The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on higher ed. institutions has been severe. From adapting to remote learning, to complex reopening strategies – colleges and universities have had to adjust quickly. That’s kept higher ed. marketers on their toes as they keep up with the rapidly changing sentiment and behaviours of the students they are trying to reach.
Not surprisingly, the student experience has been vastly redefined in the last several months as students have been staying home more than ever and struggling to stay connect to peers. We dove into recent national data and also talked to a local university study group to understand firsthand where the students’ “usual” media consumption levels have been increasing. Then we reconciled the student feedback with the national data. For post-secondary marketers, these insights can help you better reach your most important audience.
Research findings of Canadian students’ media consumption during the pandemic.
Vividata – one of several research firms whose data ED uses to guide our media planning and buying – recently released its national fall 2020 study, which shows that the usual (that is, pre COVID-19) media consumption levels of university students have significantly increased. Although the data is Canadian, we can anticipate comparable statistics for students in the U.S.
Several highlights are worth noting:
- 60% of the students said that their consumption level of social media has increased since the pandemic
- 58% conveyed that they are doing more online shopping during the pandemic
- 51% said their usual consumption of Netflix, Crave and Amazon Prime has gone up
- 41% said that consumption of video streaming services such as YouTube has increased
- 40% said that their usual consumption levels of audio streaming (through Apple and Spotify) has increased
- 39% of students said they are watching more live TV broadcasted and streamed online.
Firsthand findings: how media consumption changed for one university study group.
To contextualize this data, we conducted a mini focus group with a local undergraduate university study group to hear where they were also increasing their media consumption levels during the pandemic firsthand, and to reconcile their insights with the national study in an informative marketing summary.
First, a quick background on this de facto focus group. All students are enrolled in a nursing degree program in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Since the pandemic, each student has been interacting with classmates online in virtual classes and in the study group; in-person, in labs and during clinical experience in-hospital; and in some cases at home, as some of the students live together. Lastly, to ensure the research wouldn’t influence the responses, the group had no information about the national study prior to the virtual interview.
The following are the main takeaways of that conversation:
Higher ed. students seek content that can help them change the world.
Since the start of the pandemic, the students all agreed that they have been much more active on social media. It is a place where they and their peers go to be informed about world issues, such as human rights, COVID-19, social activism, climate change, Indigenous rights, activist movements, veganism, fitness/health and other relevant newsworthy content. They want to be informed about content that matters because they want to be a positive influence in today’s world.
Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are the platforms of choice for Canadian higher ed. students.
Instagram is their regular social media destination of choice for exploring newsworthy updates. They use Facebook more functionally for its neighbourhood community group updates, marketplace for shopping, and also for news updates.
When the students want to research healthy recipes or workout ideas — both topics that factor into their lives now more than ever — they visit Pinterest, where they are influenced by product ads and sponsorship, or ads that shared helpful ideas by reputable brands that prompt them to learn more and visit a company website. This is a perfect example of how a carefully crafted, targeted marketing approach can speak to the right audience at the right time and place.
A carefully crafted, targeted marketing approach can speak to the right audience at the right time and place.
The students (somewhat sheepishly) admitted that during the pandemic their online shopping has increased. They also said they’ve been watching more Netflix and enjoy new comedies and documentaries. Some of the participants stated that they regularly watch videos online on sites like YouTube.
During the last few months, participants said they almost never read print, or digital magazines or newspapers. But interestingly, they do continue to watch TV but not alone — only when co-watching with a parent.
Some of them do listen to the radio in their cars for the music and to listen to their favourite morning show personalities. Mostly, they go to their favourite music streaming platforms: Apple and Spotify. They also listen to podcasts that offer a range of interesting content – from documentaries to celebrity viewpoints. A favourite was Michelle Obama’s podcast.
As for devices, students said they primarily use their laptops to enjoy the larger screen experience. The only time they search for content online on their phones is when they are “out and about” and need to locate a product, service or address.
Our local focus group, and the national study: Takeaways for marketers.
- Students in both the national university and local focus group studies noted their consumption levels on their usual channels have increased since the pandemic: social media, online shopping, Netflix/Crave/Amazon Prime, and audio and video streaming.
- While local student group is not reading digital/printed magazines or newspapers, students participating in the national study reveal indicated their usual consumption levels of digital newspapers (38%), digital magazines (29%), printed newspapers (15%), and printed magazines (12%) have all increased.
- The national study of Canadian students didn’t convey the nature of the content that the students were seeking, why they were seeking this data or on what platform – but we suspect these results are very similar nationally.
As the impact of the pandemic continues and media trends change how advertisers operate, higher education organizations should stay in-the-know when it comes to where their students are getting information. You don’t have to nail the latest dance move or start taking selfies with the coolest filters, but understanding students’ media patterns means staying informative to current students and relevant to potential students. The bottom line is, it’s important for your communications, internally and externally.