How the University of Bristol wins with YouTube

In this episode of Most Clicked, find out how the University of Bristol and London Business School are using YouTube to help recruit students, with great success.

We’re joined by Francesca Macnagten (Head of Marketing) and Chris Leach (Senior Digital Content Manager) from University of Bristol to discuss our top stories:

What the latest baby boom means for higher education; University of Bristol’s rethink of its accommodation marketing; And London Business School’s surprisingly good YouTube channel.

Sourced stories from Kyle, Education Marketer newsletter:

Baby Boom
Unis are projected to see a 15% increase in students applying for university by 2035, but I’m not sure the pressures will be as pronounced as forecast. The online education market is projected to reach a total market size of over $319 billion in 2025. That’s up from $187 billion in 2019. I’ve previously reported on Google sweeping into the US higher ed sector with cheaper, shorter qualifications that map directly with careers and eat the lunch of some big tech feeder unis. It’s a growing trend and set to continue well into the next decade. For these students, the equity of education is changing. We may see more trade the 3 to 4-year campus model for a greater emphasis on lifelong learning. This isn’t a new concept, but being able to learn online affordably (and on-demand) is certainly new for our times. 10 years ago, we learned new skills to progress or change careers. Today, we learn to keep our jobs. Read

Bristol Accommodation
University of Bristol has a new set of student-led accommodation videos that, yes, explore how much storage is under the bed, but also its campus community. After a tour of their flat, hosts take us outside and introduce other students living in their halls, plus share spots around campus that are meaningful for them. Even if the kitchens are suspiciously clean, it’s a nice way to get across the personality of student accommodation, rather than reducing it to a fixtures and fittings list. Kudos. Look

London Business School YouTube
London Business School is using its YouTube channel as… Well, a channel. A small, specialist institution, it doubles down on its niche and invites members of its community to speak on diversity, finance and leadership. By having a clear idea of what its YouTube channel is for (thought leadership), it’s grown its subscriber list to 159K and typically breaks 1K views on its video content. And that’s without high fidelity thumbnails or a regular publishing schedule. Look

Show notes

Transcript

Nathan Monk
Hello, and welcome to Most Clicked where we break down the most popular digital marketing stories in higher ed. There are so many ways now to get involved with Most Clicked and you can find out more over at wearesmile.com/mostclicked. But for now, please do consider liking and subscribing to this video. I’m your host Nathan from SMILE, a leading digital agency for the higher education sector. And today I’m joined once again by my good friends, Matt from SMILE and Kyle, not from SMILE, but you will know Kyle from the education marketer email newsletter. How’s it going?

Matt Lees
Yeah. All good thanks!

Kyle Campbell
Streaming life in the metaverse as we speak.

Nathan Monk
Oh, no. We can’t talk about Facebook for like a fourth week on the bounce we really are gonna have to get the subscription money in if that starts happening.

Well, you know the drill by now, Kyle, let’s get straight into it. We’ve got some special guests again this week, which is fantastic. Over to you.

Kyle Campbell
Great. I’d like to welcome today Francesca, head of marketing from the University of Bristol. And Chris, who’s a senior digital content creator from the University of Bristol.

Francesca Macnaghten
Yeah, good. Thanks. Good to be here with you. Great.

Chris Leach
Yeah. Great. Thank you. Nice to meet you.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, thanks for coming on. You’re here today because we featured one of your stories in education marketer this week. And it did really well. It’s a nice form piece of content.

And you’ve taken a different approach to accommodation videos, which I thought was really refreshing. And it looks like it’s doing quite well with the audience as well. So just to catch everyone up. What this does is, this is a standard accommodation video. But it starts out as you would expect with the student in a room giving a tour. But then this student here, she leaves her room and then goes around campus, shows these amazing places, sits down with people who are actually on campus and part of that community. Now she has contact conversations with them.

And for me, I’ve got a real sense of, you know, actually what it’s like to live at the University of Bristol. So I’m going to pass over to Francesca to talk a little bit more about this. And really, I’m particularly interested to hear about your thinking behind this, because it’s probably easier just to do a standard room tour, and we know they work. But I’m interested in why you’ve gone to the extra effort and what results you’re seeing, and generally the thinking behind why you’ve done this.

Francesca Macnaghten
Yeah, so following on from really doing a deep dive into our decision response surveys, accommodation was the biggest influencer. For students, we found when they were making their university choices – and it was due to obviously, everyone’s been dealing with the restrictions of COVID – so we had hoped to do some more content around accommodation, back in 2020, but weren’t able to proceed with that. So then wanted to use the extra time that we had, but also then that real switch between, what people are expecting from digital content, and, people not being able to come on campus and to get the feel themselves.

That was a key part of our content strategy when thinking about the accommodation films, putting the students at the centre for them to really give a real feel for the villages, because also, combined with that student first focus is – at the university, we’ve had a bit of sort of a refresh with how we group our accommodations together.

