Using Social Media to Engage with Students

Knowledge is power. But how powerful is sharing our knowledge amongst our team? We all share knowledge every day: at work, at home or across different channels. But what does effective team knowledge sharing look like in the field of stakeholder engagement?

I’ve been employed at John Smith Group for 4 months now as an Engagement Partner, so whilst still relatively new to internal processes and the role itself, what I am able to bring to the role is my experience of previously being a student at the University of Sunderland, where I am now currently based managing their new StudyPLUS bursary scheme. Born and bred in Sunderland, my professional journey to where I am today has significantly involved the University, not only as a student, but following graduation as an intern working in their Marketing and Recruitment team. Sunderland is a city and university I am proud of, I feel embedded in and part of their community of students and staff. Why is this important? What impressed me about JS Group and excited me even more about working for them as well as working with the University again, was their heavy focus on driving engagement and delivering better outcomes for students.

Sarah (second right) with some of the Engagement Partners during a team day in London with the Shop Managers from the Retail team.

What became apparent to me from meeting the other Engagement Partners and Executive Board for the first time at our team day in August, was the diversity of people’s backgrounds and how significant their experience, skills and knowledge is to the success of delivering our schemes. I asked myself ‘What can I bring to the table?’ Not only can I bring my experience as a student and working in HE student recruitment, I also bring experience and a big passion for marketing and social media. Hearing JS Group’s social media strategy for Engagement Partners to integrate this into the delivery of our Aspire schemes and allow Student Ambassadors to have full ownership of this was fascinating. I truly believe social media is the right way we should be driving engagement to keep up with digital communication, new technologies and the demographics and behaviours of our target audience – students. Rightly so, Instagram is the suggested platform for Engagement Partners to be promoting our schemes. Instagram has an average of 700 million monthly active users and offers a host of exciting in-app features to create engaging content with – the potential is huge. As an avid user of social media myself with personal accounts and being new to the JS Group, I saw this as an opportunity to want to help our organisation get off the ground running with social media and share my knowledge with the team who felt they weren’t as up to speed with it. Another Engagement Partner, Emily had the chance to lead a social media workshop for the rest of team to give them the basics of where to start and what to consider. The need for this knowledge to be shared became even more apparent at our recent team day meeting our Shop Managers from the retail side of the business, where I discovered that social media is not being actively used. I feel the more cross-team collaboration that can be done to upskill others and share ideas, the bigger our audience growth and impact of engagement.

At Sunderland, our social media strategy has had a great success since launching in early September to tie perfectly with the heavy footfall of students at enrolment and Freshers Week. We initially set up our Instagram page, followed by a Twitter account, with recent exploration done into trialling a Facebook page. Facebook has on average more than 2 billion daily active users. However whilst the numbers speak for themselves, using the evidence from a student workshop that was carried out earlier in the year and seeing our Facebook page not taking off as well as Instagram; it seems today’s students are much more engaged with social apps such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. Whilst we shouldn’t rule out Facebook and its potential, we need to ensure everyone in the team feels confident with starting with Instagram before branching out and they are able to give it the time and consideration it needs for it to be a success.

A selection of images taken from StudyPLUS’s Instagram account during enrolment and Freshers Week, highlighting benefiting students and taking a ‘one of us’ approach.

The StudyPLUS scheme at the University of Sunderland provides Home, EU and International students with a bursary of £150 if they are Year 1 entry or £200 if they are enrolled on the Integrated Foundation Programme. As a pilot scheme last year, it didn’t have the level of exposure it has this year with marketing, events and a full team on board. With my experience, along with a strong group of Student Ambassadors who use social media themselves, (not to mention their engaging personalities, student network in clubs and societies and ability to speak in multiple languages), I felt confident to lead my team to work across all three platforms to create content that represents what we do, who we are as a team, the university and the diversity amongst our community of students. To date, we have reached nearly 600 followers on Instagram, with 55% aged 18-24, followed by 24% who are 25-34 years old. This is no surprise as data from universities admissions teams see more mature students coming back to study. Our biggest influx of followers came in the first two week of launching during enrolment and Freshers Fayre, meeting hundreds of students to build excitement in our prize draw, our online store and not being afraid to shout about it being free.

This is only the beginning for what potential there is for social media for JS Group to increase student engagement and how this then translates into to students been able to purchase the learning resources they need from us for free and the benefits longer term to their studies. What is powerful is having a dedicated team in our organisation that are running schemes like StudyPLUS in many universities across the country, impacting the lives of thousands of students. Without sharing our successes and ideas we have tried that didn’t work as well, we can’t take advantage of people’s full potential and seeing the real extent of what our Aspire solutions can offer to our students who need them the most.