A different perspective on university led research projects

Join us for this week's episode of Most Clicked where we discuss a great research video from the University of Surrey on how to get more sleep, something I'm sure we are all interested in!

The University of Surrey nails it with its research video “Why do we sleep so late?” It follows a formula ideal for higher ed YouTube: Answer a common question, align it with University expertise and animate the story. This particular video has School of Life vibes. We’d love to see Surrey scale this. How about one a week, each focusing on a different topic connected with uni research? Or, maybe the format is changed so it’s ideal for YouTube Shorts? Lots of potential. Take a look now

Nathan Monk
Hello, and welcome to Most Clicked. I’m Nathan from SMILE and I’m joined by Kyle from the Education Marketer and Matt also from SMILE. This week, we are talking about sleep, particularly how to get more of it or better quality I think, I’m not 100% Sure. But the man in the know will be Kyle. Kyle, what’s the story this week?

Kyle Campbell
I really don’t know enough about sleep, to be honest, I’m probably not the best person to be talking about it, I think in our profession as well, people who have like increase screentime are the most risk of not sleeping enough. So yeah, this is from the University of Surrey. They’re known in their research pillars for having lots of say about sleep, I think I actually got introduced to the university, I was at a conference once and they had like an exhibition stand. And they had one of the academics there and it was made up like a bedroom, you sat down in the bed and academic would talk to you about like the value of sleep and stuff like that it’s actually really, really cool when I think of like 2015 or something.

But this is based on a research video on their YouTube channel. Which, you know, caught my eye the other week. I really liked this. The animation is decent quality, the pacing’s good, and the topics interesting. So essentially, what they’ve done is they’ve taken a popular search query on YouTube, like, why can’t I get more sleep, and they’ve built this, this piece around that, but they’ve used their research to power the narrative. And it makes sense to do something like this, especially when this is one of your key research pillars because it makes it applicable to a wide audience and it helps get your content seen. And I was looking at this and thinking wow, you know, wouldn’t be great if like a university really owned something like this, this sort of style. So you take your research pillars, and you spin them out in various ways on popular search traffic that was being searched for on YouTube and have your animations at the end of that search.

Not a lot of the uni’s do it. They might occasionally drop a video talking about the research expertise or you know, doing a smaller piece of an academic like a talking headpiece, which are interesting, but I just felt something like this that Surrey’s doing, it reminds me of that channel. And I’m sure a lot of people have seen it called School of Life. And they’ve essentially built a YouTube channel around that sort of format. They’ll take a popular philosophical idea, and they’ll do an animation around anything. I just saw this and saw parallels between the two and wish more unis did something similar?

Matt Lees
Yeah, I thought was quite a nice piece. You mentioned the animation and the pace and things like that and for a video that’s just over three and a half minutes long as they did a remarkable job of keeping me engaged, I watched it from start to finish and, you know, in our busy lives nowadays, that’s, that’s quite an achievement. What did you think of it from a content perspective Kyle, it must take quite a lot of budget and things to put these kinds of, you know, three and a half minute animated videos together.

Kyle Campbell
I think it does. Animation is not cheap. Well, good animation isn’t cheap. But I think especially in something like REF and, you know, also, your marketing teams work very hard to get their research content seen and make it applicable to a wider audience, the public who want to see how universities can benefit them, and you know, what the research and its meaning to them, essentially, I think something like this is, is quite valuable.

Because if you think about it, like, okay, you can have great research on your website, but it doesn’t matter how great it is, and no one sees it, its value isn’t as high as it could be is it? And think about the amount of money that goes into research and reputation campaigns and, you know, updating websites, for REF and all that sort of thing. And, you know, this is not a small change. So actually doing a content series based on your research interests in your research, like pillars, you know, monetary wise probably makes a lot more sense, especially if you can get it on the back of like, general search queries on YouTube. And it’s done in a compelling way. And you can actually make a thing of it on your YouTube channel. I mean, I did think when I was looking at Surrey’s, I think this is so cool.

I wish they’d done it in other areas of expertise, I’d actually watch it, you know, this is a sort of content that I’m used to consuming from someone like School of Life, it’s kind of almost that that level of quality. So I think, yeah, I do think something like this is worth the budget, if you take a long view on it, and you’re not looking for a term of in like, a couple of weeks, I think it can add a lot of value.