So we are positioning them as residential villages. We wanted to bring out that unique character and experience within each of the villages because they’ve all got their different feels like North Village, being where some more of our older, more historic accommodation options are. Also, with the Botanical Gardens, and the sports facilities there versus the East campuses, residential villages, which are more city-focused, because obviously being not a campus university accommodation is spread across Bristol. And so we really wanted to bring that out which I’ll hand over to Chris because he was the mastermind in terms of that and bringing that out in the films to talk that through in more detail.

Chris Leach
Thanks, Francesca. I think for us, because we haven’t, as Francesca said, we have a different accommodation model here at the university, we’re not campus-based, we’re city-based and each village has its own personality, it’s in different parts of our city. So I think that’s why we want it to be probably one of the biggest factors we wanted to get across. Like, we can tell you in words, how many rooms are in a building and facilities, things like that, but we don’t get a sense of is “what’s the difference between living in the very centre of the city” versus ever so slightly further out, or the different parts and the different regions of the city.

And that’s why we specifically went down you student-led films is so that those students that you see there lived in those villages, they got to get a sense of what it was like. It was almost like, “this is my experience and your experience may be different. But this is how I came across it. And this is what it was like for me living here, and maybe this is what you’ll experience”.

Universities are selling more than just education, they’re selling personality, they’re selling a lifestyle

And so it’s that sort of element of a trusted source. It’s still a university video, at the end of the day, it’s not a student-generated on their own YouTube channel. But it’s the closest we can get to giving them honest advice, whilst also making sure that it’s correct from the University’s point of view. So that’s, that’s kind of why we went down that route. And I think you get, as you said, Kyle, that sense of the differences in the communities which are in those villages, and the way that they interact with those parts of the city. So yeah, we’re pleased with how they’ve come out.

Matt Lees
Yeah, I think they’re a really great piece. Chris, you talks about personality there. And I think that’s spot-on, you get this real sense of what it’s all about. And I think universities are selling more than just education, they’re selling personality, they’re selling experience, they’re selling a lifestyle. And you really get a sense of what it’s going to be like to spend your time at your university and, and see what it’s going to be like.

Chris Leach
Yeah, exactly. And they, the students are our biggest ambassadors at the end of the day, they, we can put a student recruitment ambassador or someone in front of people, and they’ll, they may say, “Well, of course, they’re going to say that they’re part of the university”, but those students, they’ve lived those experiences, they’ve felt them as a student. And so for them to be able to present those videos, and those scripts that they read are very much written by themselves, you know, we may have added the odd tweak, just to make sure that they’re technically correct, accommodation blocks may have moved villages slightly or something like that.

But those students and those experiences that they have are their real experiences. And so that’s why those students probably, that’s what gives them the most character because that’s what the students felt. And so it is lovely that it comes across in that way. Even though it is part of the university and the university YouTube channel, and all this stuff, it’s not a self-filmed thing. But we tried to get that sense of community and trusted source across.

Most Clicked Episode 4 featuring the University of Bristol

Francesca Macnaghten
And a lot of work went into sort of the scripting process, and really building a relationship with the students that we feature in the film, so that they feel confident as well to share their honest experience, which we know will resonate more strongly with then the prospective students, but also for the influencers; parents who are supporting students with the decisions that they’re making, that they’re feeling confident to help to support them and have this resource as well, to help with what is it, in lots of circumstances, family decisions that go into deciding what the best accommodation options are, looking at that.

We were thinking about those outlier audiences as well, who would find this film a really useful resource in that decision-making process. And they were received really well when we launched them in conjunction with our virtual open events in September. And yeah, so far, they’ve been received really well. And they’re now going to be a core part of our marketing and, communications around accommodation throughout the whole decision-making process and across our key channels as well with a particular focus when we move to the offer-holder stage in CRM and email communications.

Nathan Monk
Awesome. It’s really, really nice to hear how it’s filtered into the wider marketing landscape. It’s very cool. We’ll be sure to put some links through to the videos in the show notes as well.

Francesca, Chris, for anybody that wants to find out more or get in contact with you, what’s the best way that people can kind of reach out to you?

Francesca Macnaghten
So you can find me on LinkedIn with so that’s with my surname Francesca Macnaghten. And also, we’ve got a marketing team, email address, if anyone wants to get in touch, I’m happy to share that with you guys to pop it on under this broadcast. Sorry, I should have looked up more of the mechanism about that. I know it was in your, your pre-prep notes that I have failed now on that.

Nathan Monk
Don’t worry, we’ll make sure that you’re findable.

How about you, Chris?

Chris Leach
Yeah, exactly. So LinkedIn, Chris Leach. And yeah, you can find me on there. And happy to answer questions if needed.

Nathan Monk
Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on and talking about your project today. And hopefully, you’ll stick around and comment on the next items. So Kyle, the next item is “okay, boomer the second”?

