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7 Digital & Social Trends for Higher Education Marketing

Posted on Oct 29, 2013



The Future Index recently opened the UCAS Digital Marketing and Social Media Conference in London with a fast paced session highlighting 25 digital and social media trends that Higher Education marketers should know about. Using examples from both the education and wider consumer marketing arenas, plus a combination of stickers and smart phones we were able to establish just which trends were demanding the most attention in the room – at least as we portrayed them. With respect to the 18 that missed the cut – including Speed Data, Slow-Motion Video, Native Advertising and Micro-targeting – here’s the top 7 trends from the day:



Co-creation is the big trend everyone wanted to know most about. To be fair we did dedicate the most time to it too. Its popularity reflects the power of sharing development with a customer / user base, in all aspects of marketing, from product design right through to promotional campaigns. The latter resonated particularly with the digital marketing communication specialists we were talking too. Maybe, in part, because co-creation offers a route to expand the marketing team without adding to the payroll!

Co-creation is a main-stay of many consumer marketing campaigns now. Beefeater Gin recently co-created gin bottles, made up form over 1000 images of London uploaded by fans from Facebook – something described not just as a packaging idea but as ‘an engaging campaign idea which demonstrates the creativity and richness of London in a modern and relevant way.’ Check the story out here.
And have a look at the campaign site to learn more. For another recent example from the consumer world look at how the game Halo 4 pulled fans in, again from facebook, to help make its TV advertising.


Co-creation is alive in the world of HE marketing communications. Have a look at the University of Huddersfield’s ‘Aliens in the Hud’ video and how it was made – co-created with students – here. And for more information about the film, including its CASE COE award click here.

Universities are co-creating digital and social marketing communications more and more. Right now, there’s a big focus on working with students, often indirectly and informally to create videos like this from Portland University – showcasing the last picture on a mobile phone (edited of course!) to bring to life the real campus experience. Have a look at how Ithaca College used 10 disposable cameras and 5 locations to produce one authentic view of a day on campus.
Also, Duke University collected over 1,000 videos and messages filmed by students in a 24 hour period and edited the highlights into ‘One Day at Duke.’



For a good example of how consumer marketers are aligning their brand with the stories that they tell look at how Heineken uses its ‘Dropped’ episodes to be associated with the ‘unplanned adventure’ and the excitement and impulse that goes with it. The rumour is that many beers taste the same (!) and so Heineken is using online story-telling, amongst other strategies, to stand out from its competitors. Have a look at the campaign pages and read about it in both The Drum and in Creative Review.The videos are on the ‘Dropped’ channel although you will need to confirm you are old enough!

IIT’s Fuelling Innovation video is an excellent example of using engaging narrative to tell the story of the institute’s impact on the world, in the past and in the future. The poetic, strong delivery supports the impactful theme. Do watch the campaign video to see what we mean.

The video supports the individual stories available, including how one of the institute’s alumni has gone on to become one of the most influential people in world technology, currently working on solutions to computer illiteracy in the developing world. The video itself won a 2013 CASE COE Gold Award.



One of the buzz terms is ‘rotation curation’ and, jargon aside, this is definitely a trend that is buzzing in the Higher Education world. Also, referred to as ‘takeovers’, more and more social media page owners are literally sharing ownership. We’ve seen it as cities such as Leeds have shared their Twitter handles. We’ve even seen whole countries at it! @Sweden has 67,000 followers and to learn just how the sharing of tweets works, have a look here.

So it’s no surprise to see universities taking part in the rotation game too. This from George Mason University explains its Mason Nation initiative: ‘We feel that one person cannot capture the complete picture of our complex and fascinating community. With a new voice each week at @GeorgeMasonU, we hope to begin to understand the many layers of the university community. Everyone has a story to tell.’ This project brings together staff and students in pushing out a university voice – just imagine the fresh ideas, enthusiasm and networks of people this can bring. We’re seeing a lot more of this out there and we’ll be keen to see how well the likes of Aston University does with its increasing momentum in sharing its Twitter and Instagram accounts with students in its very own ‘The Takeover’.



You just can’t ignore the opportunity of smartphone apps. As the numbers of devices increase and the platforms get better then expect apps to trend for a lot longer yet. Watch where they leap to too, probably to a smart TV near you soon. We whizzed around the higher education world in 80 apps earlier this year and much of our thinking still remains the same. You can read the blog here. There are a few gems out there. Certainly there are a number of US universities that are making the app something far more engaging and useful than a simple mobile site. We loved the pictured app too – created for a University of Salford Fashion Degree Show, using full screen video and links to buy the student designers’ clothes to bring the cat-walk feel to life. And there are thousands of great apps in the wider consumer world to inspire education marketers. Hopefully we’ll see more of a shift to targeted, interactive, creative, apps, where apps really work well, and a pull back of web content led apps into simple mobile responsive websites.


