Have you heard of UNICA? This organization is a Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe. They are unique because of their focus on the 41 capital cities of Europe, largely due to them being hubs of innovation and development in close proximity to the seats of political power and influence. In short, they want to help these universities to "support decisions and policies that contribute to the creation of a Europe based on social understanding, global collaboration, and sustainability."
UNICA hosted an important event yesterday, and we were there. The UNICA PR & Communication group met for its 10th annual gathering, and this time the focus was on looking at how the pandemic (and many concurrent socio-technological shifts) impacted the way that we recruit and communicate with international students.
If you know us by now, you will know that this is right up geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy) street, and so our Founder & CEO Alejandra Otero was there, to give a talk entitled "From myth to opportunity: why understanding Gen Alpha and the Metaverse matter".
So why exactly does it matter? Well, there are four important areas this talk covered, and while they are contextualized by data and theory of change that will impact the way universities recruit and communicate, they also cover extremely practical ways to actually adapt to this change and to future-proof our sector.
The generation who are right now beginning to search for higher education options are different. Not like the boomers and the Y's are different, but more like how movies portray the generational gap of the 1950s and 60s, with conservative, prudent parents totally unable to understand their rock 'n' roll or hippy children. That huge gap rolls around every now and again, and it is on our doorstep once more.
This time, the gap is not caused by emerging from a world of war and trauma into high levels of material prosperity and a lack of faith in political institutions. This time, the shift is largely caused by the democracy and decentralization of new technology.
The first Gen Alpha were born from 2010- the year the iPad was launched - and the last Gen Alphas will be born in 2024. By the end of this decade, Gen Alphas will be the biggest generation the world has ever seen, with 2 billion Alphas well on the way.
Research tells us that Gen Alpha will mature more quickly than Generation Z. They have grown up as digital natives from birth, been exposed to more adult ideas and dialogue, learned to source their own solutions and this has generally led to a tendency to crowdsource information to help them make decisions. Only 22% of Alphas say adverts affect them at all, with only 14% saying that they are influenced by online personalities.
Alphas tend to surpass their parents' knowledge of technology by the time they are 8 years old, respond well to gamified content, and the opportunity to create content rather than be passive recipients of it. Universities who are still sending static brochures to download, or creating online spaces with the all the vibrancy of a 1950s parent, are already several steps behind.
We need to look at a new way to communicate with this generation, and we only have a few years to really get that wired in to our strategies and campaigns.
With a generation who can think for themselves (or at least know where to find alternative sources of information from those they trust and can relate to), we need to work on building authentic tone, building our social listening capacity, and making sure that we as institutions are doing what we say we are.
Communicating clearly on issues which Gen Alpha cares about is also very important. Wellbeing, diversity, inclusion, sustainability and a commitment to actually doing something to make the world better; all of these things are vitally important to maintain relevance in the eyes of a socially impassioned generation.
Upping our tech game to ensure we are present in new metaverse spaces, Discord servers, community building spaces and many more, is perhaps the shift which concerns institutions most. The way of communication which accompanies this, however, is the real prize. Peer to peer support and recommendations, student generated content, gamified approaches to student engagement are all things that go hand in hand with more open digital spaces.
Yes, this is the M word. The metaverse is not one thing or one place, but a whole new asynchronous digital world that opens up possibilities for learning, innovation, and communication, among others. This means not only using new channels in new ways but also building our capacity in Education Marketing and Recruitment to really understand how people engage with these spaces.
Yes 2023! "The future is already here" is a worn-out phrase that we really would like to see retired, but it happens also to be true. What is also already here, however, is your passion, your knowledge and skills, and your deep understanding of marketing and communication. Adapting to Gen Alpha and rethinking our digital approach might seem daunting, but you are further along the road than you may realize.
You do not have to figure out a virtual campus visit in 2023, or stroll around campus in AR Glasses, wondering what on earth is going on. Rome was not built in a day (though it was destroyed pretty quickly!), and there are really accessible ways to begin. Learning more about the tone and approach of communication in student recruitment for Alphas, is a great investment of time. Basic gamification of marketing assets can be as simple as a tweak of vocabulary and structure at the start, and there is lots of support available in how to take your first steps into new social channels, or to adapt the way we already use WhatsApp, TikTok, Instagram and the like.
What we are saying, is that getting started is not as daunting as we might think. What we are also saying, however, is that if we want to stay relevant in a world of changing career paths and changing perspectives on the value of traditional credentials, we have to get moving now. 2023 is a great place to start.
There is a whole lot to say on this, and the UNICA Conference offered a distilled version of a lot of wider concepts and information to help to frame the challenges we face and the opportunities they can yield for us.
As the end of the year is approaching, and you reflect on our own 2023 strategy, we want you to know that we are here for the next steps. As an Education Marketing consultancy, we are focused on empowering you through training, optimization and expertise, so that you can take things forward without us. We meant what we said- our colleagues in the sector already have so much in place to help, and important skills they can build on to optimize marketing and recruitment for Gen Alpha and the metaverse.
Beyond the UNICA talk, we can help you develop a viable and realistic 2023 strategy that builds forward to an optimized approach fit for this new environment, just reach out to start the conversation.