Matt Lees
So you think it’s fair to say it’s more about growing profile over a longer period of time than it is for immediate results, immediate recruitment of students?

Kyle Campbell
I think so. But as we know, reputation can help recruitment. I think if you’re a student, and you’re consuming content from a university in a way that’s interesting to you, I mean, look at Chichester’s TikTok account, right, most students on there, or I think they’re aged between 14 and I might get this wrong but 14 and maybe 19 years of age and a lot of them as a first time ever come across a university and they’ve discovered it in their for you feed because it’s of interest and content literature’s produced. Same for YouTube, you know, if you’re on YouTube, and you happen across a video about a certain topic that’s of interest to you. And then you might by chance subscribe to it or something like that, you know, that you can attract students through reputation. But the window is, like, as you say, it’s a long game, you wouldn’t just do this if you’re down on numbers, it’s not a quick fix.

Nathan Monk
It’s like they’re actually leading their content with a concept, it’s a reason to actually subscribe to their YouTube channel, really. A lot of universities who use that platform as a marketing platform. If you subscribe, it’s just gonna feel like you’ve been sold too relentlessly. Whereas with this, it feels like you’re gonna learn something, it really fits it actually into the ethos of the university really well. And I personally like that it leads with the concept, you know?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I agree. And I think I do genuinely feel that higher ed has the greatest potential for content marketing of any sector because the whole thing’s based on content and education. You know, in any content marketing, you’re either like, entertaining or educating. So you’d think that YouTube channels would feel a lot like Surrey, and that sort of content would fit quite naturally. And I feel it does. But it takes a lot to commit to that. And we’re all aware of like internal pressures and universities and how YouTube can become quite a battleground for the sort of content that you put on there. But I feel if you went down one of those routes and said, Okay, we’re going to use this YouTube channel for, you know, research content or whatever it is, but I reckon you probably could have a lot of traction over time.

Nathan Monk
I mean I’m gonna massively oversimplify, but surely if it’s all part of a wider strategy, you know, if you design your content and have your content calendar, where this thing drops regularly, it’s not the only way. It’s part of a much wider field of vision and it can really play into the university’s strengths. I mean, you know, Matt and I at SMILE, we’ve been preaching for years about how universities should be more like publishing houses, or at least their website should be more like publishers than they should brochures. And I think it’s the same with this sort of video content, this feels like, what did you say was called School of Life?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, that’s the one.

Nathan Monk
I’m not gonna lie, never heard of that before. I’m furiously googling it behind the scenes. I know the sort of thing that you mean, for sure. And I can, I can see the parallels. And if universities did think a little bit more like that, not in totality, but just a part of their strategy. I think it would really benefit them. But it’s that thing, and we suffer from it as well, I think it’s that you got to turn up regularly every week or on some sort of set cadence. And that can be difficult, feels a little bit like a leap of faith sometimes I think.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I agree with that. I think I say it’s, that sometimes it’s not easy to keep a cadence once you’ve established a format. And I know from my own publishing, like, if I think about how certain topics I want to talk about, I write those down in advance, or whatever it is, and I decide how I’m going to do that, it becomes a lot easier. So you’re not scrambling for that thing to publish. So I think having something like research videos, or whatever the regular project is, you know, it can help you overcome that barrier.

Nathan Monk
So let’s wrap up then. But to wrap up, what’s the takeaway from this? What is the one thing that people can take into their weeks from this video, other than how to get loads more sleep? And I will be watching this video to try and learn that myself. But I mean, other than that? What’s the takeaway here, Kyle, or Matt.

Kyle Campbell
I mean, for me, I’d encourage people to look at YouTube, more like a channel. I know that sounds a bit simplistic, but you know, if you were a television channel, you would have a schedule for like publishing, you’d have a regular programme of content, and then you’d have the ad hoc kind of programme that fits in between it. So, you know, for me, when I work the universities are a very useful first step because it’s quite overwhelming to have all these channels. But once you sit down and think, okay, what’s on and then you work on the regular stuff, it becomes a lot easier. And it’s a helpful way to think about publishing as you’ve both alluded to there

Nathan Monk
Nice, well, I hope somebody finds that useful. Let us know if you do anything like that because we’d love to see more of this sort of stuff. Actually, that’d be really cool. And if you’ve liked today’s episode, like, follow, subscribe, and all other things, just drop us a line. And until next week, see you soon

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Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer