With new platforms popping up, features being introduced and trends evolving, the social media landscape is ever-changing. And this means our approach to content needs to change too.
At The University of Manchester, we test and learn continuously through new formats and styles and as a result have transformed a set of corporate channels into a highly engaged, student-focused community. This has been recognised in this year’s UK Social Media Awards, and we are so proud to have been shortlisted for Best In-House Team.
Who we are
Part of the prestigious Russell Group of universities, The University of Manchester is the largest single-site university in the UK, catering for more than 40,000 students, supported by more than 12,000 staff.
Our social media team, based in the Directorate of Communications, Marketing and Student Recruitment, is responsible for the strategic direction and management of key institutional social channels. A pivotal part of our work is enhancing and protecting the University’s reputation through digital platforms, dealing with challenging reputational issues, and acting as a first point of contact for students, applicants and the public, all while delivering campaigns on our strategic priorities and embracing innovative techniques and technologies.
We collaborate with colleagues to ensure all content is aligned with key University messages and campaigns, put students at the heart of our content, and support external marketing campaigns that align with the Directorate’s reputation strategy (and much more).
Following the pandemic, and increasing distrust in carefully curated communications, the team has developed community spaces for prospective and current students to experience authentic student experiences, opinions and advice.
One of our aims is to improve engagement and communication with students – part of our Student Communications Commitment – and have created opportunities for student content creators to publish content regularly on the University’s social channels. At the start of the 2022/23 academic year, we aimed for these content creators to achieve 500,000 video views across 75 pieces of content; we smashed this target with over 1.3 million views across 100 pieces of content.
As a result, student voice has been boosted, with positive engagement among our audiences, allowing us to transform our TikTok page and make it a key part of our social media strategy, turning it into a ‘hub’ of engaging, informative and insightful student-led content.
In one year, we have increased our TikTok community sixfold, jumping from 6,388 to 38,400 followers, well surpassing our initial target of 14,000 followers. In May, our TikTok was voted the second-best UK university on the platform, moving up from 13th place in 2022. It was called “friendly, accessible and relatable” and an “excellent example of striking the perfect balance of info and humour” (Nonsensical agency).
“There has been a very notable shift – the team are more empowered, more confident and bolder in their choice of topics and the balance of mere information, compared to celebratory content that highlights our many achievements,” Simon Merrywest, Director for the Student Experience at The University of Manchester, said.
Aligned to our Student Communications Commitment, we have supported key university campaigns related to harm reduction and the cost of living – key issues affecting students. We know students are worried about the current cost of living crisis and being able to afford a university lifestyle, with 79% of students saying finances are the top factor they are concerned about when starting university (according to UCAS’ 2023 Freshers Survey), so we knew this needed to be a priority on our channels.
As students struggled with the cost-of-living crisis, the University established support packages. The team worked in collaboration with the Students’ Union (SU) to promote initiatives including ‘Cosy Campus’ locations, subsidised food and drink, work experience placement bursaries and recreation grants, and a furniture reclaim service.
These were promoted across TikTok and Instagram, with collaborative posts across University and SU accounts featuring SU Officers. The context mixed funny, first-person videos with information-led Stories and Reels showcasing how students could access the initiatives, including a walk-through of the furniture store. The results speak for themselves, with a 316% increase in applications for the Work Experience Bursary and a 156% increase in applicants for the Access to Recreation Grant.
We are continuing to evolve our content to reach new audiences in fresh and exciting ways to build our digital community, and recently celebrated the University’s main social channels reaching 1 million followers.
Alistair Beech, Social Media and Digital Communications Manager at The University of Manchester, said: “It is a fantastic achievement to be recognised outside of the higher education sector, and I can’t wait to see what our talented team can achieve next”.