How to Reach and Engage Students Online – A Guide for Southeast University

With the development of internet technology and social media, reaching and engaging students is easier than ever before. However, the way we interact with students can vary from highly-personal one-on-one interactions through to group chats and status updates. The decision-makers in charge of university marketing can put in place a strategy to embrace all of these new ways of interacting with students, and build a digital experience that caters to everyone.

Why Online?

At Southeast University, we recognise the disruptive power of the internet and social media, and how they have changed the game for students, lecturers and the education industry as a whole. With more and more of our learners going online for their studies, it is imperative that we provide them with a first-class online presence.

What is more, as a globally-recognised teaching and research institution, we need to ensure that our online platform caters to everyone’s needs. Even more worryingly, as a leading Malaysian university, we have witnessed a decline in the use of print media among our students. According to a recent study, less than 10% of our students regularly read print media, with social media being their preferred way of getting news and information.

Clearly, we need to change the way we teach and learn, and provide our students with a new kind of medium. Enter the world of online learning and social media. With our blended learning model, where online learning is integrated with offline learning, and our pioneering 360-degree evaluation approach, we can ensure that our students are getting the best possible education and experience, regardless of where they choose to study and/or intern.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is all about getting the best of both worlds: the comfort of a familiar learning environment, alongside the flexibility and convenience of online learning. We know that learning does not end with examinations. In fact, it is often said that learning continues even after we graduate. So, in order to continue improving our teaching and learning practices, we need to continually assess our students’ knowledge and skills, and provide them with the tools to succeed in the real world. That is where MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and blended learning come in.

MOOCs are short for ‘Massive Open Online Courses’, and are commonly found within the ambit of an online university. They are large open courses, which are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The biggest difference between a traditional university course and a MOOC is that you do not have to follow a set curriculum. Instead, you can choose which modules you want to focus on, when you want to study them, and how long you want to spend on each section.

With the help of technology platforms such as Blackboard, Coursera, and others, universities around the world are embracing the MOOC approach, and are seeing significant benefits from the move. In particular, the flexibility that the open online format offers, and the ability to engage with large numbers of students, are helping to improve students’ scores in academic performance, according to the international governing body for higher education, the International Association for Education and Research. In fact, some universities have reported that their students’ engagement with learning has significantly increased, as a result of taking a MOOC. This is something that we at Southeast University are keen to explore.

Why Social Media?

The trend towards online education and learning does not solely involve using technology to deliver course content. In fact, it involves using the very tools that our students love the most – social media platforms – to engage with them, and create a richer learning experience. According to HubSpot Blogs research, 87% of students use social media to stay in touch with friends, while 62% use it to research about topics that interest them. Furthermore, 56% of students have used social media to look for a job, and 49% have used it to discover events and promotions.

The benefits of social media for students are many. For instance, it can be used to access a global audience, find relevant information, and keep in touch with friends. In the right spaces, with the right content, they can also gain valuable skills, find jobs, and access higher education. Of course, this does not mean that all of these things can be accomplished on one platform. For example, a blog can be a useful tool for engaging with potential employers, while Linkedin is the best platform for discovering job opportunities.

The Impact of Social Media On Education

According to HubSpot Blogs research, only 11% of students feel that the use of social media has a negative impact on education. However, the rest of the participants feel that it has a somewhat polarising effect. This is despite the fact that many universities have tried to regulate the use of social media within their walls. One of the primary reasons that students feel that social media has a polarising effect, is because it provides them with multiple perspectives, and opens up a wealth of information.

Additionally, as social media platforms continue to evolve, with new platforms being established every year, students are increasingly experiencing fast-paced flux, as a result of the constant change. This can make it difficult for them to determine where to focus their time, energy, and effort. In other words, it makes it difficult for them to establish online habits that will serve them in the long term.

How do I establish an online presence?

If you are wondering how to reach and engage students online, start by considering your audience. Bear in mind the different kinds of people that you are attracting with your campaigns, and establish a strategy that will help you engage with all of them.

What is more, as a university marketer, you need to consider the content that you are creating, and the platforms that you are using to do so. For example, if you are using blogs to establish thought leadership, you will want to consider the type of posts that you are making, and whether or not they are working for your cause. It is also advisable to establish a separate email for your university (to ensure that you do not end up in spam filter).

Even more significantly, you need to ensure that all of your online activity is connected, and helps to further your university’s aims and objectives. This includes everything from blog posts and videos, to social media accounts, and email. Developing a digital strategy that connects all of these platforms, and establishes a clear brand voice, helps to ensure that all of your content is firmly anchored in the minds of your audience – and this, in turn, helps to improve your marketing efforts.

In the next section, we will discuss some of the basics of establishing a cohesive social media strategy for a university.

The Role of SMEs (Social Media Experts)

If you are looking to establish a coherent social media strategy for your university, consider the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to PwC’s 2018 Marketing and Media Outlook, 74% of organisations have a digital customer experience manager, a marketer, or a social media manager. This is a clear indication that the line between marketing and digital marketing is becoming more blurred.

In the ever-evolving world of digital marketing, SMEs play a crucial role. They are often small businesses, or even one-person operations, and are responsible for the social media accounts of their brands. However, with many SMEs wanting to play a more prominent role in terms of gaining online traction, it is becoming increasingly more about branding, and tying individual accounts together for consistency.

The Role of Blogging

Blogging is a fantastic place for a university to establish a presence, and it can be very effective at doing so. According to HubSpot Blogs research, 87% of students feel that the use of blogs has a positive impact on education, while only 11% feel that it has a negative one. This is probably because blogs provide a steady stream of content, which can be curated and structured, depending on your needs and the evolution of your blog.

If you are looking to establish a digital presence, and engage with students online, start by considering your audience, and the content that you are creating. From there, evolve a strategy, and establish a timeline for its implementation.