Dance, dance

PENTAX ImageCan a video of dancing squirrels make a difference to student recruitment? Keele University hopes so.

Yep, you read that correctly. A video of dancing squirrels. It’s all part of Keele University’s #NutsAboutKeele social media campaign that was launched last month and was featured on the Guardian’s Higher Education network this week, as part of this article about student recruitment campaigns.

As the Guardian piece says, higher education is spending more dosh to market their open days and reaching out to potential students via social media, as well as putting some serious work into bettering their websites and prospectuses.

Even in the relatively short time I’ve been working at the University of Warwick, I’ve found this to be the case. In fact, I’ve not long come out of a meeting about our summer open days before sitting down to type this post, while we’re all quite excited about the arrival of our new prospectus. And, of course, there’s the creation of my role, which shows a real commitment to social media.

So, what of Keele’s campaign? It’s actually quite simple and is tied to one of the most famous features of Keele’s campus…squirrels. Before I go any further, you should probably watch the video that really helps tie the whole £4,700 campaign together…

Off the back of this clip, the University has then been asking its student body to use social media to tell them why they are #NutsAboutKeele. Oh, there’s also someone popping up around campus dressed as a giant squirrel, and some of the campus squirrels even sent out valentine’s cards to prospective students. No, really.

Looking through this excellent Storify curated by the University, the campaign is going really well; students are being a fantastic ambassador for the University, while there has also been involvement from staff, alumni, local colleges and even the VC. In short, the buy in across campus has been excellent.

It’s impressive stuff and gives you a similar warm feeling to what we felt here at Warwick with our #LoveWarwickUni campaign that I’ve written about previously. After all, content such as the following tweet is always gold.

Campaigns such as this one are always likely to generate debate and will often be lavished with praise internally and frowned upon from external organisations; after all, do you really want to put a message out to the wider world that, basically, your University is all about an animal that many people would quite happily shoot (or in my case, swear loudly at when they steal all the fruit from the plum tree in your garden)?

Well, I actually quite like this whole campaign. The video is a bit silly, but the content it has helped generate is great and I think it’s a creative way to get people interested in finding out more about the University.

As for the valentine’s cards, I haven’t quite decided if they’re creepy or hilarious, but either way, if I’d received one in the post, I would definitely have posted about it on social media and it would certainly have made Keele stick in my mind.

Actually, they are pretty funny.

And who knew squirrels had lovehearts too?

But, for me, that’s where the challenge really lies. I won’t be at all surprised if so many people are #NutsAboutKeele that their Open Days are full to bursting. However, the University will then have to put just as much effort into selling the other, non-squirrel related aspects of life at Keel, i.e. all that serious academic stuff, and convince a prospective student to put Keele down as one of their UCAS choices.

That said, Keele should have a much easier job of doing that thanks to this campaign. They’ve set themselves up as a fun place to be, with lots of stuff going on and the feeling of a great big family whose members really buy into life there.

For young people faced with moving away from home, potentially for the first time, for at least three years, that’s really powerful.

In fact, if it comes down to a student agonising over Keele and another institution offering the same/a similar experience, might the squirrels be the deciding factor? They could well be

For me, what will now be fascinating is to see what tangible difference the dancing squirrels make to student recruitment numbers. Will this be £4,700 well spent or will it show the Keele marketing team to be, frankly, nuts?

I think they’re onto a winner and I wish them all the best. I also hope they share their evaluation of this campaign once it’s done as I’d be fascinated to learn more.

*Photo Credit: _Abi_ via Compfight cc

**Blog post song title reference: Dance, Dance by Fall Out Boy (who, incidentally, I’ll be photographing at the NIA this weekend)

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