Why Authenticity Matters for Higher Education Marketers

November 15, 2017
2 mins read time
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This is a guest post by Tom Wright, Director of Digital Student Life, at the University of Lincoln.

I’m a fortysomething member of Generation X. In my twenties, I was an aimless slacker, resistant to growing up and disaffected, and now that I’m older, I’m independent, resourceful, sceptical of authority and continuously seeking the perfect work-life balance.

That’s me pigeonholed. Me and everyone else within a 10-year range or so.

And if you happen to be aged between 16 and 25? Well, then you’re part of Generation Z, a Digital Native, with these characteristics:

  • Grown up with social media and digital tools and using them is second nature to you.
  • Skilled in multitasking but have the attention span of a goldfish, endlessly checking your social media feeds.
  • You avoid personal interactions and shop online to avoid having to exchange pleasantries with an actual human being.
  • You wander the streets glued to your smartphone with your headphones plugged in.
  • And at the same time, you’re endlessly creative, naturally collaborative and highly skilled in information-scanning.

Labelling everyone born within a certain time range with the same characteristics is obviously ridiculously simplistic, and yet the stereotypes persist.

Marketing to a digitally-savvy audience

Working with undergraduate students and recent graduates as I do, it’s apparent some young people are more tech-savvy than others and some love social media while others avoid it like the plague. I have overheard conversations between students about the pros and cons of Twitter. None of them are exact Generation Z digital native stereotypes – they are individuals and have their own preferences.

And this matters a lot to higher education marketers.

A truism is that digital natives are naturally cynical about overly obvious marketing and shut out much of this noise. But you could say that about anyone who regularly uses digital tools. I don’t just go on the glossy website or talk to a salesperson in a shop – I do my research based on what other people have said about a film, book or restaurant and then I make a purchase decision. I’m guessing most people reading this do the same, regardless of how old you are.

Reaching students online with authentic content

Students do engage with and respond to authentic content, which is why I’m working with them to develop blog posts and videos for the University of Lincoln Student Life blog, but it’s not because they’re in a catch-all generic age group. It’s because many of them are digitally savvy and know when marketers are spinning a line. User-generated content (UGC), on the other hand, is transparent, honest and authentic.

With the cost of university ever increasing and students having more choice than ever, harnessing UGC to tell your university’s story can authentically show prospective students what separates your university from the rest, and what life-shaping experiences they can expect. It gives students genuine insights into all aspects of campus life – from sports and societies to lectures and libraries.

If you want to connect with an audience that’s digitally engaged, whatever their age, then user-generated content, utilised as part of an integrated digital and and content marketing strategy, can be highly effective.

Want to learn how to increase student engagement and drive authentic content creation? Watch the free on-demand webinar with Tom Wright on how to boost student engagement with user-generated content.

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