6 digital trends for higher ed in 2016

Targeted marketing, digital assistants and drones will pay a part in higher ed’s internet mix

What does 2016 have in store for digital professionals in higher education? New and revisited technologies promise to drive online marketing for colleges and universities. Watch these five trends to help you set a course.


The first column I wrote for University Business a decade ago focused on an emerging trend: podcasting. But beyond a few early adopters, most universities and colleges struggled to reach the audience necessary to justify the production of quality podcast programming.

Today, podcasting is experiencing something of a resurgence. Traditional players like NPR, as well as newcomers like Gimlet Media and the Panoply Network, have launched high-quality podcast series reaching millions of listeners and earning digital advertising dollars—including some from higher ed budgets.

‘Just for me’ marketing

As more personal data is shared on social media platforms, mobile apps and other websites, users are swapping privacy for convenience. This data can help marketers personalize their marketing at scale.

Connected technologies enable more and more personalization on digital channels. As a result, the new generation of students, parents and alums expect personalized and adaptive solutions to their college needs and wants.

The popularity of platforms like SnapChat among college students is a testament of this craving for more personalized communications.

Students at West Virginia University, Princeton and the University of Michigan even use the network to conduct official school business, such as answering questions for incoming students through Snapchat’s chat feature. 

Online videos

There is no doubt that 2015 saw the emergence of video as the hottest digital content format. Platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and Periscope have put a stronger focus on videos.

Online videos can be set to autoplay to push advertising or promote branded content. They can also be counted as “viewed”—and billed—after only a few seconds for social media platforms.

That’s why online videos have experienced amazing success on Facebook while the reach of traditional text-based updates or even pictures have been throttled by Facebook’s profit-driven news feed algorithm.

Last spring, Duke University studied how videos uploaded directly to Facebook compared in reach and engagement with the same videos shared on YouTube. The Facebook videos won over their YouTube version in all cases.

Digital Assistants

As smartphones become indispensable for many people, personalized digital assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now are facilitating more human-device interactions. These voice-activated digital assistants are expected to play an increasing role in driving people to your web content.

As a large part of new visitors are brought to higher ed websites by search engines, there will be an increasing need to optimize your content for these digital assistants.

Virtual Reality

With the upcoming consumer release of Oculus Rift and the launches of Samsung Gear VR and the cheaper Google CardBoard, there’s definitely a growing interest in the promises and possibilities of virtual reality.

With its immersive and experiential proposition, virtual reality could help reduce the physical distance between users and a range of experiences: a lecture, a lab, a trip or even a campus visit. Schools such as UC Berkeley, Rochester Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech have created labs and research units to explore these applications.

Regis University in Denver partnered with the agency Primacy to create a virtual reality tour of its campus. Other providers such as Higher Ed Growth and YouVisit are exploring the virtual campus tour market as well. Broad adoption may be some years away, but early adopters might want make a move now.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of www.higheredexperts.com.


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