Kyle Campbell
So, this story caught my eye and it’s a piece in The Guardian, it was running about a baby boom, coming down the tracks for higher education and everywhere. But the higher education is the focus here. And the premise of the article is, in the next 15 to 20 years, we’re going to see a massive influx into the sector of 15% growth overall.

I mean, obviously, it’s quite a few of these pieces that go out long, long-term planning, and all that sort of thing forecasting. But I always take them a pinch of salt, because, you know, this piece assumes that all of these young people are going to continue going into higher education at the same rate they’re going into now.

And you know, for me, and you know, looking at this from a different perspective, you have a lot of alternatives popping up now. And that’s only growing with the booming online courses, I think, the online education industry is supposed to be worth something like $300 billion in the next five years. You know, that’s a growth of up from, 100% $98 billion in 2019. So the growth in that sort of area, and not just higher education courses, but I’m talking about digital online education by people at Google and, you know, alternative to HE providers like that growing. So I don’t know if this crunch will be felt quite as hard as people think it will be.

That’s my take: Nath, what’re your thoughts on this? Do you think it’ll kind of hold the line? Or do you think more kind of smaller providers are nipping at the heels and just that segment will keep growing?

Nathan Monk
I don’t know. It’s hard to say I have a whenever I speak to various different universities, they always seem to react to this news of the second boom, differently. And there’s lots of data about how it will affect different geographies and locations of the country. I think it’s really difficult to tell.

I think that competitor institutions have been on the up and up for a while. And yeah, they might take their toll on some institutions, I think. But selfishly, I run a business, in the HE sector. Yeah, I’m crossing everything that it is going to represent a boom for the sector for sure.

Matt Lees
The projected numbers are huge, aren’t they!? 40,000 extra students a year, going into 2035? That’s massive… huge even.

Nathan Monk
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, we will see how it comes out in the wash, I guess, really. And our third story, Kyle, has more video stuff.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, the final thing is from London Business School. And it’s their YouTube channel in general, not a specific piece on it. And I do a lot of general research for the newsletter and I will often have a look around YouTube channels, and I came across this channel, specifically. Now usually when I land on something like this, I don’t stay very long. And I’m quite harsh by judging by thumbnails. But I took a close look at this one for some reason or another. But I noticed the subscribers absolutely huge based on the size of the school. 166,000 subscribers, which is massive for a university and education base YouTube channel.

And I look closer at the videos and all the views are really high and I’m thinking Okay, so what’s driving this and my sort of understanding is that it’s because they’re consistent in the sort of content that they post so it might not look like the most well-designed thing.

But they talk about the same topics, finance, and leadership. And they get some really great speakers to talk about those topics. So over time, I think they’ve built this reputation and relationship with their subscriber base, so they know what to expect. And I feel that this is something that a lot of unis miss out on because I’m sure Chris could probably comment on this, that YouTube channels across the sector are sometimes used as dumping grounds for all kinds of different content. And they become a host channel rather than a channel to hit an audience with I mean, what’s your, what’s your thoughts on that? Chris? Do you think universities work in that sort of way?

Chris Leach
I think it very much depends, like your example there, they clearly have a route that they can go down – by comparison to the University of Bristol, our spread is much bigger, we go from everything from engineering, through the language studies through to business studies. I would say a few years ago, maybe we were a facility to host your videos on your website, effectively. Whereas we are much more trying to curate our content a little bit more.

We’re not so worried about the subscriber count, because the majority of our videos are generated by non-subscribers. But what we do try to do is make sure that our videos are hitting key themes and really hitting those searchable themes that students are trying to find out – whether that’s student experience, or how student experiences related to certain courses or different aspects. Accommodation, for example, is the one we talked to you about today. So it for us it’s a slightly different model.

We’re not trying to go down that typical YouTuber-type approach where you’re generating more views by being consistent in your postings, and things like that. But for us, it’s different, but I definitely think you’re probably correct there that for most universities, it is a facility to host videos on your YouTube channel rather than a specific channel, say like Instagram or something like that.

Nathan Monk
Well, that unfortunately, just about wraps up today’s episode of Most Clicked. Thanks once again to our guests, Chris, Francesca: Thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks also to Matt and Kyle as ever.

If you have enjoyed today’s episode, then please do consider subscribing on YouTube, or following on LinkedIn where you’ll be able to get updates for all of our future episodes. Every episode is also now available as a podcast too, so you can subscribe on your choice of podcast app, including Spotify and Apple podcasts. As ever, all of the details are available on wearesmile.com. Thanks for watching and see you next time.

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Nathan Monk
I'm proud to work for some of the world’s most influential brands that shape cities and define lives: Universities and colleges. I provide advice to forward-thinking senior leaders on how to exceed their organisational targets by creating user-focused, digital-first strategies.