WhatsApp in Education Marketing and Recruitment is something we have been discussing with colleagues this week, and the discussion has raised some interesting questions about the use of this tool in our profession. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are both front runners in instant messaging (outside of China) and both owned by Facebook. Though there are more users registered on WhatsApp, Messenger is more heavily used. The thing is, that Facebook is an established social network, so talking to or being approached by prospective students on Messenger is a given standard in most organizations. Talk to professionals in this field about using WhatsApp to connect with prospective students, and you'll see that there isn't a lot of agreement.
Some of our clients use it regularly to talk with prospective students and swear by it as an efficient tool for real-time communication, which the students really appreciate. Others say it is a personal app, not a business one, and that even the WhatsApp Business App is really not suited to what we do. They both have a point. At geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy), we work B2B and have more personal relationships with our clients and partners, and so WhatsApp is clearly a great tool for us, and one we depend on.
To push this further, we have helped many of our clients to set up WhatsApp as a channel of communication with their prospective students, and have helped them to integrate it with their own CRM, so that all communication is in the same place. To plant our flag right at the start, we're all for WhatsApp to reach out to prospective students, if it's used in the right way. So why would we use this tool in our profession, and how might we make the best use of it?
Well, how could we not mention this first? It really is amazing that a tool like this remains free. For larger organizations, the WhatsApp Business API, which is customizable and can be used for larger teams, does charge for different levels of service. The basic app, however, is great for smaller organizations, and it looks likely that it will remain free to use for the foreseeable future, though some paid add ons are coming our way.
WhatsApp users send 65 billion messages per day, and with the blue tick system leaning on us to open and respond, it's no wonder that there is so much traffic. We haven't yet seen conclusive data on message open rate for WhatsApp use in business, but let's just say that the most conservative figure out there is 90%. How does that compare to your MailChimp open rate?
You are considering 3 different high schools or four different universities. You have some doubts about your first choice and go to get in touch with their admissions team. There is only the option to send an email through the web form. While you're waiting for a response, you try your second choice institution. They are on WhatsApp and answer your questions right away, to an app that's already in your phone.
No navigating to a chatbot, and it feels that bit more personal. After all, there is the conversation sitting right above your last chat with a friend. Email responses can often feel "canned" and less personal, and they address a lot of information in one go. For short clarifications, follow-up questions etc., email really isn't the most agile of tools. This simple thing can make a difference in the decision-making process. Gen Z are the "always on" generation, looking frequently at WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok, so meet them where they are.
Now we know there is a lot of hesitation around potentially using WhatsApp in Education Marketing and Recruitment. There should be. For us at geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy), we never see tech tools as a solution in and of themselves. It is critically important to examine how they should be used above all.
"As universities, it is undeniable that we are struggling ever increasingly with getting students to read our emails or webpages. The need to “break it down” and make information clear and accessible is compelling. Speaking to students via WhatsApp is an incredible opportunity to do so.
This requires the right setup as well as the support of the institution, and not just in terms of technology. We found a good balance in encouraging our local reps to communicate with students and families in the way they deem most effective: very often WhatsApp (or local alternatives) is THE answer.It is our role to seek customer-centered approaches while preserving the professional image of the university."
Ilaria Bossi, International Recruitment Manager
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy
Firstly, you'll need to connect your WhatsApp Business account to a phone. Think carefully how you do this, as it may become an integral part of your communication strategy, and the first decision is critical. Normally, you can use your regular office number, but if you can't then you might think about using a virtual mobile number to connect to your account. This means that one of your team members can use the web interface and one can use the mobile interface at the same time.
You should also make sure you have a verified account, so that the blue tick appears next to your name. Prospective students will know they are talking with the real deal, which is important in a world of phishing and phony accounts.
So what will you do? You might want to put the WhatsApp option on your website right away, or just use it for follow-ups once contact and conversation has been established. The former option really encourages much more engagement. WhatsApp is a personal tool, so contacting prospective students first on this channel is not always appropriate. Best case scenario, they come to you, and when they do, be ready. Otherwise, contact them through other means first, to then have a better engagement on WhatsApp without seeming like a stranger.
What automatic replies do you have for out of hours? Are you ready to be responsive to inquiries on this new channel, and do you have prepared chunks ready for common questions, which sound appropriate to the tone of a more personal channel? Do you have your high frequency images, documents and files ready to share with prospective students? When they ask questions about the campus, or the classrooms, a quick image over the chat will help visualization enormously.
Things can get messy pretty quickly if this isn't done well. One colleague is following up on a question from a prospective student, which has already been answered by WhatsApp. We all do it. Messaging an organization on different channels to get a quick reply is pretty standard practice, and that means your channels must be integrated with your central CRM. It is always recommended calling on expert help to set up the integration. Because WhatsApp itself is such a deceptively simple tool, we have seen many organizations use it as a "complement" to their core communications.
Very quickly, they see the engagement rocket, and just are not set up to deal with this shift in a way that keeps information in the same place. That is where prospects are lost, and stress levels rise. If you want to increase engagement and retention in a way that fits the needs of your audience, we're happy to come on board and help. We can support your business to automate and integrate the process right from the start. It's what we do.
Our colleagues who are hesitant to use WhatsApp in education marketing and recruitment have good cause, but perhaps for different reasons. At geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy), we would only recommend caution on the how but the why is crystal clear. WhatsApp is a personal tool, but as long as a prospective student contacts you first on the channel, or they have given you consent to call them by providing their phone on your forms, they are giving you permission to engage.
This is not an invasion of privacy, but rather a service that fits the needs of a new generation, and for which they will thank you.