TERMINALFOUR, the digital marketing, and web content management platform for higher education institutions, today announces the results of its 2018 Global Higher Education Digital Marketing & Web Survey. The international study looked at the digital marketing, web and social media trends and their perceived effectiveness in recruiting and engaging students when used by higher education institutions.
The survey was carried out amongst 432 higher education professionals in 383 universities and higher education institutions across the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and 17 other countries.  The survey highlights the need for universities to further invest in digital and be more agile and adapt their web and digital strategies in line with student behaviours.
A change in Social Media usage by prospective students – Facebook no longer the king of the castle
The study found that respondents believe that Facebook’s ability to engage students and prospective students is waning. While 62% reported it to be the top platform for engagement in 2017, that figure slid to 45% this year. Instagram, meanwhile, rose from 20% to 36% year-on-year, making it the fastest growing social media platform for student recruitment.
When looking ahead, 32% of web, marketing, and recruitment higher education professionals expect Instagram to be the social media platform they give the most attention to in the next 12 months. Facebook’s relevance for engaging prospective students is set to decline, with just a third (36%) of respondents saying that they would focus their time on Facebook, which is a significant drop from 54% in 2017. Following Facebook and Instagram are YouTube (8.2%), Twitter (7.1%), LinkedIn (4.5%) and Snapchat (3.7%).
Piero Tintori, CEO and Founder, TERMINALFOUR, said: “While web and social media channels are now the primary way potential students research a particular University or College, the investment in digital and web varies considerably from institution to institution.
“Students, particularly international students, are often making their final application decisions solely on information available online. Increasingly web and digital experiences are playing a more significant part in the selection of a higher education institution.
“There is strong evidence to suggest that a growing number of students are not physically visiting universities before enrolling. Their decisions are increasingly based on their web and digital experience.
“The survey responses, when correlated with publicly available data shows that Universities and Colleges that invest seriously in web and digital marketing have stronger performance recruiting students.
“Some interesting trends that the survey highlights are the death of Snapchat as a tool for student engagement and recruitment, and a strong shift towards more picture and video content to engage prospective students.”
Investment in digital still low despite its positive impact on student recruitment
The research also highlights that just 22% of global higher education institutions have increased their investment in digital marketing in the last two years, despite the fact that 85% say the primary objective of their web strategy is to recruit more students. Nonetheless, one in four (26%) higher education institutions did receive funding for one off digital marketing projects. Interestingly, 13% of respondents stated that their higher education institutions do not have a formal digital strategy.
Enquiries from prospective students generated via the website is how almost two thirds (65%) of respondents’ institutions measure web strategy success, however, surprisingly almost a third (32%) don’t track this activity.
Piero Tintori said:Irish universities and colleges are investing very little in digital marketing compared to their peers in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Given the opportunities for international student recruitment at the moment, this is an area that Irish higher education institutions must invest in.
“Despite the fact that most higher education institutions use their websites for the primary purpose of recruiting students, the obvious lack of investment and not tracking the effectiveness of recruitment activities is highly worrying.
“As only one in five (22%) universities increased their investment in digital marketing it’s not surprising that they are finding it difficult to keep up with changes in students’ behaviour. However, a quarter (26%) of higher education institutions did secure one off funding for additional digital marketing projects, but this type of funding tended to be only one every five years. This lack of investment is having a direct impact on student recruitment.
“Our research shows that where universities are investing in digital marketing, this is having a direct impact on student recruitment, particularly international students.”
The survey also highlights a shift in the ownership of web and digital away from IT. For almost two thirds (64%) of higher education institutions, the web and digital function is now the responsibility of the communications, marketing, and recruitment teams.
The full survey report can be found here.

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