If you’ve ever attended, applied to, or even just stepped foot close to a university campus, you’ve probably seen them. Bright, colourful photographs of students showing off their school colours in all sorts of safe locales. Maybe they’re sitting in a campus café, or lounging under a giant maple tree, or chatting at a study table in the library, or just philosophizing on the meaning of life and their place in the world on the steps of the campus’ most iconic building.
These pictures are everywhere. And they’re unrealistic. The photos often feature those representing the student union, showcase clothing that would decimate a student’s budget faster than happy hour, and represent a homogenous school culture that appears to be the exact same no matter what campus you step foot on. Despite these shortcomings, this approach perseveres as the norm.
But could that be changing?
While they’re still very much in the experimental phase, UVic has signed up as a “Brand Publisher” on the internet giant BuzzFeed. As one of the web’s most visited sites, which pumps out shareable stories by (what feels like) the minute, the fit might seem odd for a stuffy-old institution like a university to host its stories.
In reality, it’s a perfect opportunity. They’re putting content out on the places that their students (both current and prospective) spend their time, as evidenced by Alexa’s response that people browsing from school are greatly over-represented on BuzzFeed. Rather than trying to drive traffic to their site, they’re being active in pushing out stories through a medium that students actually want to spend time on.
That’s the obvious. Where the move truly opens up new opportunities, is the possible stories UVic can pen in a less formal, more engaging medium like BuzzFeed. While the UVic account is still very young (only three posts to date), they have offered a glimpse into a new format of highlighting student successes.
On July 29, the university published a story titled: UVic Students to Follow On Instagram. Eight students were featured, each with her/his own interests and exciting summer adventures. An elementary education student, for example, is visiting family in Japan and her profile archives her trip. A kinesiology student who has a black belt in judo is uploading videos of acrobatic tricks. BuzzFeed gives UVic the opportunity to aggregate all of these exciting and interesting endeavours into a convenient, and shareable, listicle.
With around 17,500 full-time and part-time undergraduates, Victoria falls into a middle range when it comes to school size. The school is in a tough spot, staking out its ground in close proximity to a mega-giant like the University of British Columbia, with its 45,000+ undergrads and ranking as second-best school in the country by Times Higher Education. The school also received a huge media blast and promotion to campus culture during the lipdub craze of 2011, when theirs garnered over 2 million views.
UBC isn’t the only other choice for prospective students along B.C.’s coast. Sharing Vancouver Island is Royal Roads University, a historic and often highly-ranked school, especially in terms of quality of education.
Nearby Simon Fraser University also provides serious competition for prospective students, with the two schools finishing closely in the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Center for World University Rankings final tallies.
But Victoria has proven to be a formidable foe to all three. In last year’s Maclean’s rankings, UVic took the top spot in the “Comprehensive” category. In the Globe & Mail‘s Canadian University Report, the school took home a B+ in student satisfaction, an A in campus atmosphere, and a B in work-play balance.
Rather than promoting an image of a school brand, they are showcasing personal attributes (the creativity, ambitions, and pursuits) of their students.
Rather than promoting a “campus culture,” UVic is highlighting the many cultures that can be found on campus.
It’s an exciting new way for schools to market themselves, and one that others should start thinking about quite quickly.
What do you think about UVic’s use of BuzzFeed? How else are universities embracing social media and engaging current and prospective students? Share your comments below!