesting than the virtual library we think.


With Snapchat Stories and the more recently released, and remarkably similar, Instagram Stories we now have new platforms to share content in simple, creative ways. Both Snapchat and Instagram features are geared towards capturing events over 24 hours and maybe the major difference between the two is their respective heritages and that Snapchat may be used for more impulsive, fun, immediate capture, whereas Instagram may attract the slightly more considered content.

Recently the University of Glasgow have been using Snapchat Stories to follow the journey of international students to Scotland. Ruby travelled from California, via France and into Glasgow and we learn about her, meet her family, see what she packs, and get to share her experience. Of course, there isn’t a camera crew following Ruby; she films it all herself straight from her Snapchat app. In fact, she’s doing just what millions of other young people do every day. Well done to Glasgow for tapping into this.


Ok it’s a rather loose term. But everyone does seem to be scanning, or at least waving, at something these days. I’m not just talking QR codes – confirmed as rubbish generally in the UK, but seemingly essential in parts of Asia – I’m talking codes generally. I’m talking Snapchat, WeChat, Apple Pay, Contactless, NFC, Oyster Cards. I’m talking about all those people walking into shops and waving their phones around as if they were a modern day tech-pumped Merlin.

So, what does this all mean for Higher Education? Well in China, codes are a huge part of student communication. They’re also part of the campus fabric – at some campuses you scan a seat with your WeChat app to reserve a place in the library. So, if you want to talk to a global audience you have to be looking at this stuff. And what about the NFC technology that allows people to tap their phones to get content through their browsers (no download required) – surely this has engaging potential for Open Day visits? Much easier than the QR Readers of old. Maybe it’s time to charge up and plug into this emerging trend.


Programmatic media buying is basically the art of computers buying media from each other. It’s a fully automated transaction designed to micro-target messages with the most optimised media environment. Reports suggest that we aren’t far off a landscape in which 80% of web media is bought programmatically. But people don’t click on banners do they? And a third of them are reportedly blocked by mobile apps anyway. So, for adverts to really stand out they have to be rather brilliant – and their creative messaging needs to be just as personalised as the choice of web page they land on. One of the very best examples of how to do this is from the Economist. If you have 2 minutes to spare click on this 2015 case study video and see how it’s done.



Universities have similar opportunities. The have powerful stories – research, student experience, global adventure – and multiple opportunities. It’s a case of matching up the right creative messages to the right content and to the right media. University marketers often talk about target students wanting to hear from ‘people like me’ and therefore focus more and more on Facebook ads, pre-rolls and micro-targeting. Now’s the time to expand the offering and ensure you have the right creative lined up. And if you’re not doing it now, get talking to your in-house experts and media partners and see if they can help.

Ok, there’s more than 7 trends to consider. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. But the 7 chosen are all pretty important and certainly enough to kickstart some big thinking. Good luck.


Leave a Reply