Dr. Santa J. Ono

Have a read of this LinkedIn blog from Richard Branson – and just what he has to say about leadership in the world of digital and social media communication. He highlights both the huge opportunities for organisations and his own surprise at why so many other leaders don’t follow suit. Incidentally, Branson has almost 3m LinkedIn followers of his blog – he clearly walks the talk.For a little more insight, have a look at this interesting interview with Branson back in 2011 about why he always makes time for social media and its importance to his business.

Online leadership is trending in the Higher Education world too, especially in the US. You can read more about ‘President Twitter’ Santa Ono (President of Cincinatti University) at our blog, and follow that up with a little more detail here. This is a university president that also walks the talk – with about 20,000 Twitter followers, many of them students, sharing daily news and listening in the most engaging way. Richard Branson would be proud of the approach!

You could also look at how the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska uses YouTube to open up to the world, and shows quite a sense of humour – click the link here.



We admit there is a huge crossover between co-creation and crowdsourcing and both terms, no matter how they are defined, are clearly demanding a lot of attention in the higher education world. No doubt the access to thousands of students within a few miles is an inspiration. Over the years we’ve seen hundreds of dance-offs, shopping centre sing-a-longs, Harlem Shakes, and musical parodies. They’ve all added a new dimension to getting messages out there. And, no doubt this type of crowdsourcing will start to join up the brand story better, learning from the likes of Nissan who recently created a short movie in India, complete with Bollywood’s biggest star, 100 Nissan cars and a load of extras recruited from a Facebook competition. See the Nissan extravaganza for yourself and watch it on You Tube here.

As well as the music, Higher Education marketers are now crowdsourcing content that can offer practical application – often enhancing a potential student’s experience. We are seeing this more and more with virtual tours and campus views. Wageningen University in the Netherlands crowdsourced 1000 students to create their very own Student Street View. You can see an introductory video and the app itself on Facebook here. If you’re not logged into Facebook, then check the video at ‘Ads of the world’ where it has been highlighted. It’s worth a watch.

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And just recently we’ve seen 15 students working with 3D tour specialists XplorIT to create an impressive view of the Brigham Young University campus. The students put the miles in, using fisheye lenses and stitching them all together. You can read about it here. A great example of how crowdsourcing and co-creation really do combine to make something very useful.



Games, gaming, gamification… It’s everywhere. There are thousands of great online examples in the corporate and consumer worlds – all tapping into our need to compete and win trophies! Indulge in Magnum’s ‘Pleasurehunt’ advergame (now there’s a buzz word!) as you control a character chasing chocolate around the world. One minute you are in the comfort of your game screen, the next you have jumped into the search engine itself, or climbed into a car advert next door. You really need to try it to understand! The desktop / laptop game is here and check out this overview of it and some outputs at this link.

So can the Higher Education world compete with that? Well Ozu University from Turkey may have been less extravagant but there is some major ambition in the Facebook game they created – ‘The Game of Your Life’ – in which you can get to see a mocked up timeline of just what your university experience could be like, complete with photos. It’s a major award winner, and do have a look at the case study video here.

Please do contact Jim at if you want to know how we can bring the trends to life for a marketing team in a 3 hour workshop that promises to be an inspiring launchpad for a wave of new ideas to help your institution stand out.

To see all 25 trends in 10 seconds (pause button at the ready) then watch the video here.

To learn about our Future Index Academy and how we are bringing together bright, motivated Higher Education marketers together in an exciting new learning network then please do click here.

Finally, to find out much more about The Future Index, the HE marketing inspiration we are collecting and how it could be of use to you, please have a look at our main site, complete with more samples for you to take away and use. Simply click here.

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  1. laviedejaqueline
    9th November 2013

    Reblogged this on la vie de Jaqueline.

    13th November 2013

    […] October 29 | 7 Digital & Social Trends for Higher Education Marketing […]

  3. Current Social Media in Higher Education « Gemma Rose
    31st May 2015

    […] futureindex. (2013, October 29). 7 Digital & Social Trends for Higher Education Marketing. Retrieved from WordPress:… […]


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