By 2025, Millennials will make up nearly 75% of the global workforce. Gen Z-ers born in the mid-1990s are already graduating from higher education and reshaping the world of business. (The cool) universities are now turning their attention to the next generation: Generation Alpha. With the rise of a more tech-focused world, as well as changing social and cultural values, who is now knocking at our doors and what do they want?
Generation Alpha, born between the early 2010s and now, will enter higher education within the next decade. As a digitally-native generation, they are growing up with the next phase of AI and metaverse technologies. They are constantly connected to their peers and the wider world through screens. They are highly visual, used to receiving information in ‘snackable’ short-form text and video, and are aware of how to manage their digital lives, much better than their Millennial counterparts.
With those things in mind, what can universities do to appeal to this hyper-connected, digital-first cohort? In a new report from the Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe (UNICA), experts set out new strategies for recruiting the next generation of students. From dipping a toe in the Metaverse, to thinking less like a university and more like a student, the report reveals that successfully marketing to Generation Alpha is as much about attitude as it is about physical adaptations.
The power of social media marketing isn’t waning, says Aswin Lutchanah from the University of Luxembourg. As Social Media Manager, Aswin wants to show the university as a modern, interdisciplinary institution that offers a personal approach. How does he do this? By speaking to students in a way that they understand.
Generation Alpha just don’t have time to read long pieces of text or watch long videos. Some might say they no longer have the tolerance for it, though the jury is still out on theories of depleted attention span. What is clear, is that we have to work harder to get and keep their attention. Short and snappy social media stories, coupled with opportunities to share personal experiences and connect with other students, has helped the university’s following grow rapidly. As well as sharing news stories from around campus and promoting courses of study, Aswin’s strategy also puts students’ voice front and center.
User-generated content about everything from exam tips to coping with loneliness helps create a sense of belonging and authenticity, embracing all aspects of the student experience. Creating real connections through digital channels is what universities should be focusing on when marketing to the next generation of students. As Aswin says in this report, the word ‘social’ in social media is key.
Some of us may have just reluctantly mastered Zoom, but Generation Alpha are already living parts of their lives fully online. Whether through the use of voice-recognition technology and virtual assistants, or through online gaming, the next generation of students will expect their education to reflect these other aspects of their life. Universities have to get ready to meet their students where they are, and that means upskilling, embracing new technology and having good conversations about what it all means. To be relevant, we have to stay connected to the flow of change.
According to Alejandra Otero, Founder & CEO of geNEOus, the Metaverse is all about community. The internet has evolved from a place to read content, into a place to engage with content and now communities. Platforms like Discord, which is based around users’ interests, are already being used by some universities for presentations. Why not use them to help students connect through shared subjects and interests? Alejandra encourages more institutions to experiment with using the spaces. Being a late adopter is not ideal, but it’s better than not adopting at all!
Crucially, Alejandra says that universities should adapt their content to these new community spaces. Simply being in the Metaverse is not enough to attract new students if you are still asking them to download brochures and read long emails. She emphasizes that the metaverse is about play, experimentation, and networking. Learning about the university itself is important, but it becomes the secondary focus in the metaverse.
With rising costs and increasing competition in the higher education market, universities need to ensure that their marketing campaigns work even harder than before. Lisa Flannery, Marketing Manager at University College Dublin (UCD), shared their strategy to increase student numbers by 25% by 2030. This long-term goal needs a long-term marketing plan that both appeals to the next generation of students and also retains its relevance over a 2 to 3-year period.
Just like Aswin Lutchanah’s social media strategy, UCD’s marketing plan relies heavily on the authenticity that Generation Alpha craves. You know those super fake students we see in university brochures that make you think “there’s no way these people are real”? That is a huge no no.
Real students were cast in their video campaigns, which used creative storytelling to show how their learning journey impacted on their lives in the world beyond education. The themes of the campaign also chime with Generation Alpha’s values, focusing on ‘global sustainability, transformation through digital technology, building a healthy world and empowering humanity.’
As well as the content itself, UCD also made sure to adapt the format of their marketing campaign to appeal to Generation Alpha. Long-form video was cut down to easily-digestible 10 and even 6-second videos to use as ads on YouTube and TikTok. Information on the university’s web pages was presented visually, with benefits and student testimonials featuring prominently, without tinkering with the way students actually phrased things.
The campaign also emphasized UCD’s brand as an Irish institution, using emotive music and Irish language, with plans for Gaelic language recordings to be created in the future. Community, and belonging, are critically important to new generations in such a fluid and tumultuous world.
The UNICA report shows that while Generation Alpha are still interested in the practical aspects of the university experience, higher education institutions will need to adapt the way they market themselves to this upcoming, hyper-connected generation. Yes, information on course content, student finance and accommodation is still critical, but new students are looking to be inspired and reassured that they are joining an authentic, future-focused organization. That means you kind of have to be one, and there’s no shortcut around that. Generation Alpha trust their peers more than anyone else, so if your messaging doesn’t match the experience, then prepare for that to go viral.
Whether you are looking to make your first foray into the Metaverse, or want to connect with new students through a future-proofed social media and marketing strategy, we can help your institution with bringing Generation Alpha on board. Want to know more? Get in touch, or send us a TikTok of you dancing in the kitchen, and let’s chat about how you can get ready for the next generation.