When it comes to communicating with your target audience, it’s easy to play the guessing game. Often, marketing teams will make audience assumptions based on their past experience and research, and rely on regurgitated messaging from previous years and campaigns. After all, marketing teams, who knows your audience better than you? Well, unsurprisingly, your audience does — and the danger of resting on one’s laurels is that, whilst you might still be talking to the right people, you might not be saying the right things anymore. It’s important to ask yourselves regularly — “how are we adapting our messaging in reaction to changing demands?”, “Are we addressing our audience’s current pain points?” and “Is what we’re saying resonating with our target audience?”.
Why is data-led keyword research valuable for universities?
Achieving meaningful and effective engagement with target audiences is a challenge felt across all industries. It’s not uncommon to feel every now and then like you’ve lost touch with your audience, or notice an increased struggle to engage with them on your marketing platforms. In fact, this is why companies like us, and teams like you, exist — to solve these problems and implement strategies to overcome them.
However, universities and higher education institutions face their own unique set of hurdles, making keyword research all the more important. Let’s take international student recruitment for example; according to a research briefing published by the House of Commons Library in January 2023: Higher education student numbers, in UK universities in 2022, “EU acceptances were down again, by 29% to their lowest level since 1994.” Further to this, a January 2022 report by UCAS exploring the experience of international students connecting to UK higher education revealed that over half of their surveyed students “didn’t feel completely ready to start their course ahead of the current academic year, and 72% of students wanted more information on what their academic year would look like, revealing a gap in knowledge and support during the crucial transition to studying in the UK.”
Universities and higher education institutions are also up against the rise of apprenticeships. The same January 2022 UCAS report explored this topic, and found that “56% of 17-19 year olds who are receiving their grades on results day, but not intending to start a traditional degree course in the autumn, have considered an apprenticeship,” and that “The main features of apprenticeships are attractive to young people, including choosing options that ‘earn money’ (50%), to continue learning but in ‘a different way’ (43%), and to do something ‘new and different’ (42%).”
Taking the examples above, it’s clear to see that by listening to the real-life conversations happening beyond your university walls, you can take part in them, and build a strategy that will support — in this case — your student recruitment efforts by alleviating the audience pain-points of today.
With some further keyword insight into choosing apprenticeships over higher education, for example, you could craft a campaign that targets school-leavers, showcasing how your university can offer them something ‘new and different’ — with exceptional career prospects that will lead them to well-paid futures/earning money.
How to discover keywords and topics
How you find relevant keywords to incorporate into your content strategy depends on your decision to do this in-house or with an external agency. There are tools your team can use internally — Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends and Semrush are some crowd favourites, and conducting your own research does have SEO benefits — you can incorporate your findings into your website and blogging strategy, for example. The issue here is that your research won’t be targeted enough and we, at The Brand Education, value a more in-depth and strategic data-led approach.
Investing in keyword research support and strategy building allows you to truly find your way into the heads and hearts of your target audience. In our own brand research, we were able to use advanced research tools (including AI) to capture and organise keywords and conversations from podcast transcripts, conference presentations, audio and video content, and social media posts from our target audience and stakeholders. We were then able to cross-reference these findings with the way we speak, the things we say, and our own content strategy, to find the gaps and implement positive change. If you’d like to explore something similar, don’t hesitate to contact us.
A spotlight on social listening and brand reputation
Another way to better connect and resonate with your audience is to utilise social listening. Similarly to keyword research, it’s a strategy to engage with your target audience in the way that they behave and interact online.
With social listening, universities can track their online brand health, monitor conversations, and get better insight into audience perception. You see, when you know who’s talking about you, what they’re saying, and where they’re saying it, you have the golden opportunity to build a strategy that keeps you on top of industry trends, puts you front and centre of industry conversations, and ultimately, enhances your brand reputation.
Social listening case study: Monzo
It’s unlikely you need an introduction to the renowned Monzo Bank, however, to summarise — Monzo is an online bank based in the UK, and one of the earliest app-based challenger banks in the UK. Its mission is to “make banking better for one billion people, and a large part of achieving that involves solving existing problems”.
Monzo has become a force to be reckoned with on social media in the last few years, going viral on almost every platform for showcasing a crystal clear (and comedic) understanding of their audience. In an interview with Brandwatch around social listening, Monzo social media manager, Richard Cook, said:
“It is really helpful to get a flavour of what is there and what people are actually saying. What words do they use? What is the framing here? And that is important for our team because we are responsible for content and we want to make sure we are matching the way our users speak, addressing what problems they have.”
This approach could not be more evident across their social media strategy — Monzo shows audience understanding in the content they post, the tone of voice they use, the relevancy of their messages and the platforms they situate themselves on. Not only has this allowed them to surpass their organisational goals year on year, but it has rocketed their brand reputation.
As a university or higher education institution, it’s important to take inspiration from organisations outside of your industry and use a similar approach to your own strategy. After all, there is one thing that binds us all — we are all talking to people.
The importance of refining and optimising
It’s crucial to keep going when it comes to data. This month’s findings are great for showing what’s working with your target audience this month, but they won’t help you predict future trends, act fast in the face of change, or notice developments in conversations about your brand. Remember to refine, optimise, and repeat.
Helping you implement your findings within your own social media strategy
So you’re actively doing the research, but how do you implement your findings within your social media strategy and onboard your team?
Sometimes, we can do all the right things but fall short at the implementation stage. This is through no fault of your own — despite being around for a long while now, we still find that teams can feel hesitant about their social media presence.
At The Brand Education, we specialise in building social media strategies based on data to boost brand reputation. Take a look at our work with Durham University and the successful workshop we ran to upskill and engage academics in how to use social media. The workshop focused on best practice and providing techniques to boost personal and university reputation alike.
● Talking to the right people won’t get you results if you’re not saying the right thing
● Collaborating with an external agency to perform data-led keyword research will ensure you are tackling the current pain-points of your target audience, not repeating out-of-date messaging that doesn’t enhance your student recruitment or reputational building efforts
● Look to organisations beyond your industry to see how they effectively use social media and find inspiration in their user-centric strategies
● Implement a social listening strategy to put your institution in the centre of relevant conversations and start learning more about how your target audience wants to be spoken to. This will help you create a meaningful content and communications strategy to support your brand perception and reputation
● Don’t stop — continue to research and track your target audience conversations to ensure you always come out on top
● If you need the tools to use social media in a better way company-wide, you know where to turn