Academia goes online

Posted by suzichristie on October 5, 2017

Last month my Google Alerts sent me an article in The Daily Mail about university clearing. According to the report, a record number of sixth form students were using clearing to gain their university places and, with competition for places so fierce, some universities were resorting to Facebook advertising. This included universities belonging to The Russell Group, an ‘elite’ group of 24 educational establishments in the UK, and UCL, which does not even take part in clearing.

Included in this list of universities using social media was King’s College London, a university we’ve been working with for a several years. Initially, we were engaged by The Dickson Poon School of Law, the Law faculty at King’s, to help promote the Dickson Poon Scholarship to potential students. It was a limited period contract but the campaign went well so they extended our contact a number of times.

To achieve the Law faculty’s aims we set up a blog and a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Initially, these were branded as places where potential students could learn about studying law in London, rather than law specifically at KCL. Slowly, however, this transformed over the academic years into more targeted information about the faculty and life as a student at King’s College. Later we began to use social media in more strategic ways – creating groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, for each new intake of students. This helped to create a ‘community’ for the students, before they even arrived. Cleverly, the type of social media used was more specifically aimed at the type of student. So, for undergraduates fresh from school we used Facebook but for postgraduates, who may have already been in the world of employment, we used LinkedIn.

The contract with The Dickson Poon School of Law came to an end in 2016 but by then we were already working with the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, now renamed the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care. With the Florence Nightingale faculty, we have developed a number of these ideas, creating a Facebook account, Twitter account, and a blog on Wordpress, entitled “Making A Difference”.

Working with universities can sometimes be a clash of cultures, especially with an old and venerable establishment like King’s College. These institutions have been in existence for several centuries, predating the need for public relations, and certainly predating social media. We have found, though, while they are keen to protect their academic credentials and sometimes need persuading of the benefits of Web 2.0, they are also keen to adopt new practices when they can see they add value to the institution.

A prime example of this is what was reported in the Daily Mail article. Universities know their targeted market is more likely to peruse a Facebook stream than the academic section of The Guardian newspaper, and so universities have chosen to use the relatively cheap advertising opportunities afforded by social media.

What is nice for us is that these are the practices we have been pioneering with KCL and it is brilliant to know that this sort of work is now being accepted as part of mainstream communication activity.