Is there still room for innovation on YouTube?
Discover how some universities are finding new ways to engage audiences with interactive virtual tours, captivating educational content, alumni successes, and more.
With more than 2.6 billion active users across the globe this year, YouTube remains the biggest social media platform in the world behind Facebook.
According to Statista, YouTube had a staggering 75 billion visits in November last year alone and generates roughly $40 billion in the United States—its most popular audience—per month.
The 18-year-old platform, owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, continues to grow in popularity despite fierce competition from other video-led rivals like TikTok.
This reflects an ever-increasing appetite for video, and it's one that higher education digital marketers still can't ignore.
But with 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, content needs to stand out from the crowd and engage discerning young viewers.
Today we look at 10 ways universities are innovating with the platform.
1. Enhanced video learning
Alongside video channel Crash Course, Arizona State University (ASU) announced a collaboration with YouTube earlier this year to offer transferrable, credit-bearing courses.
Learners, typically in their first year of college, are served content on the existing Study Hall YouTube channel and can opt to pay $25 to take the seven-week courses spanning four academic areas.
They can then pay $400 to receive a total of 12 ASU college credits for the courses, which can be retaken as many times as needed.
Designed by established content creators Crash Course to capture and hold attention, this approach makes college more accessible while tapping into and monetizing the interest in mixing in-person learning with home studying seen in recent years.
2. Campus overview
When students are thinking about applying for a university, they want to see campus and halls in all their glory, homing in on as many details as possible as they compare institutions.
Arts University Bournemouth has developed impressive campus tours with drone video technology, showcasing every corner of the site.
Meanwhile, the University of East Anglia has taken student hall tours to new heights by utilizing YouTube's cool 360-degree in-video function, allowing the viewer to scan the surroundings at leisure while being walked through the facilities and benefits.
University of East Anglia's 360-degree in-video content
(Click the video and drag to see the 360 degree in-video views)
A day-in-the-life-style content also works well here to shine a light on different aspects of study and campus.
The University for the Creative Arts weaves together testimonials from different students and pleasing visuals from across campus to achieve rounded, engaging content.
Aston University takes a more simplistic but effective approach, with one student taking viewers on a tour, while the University of Amsterdam shows what can be achieved with a touch of artistic flair.
The University of Amsterdam's two-minute video, which covers different areas of study at the University, is interlinked with atmospheric campus footage and woven together with an engaging voiceover.
3. Student stories
A huge amount of power can lie in storytelling when it comes to selling the university experience.
And placing this in the hands of existing students can have a big impact when it comes to conveying the appeal of academic studies as well as the lifestyle at a university.
In a relatively simplistic but effective approach, the University for the Creative Arts focussed on one student who speaks passionately about the studio space the institution has to offer.
Meanwhile, Stockholm University has developed a series of student stories, which gives space to individuals to speak about what drew them to the institution, following them as they move around campus.
Stockholm University's student stories
Authenticity is key when it comes to this type of content, and both universities here hit the mark.
4. Alumni success
Aspirational alumni success stories are also a highly impactful case study-led approach that can tap into young students' bright-eyed ambition.
Aston University is one of a few universities executing this well, with one of its stories documenting the career path of a former student who now lives in New York City and working for Spotify. It's uplifting and informative, and will undoubtedly spark the interest of prospective students dreaming big in a similar field.
Aston University's focus on alumni success
Another shining example is a video about a theatre and drama school graduate from the University of Toronto, who talks about overcoming barriers and securing roles in films, including Star Trek.
Drama graduate and accessibility advocate George Alevizos on University of Toronto’s YouTube channel
5. Showcasing flagship research
Equally, showcasing the talent of your university's academic team and/or the impact of research, is another great way of selling your institution on YouTube, especially when covering topical issues.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a prime example of this, talking viewers through robotics development while showcasing the engineering faculty in a series of smoothly shot visuals.
Meanwhile, the University of Sydney tackles climate change in one of its popular YouTube videos, demonstrating its research into extreme heat and human health.
University of Sydney discusses effects of climate change and solutions in its Sydney Ideas video
The hour-long deep dive into the subject starts with a video introduction to the university's efforts before a detailed Q&A with experts at the institution.
Both examples from these universities can ignite and inspire interest among prospective students.
6. ‘Top tips' videos
Students about to embark on their university journey will be looking for all the advice, tips, and reassurance they can find online.
And this is one area where higher education TikTok influencers have also been excelling.
But YouTube has the potential to develop longer-form and much more insightful and useful content for students curious about what their studies and university lifestyle will bring.
And this approach also lends itself to subtly weaving in messaging around your own university's USPs while also being beneficial in general to all students, regardless of where they'll be applying.
The University of Brighton is one of those executing on this front, focussing on different students talking about what ‘they wish they'd known' before starting at university.
University of Brighton's What I Wish I'd Known series
There is a huge array of top tips content to neatly package up for prospective students, from advice on university applications and essential first-year packing lists to exam revision tutorials and paid work alongside studies.
7. Bring courses to life
Students can read all they want about the course they're interested in, but hearing lecturers or current students bring these to life can have a deeper impact than any words or prospectus.
Northumbria University does this well by following one of its interaction design students for the day, with simple and authentic self-shot content selling various aspects of the course and institution along the way.
Northumbria University’s A Day in the Life series
The University for the Creative Arts takes the teacher approach, in a straightforward but insightful video detailing what students can expect from one of the institution's fashion courses—the kind of information they'd perhaps expect to hear on an open day/campus tour ahead of time.
The unique hands-on Fashion Atelier course at UCA video
8. Tasters of the open day/campus tour experience
Speaking of open days and campus tours, another good use of YouTube content is to demonstrate what students can expect if they're to attend one at your institution.
The University of East Anglia and Arts University Bournemouth are among those that have effectively done this, while also giving a snapshot of how campus looks and feels at the same time - inspiring viewers to sign up for the visit.
Arts University Bournemouth's campus tour / open day
9. Graduate showreels and performances
Showcasing current student work to inspire future recruits is another great way of tapping into the power of YouTube and it's the platform that lends itself best to this longer-form content.
This works particularly well for the creative sphere, as both the University of Dundee and Arts University Bournemouth demonstrate with showreels of their students' animation work and art pieces, respectively.
Graduates of University of Dundee learn about working to briefs and professional practices
Arts University Bournemouth showcases their graduate portfolio
Likewise, performance-based courses also benefit immensely from this approach, as the University of Chichester proves in its showcase of dance students fused with information about the courses on offer.
University of Chichester showcases programs and courses throughout the video
10. Study playlists
Sometimes, the most simple and easy ideas can be the most impactful.
The University of Leeds is among those that have put together carefully curated playlists alongside a simple, calming illustration to create an audio image of the institution. It's a great way of reaching both new and existing students.
University of Leeds' Lo-Fi music to relax and study to
Another Lo-Fi example (holiday edition) from University of Charleston, West Virgina
We hope this round-up of examples of how universities and colleges are making the most of the platform will provide some useful inspiration for your own YouTube content.
What YouTube content innovations have impressed you recently?
Let us know in the comments below or reach out to us on our social channels.