2020 was an exceptional year in terms of campaigns. We saw institutions utilise social media like never before, whilst constrained by the restrictions of Covid-19, to ensure their prospective and current students stayed engaged, connected and motivated throughout one of the toughest years in memory. From podcasts to user-generated content, we’ve loved seeing the innovative new ways that institutions supported their students virtually through Q&A sessions, inspiring stories and creative challenges. But which campaigns stood out?
Content on the move
Everyone loves a podcast, and students particularly so. Being able to tune in while shopping or studying is a big win in the student world. Student Pulse revealed that three in 10 students felt that stress about academic performance was having a severe negative impact on their mental health, especially with January exams looming.
The ‘How to Fail your Degree’ podcast from The Union, Manchester Metropolitan University, (the runner up of the award for Best Campaign Supporting Student Wellbeing in 2020) provided the chance for students to feel connected to others in the same position, dip in and out of conversations when needed and discuss all things university – from academic stress and how to deal with it, to general chit-chat for some welcome relief from their studies.
Students want to be heard and represented in advertising, on social media, and in their university communities. That’s why user-generated content is so great for getting students excited.
Runner up for Best Use of User-Generated Content, Edge Hill University did just that with their #myEHU campaign, connecting with their students on a personal level, and finishing with the students taking over their Instagram stories for the day. Prospective students were given the chance to see how they would fit in at the university, with a diverse range of students telling their stories. Current students also resonated with the campaign, as they enjoyed seeing life on campus from different perspectives while studying remotely.
But the overall winner for the category? The University of South Wales. By involving a range of recent graduates in their campaign, students felt connected to the student body, making this a ‘heartfelt and sincere’ experience for prospective students to engage with.
One of our student judges said: “I liked how interactive it was between the students. The hashtag made an easy and accessible way to connect with everyone and the social media activities and competitions sounded exciting to get involved with.”
The University of Portsmouth and International College Portsmouth knocked it out of the park with their diversity campaign, taking home the Think Student gold for their efforts. Student Hut studies earlier in 2020 showed that the majority (55%) of students still saw STEM subjects as typically male.
However, Portsmouth’s campaign encouraged women to get involved in STEM subjects through talks from inspirational women, including students, in STEM, using the hashtag #MySTEMJourney to not only encourage the sharing of these experiences, but to also build connections and solidarity between those studying STEM subjects.
Mental health first
At the end of 2020, the Student Hut tracker (which you can now locate on Student Pulse) recorded students’ average score on the Perceived Stress Scale at its highest ever, and, unsurprisingly, higher than the average before Covid-19. But the good news? Students do feel supported by their institutions. Creative approaches, such as the 30 days of kindness challenge launched by the University of Chichester on Instagram, have helped struggling students to feel connected and supported during the pandemic.
And the overall title of Best Campaign Supporting Student Wellbeing also belonged to Chichester for their community-first approach. Students loved the campaign because the institution “hired a professional who specialised in psychology and thus was more suitable for giving advice to students on how to handle the challenges of university. They brought students together and helped them to form positive social interactions with each other, while simultaneously covering their own emotional needs.”
Geography is one of the subjects that experienced a peak in entries this year due to the growing passion for climate change activism among students. But who won Best Campaign Supporting Sustainability last year and how did their campaign resonate with the students?
It was De Montfort’s initiative to kick-start green projects around the campus that impressed the student panel; using real, concrete examples “rather than just giving information that everyone knows.” Are you implementing green initiatives on campus and shouting about them on social media? This category might just have your name on it!
To engage your students, you need to understand what they’re looking for and what matters to them. These institutions really understood how strongly their students felt about mental health, empowering the student voice and equality and diversity and have managed to channel this support to their students remotely through dynamic and innovative campaigns.
Our Think Student 2021 Award nominations are now open, so it's your turn to get the recognition you deserve. Don't be shy - if you've got a strategy that engages with the students, we want to know about it. Nominate your institution (or one you love the work of!) here.
And, if you’d like to see who takes home the gold this year, join us at Think Student Live on 11 November where we will be announcing the winners. We look forward to seeing you there and reading your show-stopping entries. Good luck!