As institutions welcome freshers and returning students back to campus, digital marketers play an essential role in helping their community navigate the new normal in Higher Education.
With the new term starting, we've reviewed video content from across the UK to provide examples of great practice from colleagues in the sector.
The dual importance of effective coronavirus communication for universities
Welcoming thousands of young people to their new home and study environment is a huge responsibility for universities every year. But the added pressure of safety and infection control during a global pandemic makes it more vital than ever.
A Coronavirus outbreak on campus can have serious consequences both in terms of health and business continuity. Therefore universities prioritizing effective communication about prevention may see benefits in the longer term.
Since universities don't exist within a bubble, their responsibilities aren't limited to protecting students. Their duty of care extends to staff and the wider community. As younger people are more likely to be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, local communities may be concerned about the wider health impact of students returning to their towns and cities. So communication that demonstrates an institution is controlling the risk can convey significant reputational benefit as well.
Video as an effective medium for coronavirus communication
Why have we focused on video?
Done well, videos can be easier to digest than a wall of written content, making them a more accessible and effective format to convey important information.
Visual content is also an effective way to demonstrate new processes and procedures – such as handwashing, mask use, and one-way systems – giving the viewer extra confidence about how to complete them.
Given the as-yet-unknown impact of the pandemic on the mental health of young people, we support all attempts at reassurance and anxiety-reduction.
This makes video an extremely effective means of communicating about COVID-19 (alongside the usual benefits of popularity within the target demographic and the versatility of the format for embedding in websites, emails, and social media).
Best practice for back-to-campus communication
Following the lifting of lockdown in the UK, the Content Marketing Association hosted a webinar outlining best practice guidance for welcoming people back into your business and using content for recovery.
Presenter, Stephanie McGrath, VP of Strategy at VERB Interactive, recommended the following:
• Continuing to communicate – pivoting your marketing to keep your brand top of mind, rather than reducing activity
• Reviewing messaging to reflect audience sentiment – not relying on business-as-usual activity and messages
• Prioritising audience emotions – aiming to reinforce feelings of safety, security, and confidence
• Creating content to answer questions, restore confidence and inspire conversion
The videos we have selected below tick one or more of these boxes and represent excellent practice in the sector.
This video from Newcastle University is a masterclass in both coronavirus and 'keep warm' communications.
Reassuring, aspirational, and on-brand, this video benefits from visual consistency with pre-corona marketing, reinforcing the messaging that things may have changed, but not to the detriment of your experience.
Newcastle University released this video over 'that' summer when A level algorithms caused admissions chaos and heartbreak for many. Added to the already challenging onboarding process for September 2020, this has made keep warm activities even more essential this year, to prevent loss of students between acceptance of offer and registration.
University of Leeds
Our chosen video from the University of Leeds features a friendly voice over shots of the city, university, and campus activity, to provide an effective safety guide for students. Like Newcastle, the video retains elements of recruitment campaigns, with aspirational shots of the city students fell in love with.
It goes on to show how the university will look and operate, such as reducing capacity in teaching rooms and delivering learning online, helping students picture life, and reduce anxiety.
It explains some of the more complex issues such as forming a household and accommodation for self-isolating international students, which other institutions have failed to touch on.
It also discusses new welfare and social measures to support students, reassuring viewers that wellbeing and student experience remain paramount.
Cardiff University's video is on our list because it goes beyond the usual safety and security measures. Using an accessible visual style combining campus imagery and overlaid icons, it provides a light-touch overview of safety precautions.
Looking beyond the university, it also includes reassuring information about the wider environment in Cardiff itself. Messaging focuses on Cardiff's aims to be safe and welcoming, including open spaces, wider pavements, and ease of movement without needing public transport.
This recognizes the fact that COVID safety isn't an isolated set of measures on campus but extends into the community as well. This is particularly reassuring for students moving away from home and unfamiliar with the city.
University of Bolton
This video from the University of Bolton takes an entirely different approach, using animation to make their messaging accessible and approachable.
The content included here is also available in a more conventional video format – with vox pops to camera and a tour of the campus – but it is the animation that Bolton has selected for their home page.
Whilst it might not be everyone's cup of tea – with colorful animation and a retro soundtrack of 'We'll Meet Again' – we like the fact they've tried something different. We also love the nod to inclusivity in the rainbow plumage of their owl mascot.
We've chosen this Strathclyde University video for their approach to introducing blended learning. Strathclyde won't be welcoming students back to campus for their first semester, delivering learning online instead. Students will move to a combination of online and in-person learning in semester two.
Their video combines images of campus and home-based learning, with a reassuring voiceover highlighting the strong planning and safety focus behind their new processes.
Recognizing that students may have concerns about the quality of online learning provision, Strathclyde highlights their experience of this delivery method and the thousands of students who have successfully studied using this method in the past.
How does your welcome back content compare? Seen any examples that you really love? Let us know :)