The most basic premise in student recruitment is matching the right students with the right course and institution.

The University of Salford’s latest recruitment concept broke through and broke ground in driving applications with use of the dating app, Tinder. This follows on from their Tinder inspired platform, Match Made in Salford, which was launched the year before, with over ten thousand people using the service.

The University took their Tinder idea one step further this year and launched two separate profiles on the dating platform itself, as well as continuing to run their Match Made in Salford app. This recruitment drive was covered in the mainstream media across The GuardianThe Independent and The Telegraph just before A-Level Results Day. This exposure not only promoted the campaign, but it also helped to elevate the name of the University, providing excellent brand awareness.  

Net Natives are proud to be the digital partner with the University of Salford, working closely with the Institution to create and deploy campaigns across social media, Google search and programmatic display. We wanted to share some of the thinking and planning from the people that brought you this exciting recruitment campaign. We interviewed AJ, University of Salford’s Digital Marketing Manager; the brains behind the Tinder matching concept. Our Digital Consultant, Sophie Wood, who works in close collaboration with the University on their digital activity, was also on hand to lend her expertise too.

Hi AJ, first of all, congratulations on another successful Tinder-related campaign. When did you come up with this idea to drive student recruitment for the University of Salford?


We did the Matchmaker app last year and found that it worked really well in terms of engagement and calls for Clearing places. We wanted to take it a step further this year with the Matchmaker 2.0. We knew it worked and we felt that we could test something different, yet perhaps slightly risky.

We wanted something that gave the ‘wow factor.’ The idea was thrown about with some of Salford’s graduates and the expected questions were asked, such as: ‘Is this mad?’ – but we all collectively decided that it was a great idea and one that we wanted to test.

Sophie, AJ mentioned the importance of early preparation and planning. When running your student recruitment campaigns with universities, how soon do you meet to plan?


It’s crucial to plan early for Clearing and build it into your annual marketing activity, it’s no longer just one day. Not only do Net Natives have a lot of experience in Clearing campaigns, but our National Clearing Survey(the UK’s largest survey of students who applied through clearing) shows the trend in applying to University this way, as an active choice. It needs to be a part of the overall strategy and so planned in early.  Students are actively searching during the months prior and then continuing to do so past A-level Results Day. It’s important to have a clear pre and post Clearing strategy in place to ensure that you are putting the right content out at the right time – this is exactly what we do with the University of Salford.

How on earth did you manage to persuade senior management to sign off a potentially controversial idea?


Last year was the challenge. There had been no results, the Deans and Directors were quite hesitant about it and thought that it came across ‘desperate’ or was perhaps ‘pushing it a bit too far.’

This year was different though because they knew that the slightly whacky idea had worked. They wanted to take it a step further, and the general feeling from Senior Management about the Tinder campaign was now excitement.

Where did you get the inspiration from?


We wanted to get away from the idea of Clearing being a ‘last chance solution’ and take away the stigma and hesitation to go through Clearing. The whole idea started with homing in on the student experience at Salford, highlighting that it is much more than just a degree, with a focus on making it a lasting relationship and enriching the experience. It’s about reassuring and making the whole experience of Clearing less terrifying while making it more engaging, fun and interactive.

The theme was then created from this message, making it about true love, a true match and a lasting relationship. It’s about communicating that there’s a lot more to Salford than just a degree, with all students treated equally and given lots of opportunities and life skills.

It’s always important to track the success of any digital campaign, through accurate reporting. Sophie, can you tell us a little bit about the tracking process?


We track everything, from the first impression through to click and conversion (which in itself is a task to organise), but for Salford’s Clearing campaign the sole call to action throughout was to get prospective students to pick up the phone and call. We tracked online and offline so we could adjust the spend to the best performing platforms throughout the day. To be able to track which platforms were generating the best responses meant that we were able to make informed decisions on where to focus budgets.


Completely agree; using call tracks was really beneficial as it meant that we were able to look into more than just clicks.

What did you find interesting about this campaign? What do you think worked particularly well? Any surprises?


We didn’t know it would work! We wanted to test it, so put some budget towards Tinder as a platform, thinking that no one would engage with it –  we would just receive publicity from the press.

We were surprised about the reaction and engagement that the Tinder campaign received. It was a real mixture of responses, with lots engagement in a light-hearted, jokey way, and a handful actually engaging with the University to ask questions about courses.


Students are faced with so much ‘noise’ so it’s about taking something, whether it be the day of Clearing or an Open Day, and thinking ‘how can we be different and make ourselves stand out?’ Salford’s Matchmaker theme and Tinder campaign do just that. It provides an interactive, engaging and almost gamified experience for the prospective student where they are free and more in control of their choices.

Did you receive any negative feedback?


Out of all the positive articles on websites such as The Guardian and The Independent, there was one negative piece, but the general consensus was really positive, both internally and externally.


Finally, what’s next for the University of Salford?


We’d be really interested in looking into platforms such as Snapchat. We will continue with breaking barriers and standing out amongst the noise as it appears to really resonate and cut through in the market.


Yes, for us it’s all about what’s coming next that can help our clients. We just had Google spend a day with us to share some of their latest developments and we’ll certainly be using their latest beta features for our future campaigns (it’s all about using data which will be really useful for targeting students). Also, Facebook invited us to spend a couple of days at their offices to try out their beta products; (Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook) there are so many of them that we will be trying out. But, like AJ, I am most looking forward to using Snapchat next year. I know we have just confirmed that our lead generation software integrates totally with their platform and that we have some unique access to their advertising channels. So that’s going to be very exciting.

Sophie, do you have anything else to add in your position as a Digital Consultant at Net Natives?


Throughout the campaign duration, it was clear that the concept was very well received by our target audience. It cut through and stood out compared to the slightly more generic adverts that students were seeing. Although we refrain from benchmarking because every campaign is different, we experienced particularly high conversion rates which was great to see considering how competitive Clearing is within the digital space.  

I feel that the Tinder campaign showed the University of Salford in a really positive light – that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is willing to engage with students on a personal level to make them feel like a person rather than just a number.  The fact that it works shows how it left a positive imprint in prospective students mind’s which in today’s world, with such a high level of competition is really important.

Speak to an expert at Net Natives on how our team of Digital Consultants can help your Institution’s Clearing campaigns.


Article by

Steve Evans