We speak to Charles Hardy, Education Engagement Lead at LinkedIn, about how the social network’s education platform is being used by students, business and the higher education sector.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become the staple social networks for universities across the country. Our blogs on “starting the conversation with prospective students” and “universities using social media” highlight that a young and digitally native student population require these channels of communication as standard.
But what of social networking’s ‘geeky’ brother, LinkedIn?
The professional social network did for a long time seem to be less important when communicating with students. As the workhorse of social media, the argument went that LinkedIn has fewer students and a professional feel at odds with ‘student life’, and therefore requires less of already scant university resources.
The fastest growing demographic
Today the situation could not be any more different. The network has expanded massively, ballooning to 380 million members with students, according to Charles, representing “the fastest growing and active demographic in the LinkedIn user base”. Additionally, with the launch of the LinkedIn Higher Education Platform two years ago, the appeal of LinkedIn to those involved with education has grown exponentially. Multiple use cases for students, universities and business are now present and in terms of the bigger picture LinkedIn has become an essential part of HE marketing strategies. Indeed, Charles (who regularly travels the UK meeting university teams) suggests that “nearly every university is now using the platform”.
University pages are the main hubs of information on the LinkedIn education platform. They are built up of LinkedIn members who have listed a particular university on their profile. The data is collated onto the university’s page to produce an overall set of career paths and this is then accessible for all users on LinkedIn. The platform is built to allow users to freely search through the data. Key search criteria available include the ability to search by location, course, skills, employment and how you are connected on LinkedIn. There is also a very helpful key word search. The results are then mapped below with all relevant LinkedIn profiles and useful individual summaries.
We asked Charles to give us the low-down on how the platform works:
1. How are these LinkedIn pages used?
“Essentially, the system is ‘big data’ and how this data is used varies. The first is around students and working out different career paths. Employability has become a key part of university marketing and the modern brand proposition; students want to know where certain courses lead and effectively what is the return on a £30 000 investment.
“Target content for particular audiences”
“The second application is the obvious alumni relations piece. The platform represents a live alumni data source and is therefore used extensively by alumni relations departments who want to locate particular alumni or arrange marketing activity. University page administrators are able to manage notable alumni, segment and target content for particular audiences, and this is great for events and fundraising. It is also useful for promoting LinkedIn groups that serve as a deeper discussion forum.
“The comms targeting also has wider applications for other student generations, so for example an administrator can put out branding, content and information at the start of year that is relevant for fresher’s week, while around graduation a uni can share information about career opportunities and employer engagement.
“The third use is for businesses, with the platform feeding into graduate recruitment strategies. It helps by allowing skill-based searches and also allows business to identify where rivals are recruiting particular students.”
2. What is LinkedIn’s motivation for launching an education platform?
“There are three pieces here. Number one is growth – we are getting more members from these activities and like a bank if you get them young hopefully they will stay. The education platform really is a growth strategy for LinkedIn.
“The second strand comes from how the growth in members feeds other parts of our business. So as we grow our members and they add more data, it helps grow our recruitment talent solutions business, drive our marketing solutions business and all these different elements have monetisation and are revenue generating. Our clients looking to target the youth audience also benefit over time as our youth data becomes ever richer.
“Also, increased membership means that we will get more direct clients with users seeing the benefit of LinkedIn and wanting to use our services. This could be in the form of upgrading to premium accounts or becoming ad managers for a business.
“How can we help young people to start their careers?”
“The third element is an altruistic one. Essentially we asked ourselves “how can we help young people to start their careers? How can we leverage LinkedIn data to help with this sometimes hard and complicated process?”
“Youth unemployment is a huge problem and we wanted to establish how as a professional work-based network we could be of use in tackling the problem and contribute to improving the situation. At LinkedIn we work at lots of different levels and have conversations about employability. We want to help equip young people for the world of work whether they are out of university or straight out of school. The education platform is essentially part of this approach.
“We also launched a site for students (Students.linkedin.com/uk) that offers advice to students on how to build a top student profile, build relationships and ultimately find a job through LinkedIn.”
3. Is the higher education tool available and used in other countries?
“This tool has now been out for 2 years and we have been steadily evolving and evangelising it and pitching it to universities. The UK has a good uptake, I would say nearly every university is using the platform and they are regularly running LinkedIn clinics. It is pretty evolved in the UK.
“The UK has a good uptake”
“Other countries are at different stages of the evolution. The Netherlands is well ahead – for some reason the Dutch get social media. France is a little bit behind; Germany is a long way behind. There are different variables on how education is run, the economy, the country’s culture plus languages and things like that. Essentially, these are global tools but different countries have different take up.”
4. As a networking site how are job seeking student using the platform?
“A LinkedIn profile is a student’s professional brand, and by utilising the education platform students looking for work can move the odds in their favour. Alumni are much warmer leads, and students can use the platform to unlock opportunities. For instance, a student may be able to ask for advice, work experience or even arrange a meeting for a coffee based on a location search.”
As Charles highlights, utilising LinkedIn data has real potential for transformation within the higher education sector. In simple terms, students will increasingly be able to work back from the outcome they want, and will only need to select the relevant inputs that may increase their chances of success. For instance, a potential student looking to work at PWC could simply examine what courses have in the past helped towards a career at that organisation and act accordingly. Of course, these tools are not an exact science or a reliable indicator of success, but this sort of tool will impact student recruitment and the effects will become ever more apparent as the data becomes richer and other systems are developed.
An essential HE tool
Established brand priorities such a league table positioning and mission groups will become less important , while the wider student experience and employment outcomes will become prominent. Indeed, EY recently announced that they were dropping degree classification for graduate recruitment, a development that in conjunction with new research tools for students will – rightly or wrongly – only accelerate the establishment of a hard-nosed outcomes market. It will therefore become essential for universities to understand and react to tools such as LinkedIn in their marketing and recruitment activity.
Transformation will also extend to alumni departments who at present undertake huge amounts of work keeping records up to date. Through LinkedIn these records are effectively updated automatically and while some cohorts will remain unreachable, never joining LinkedIn, there is certainly a clear direction of travel for the younger cohorts who will want to progress onto a professional social media platform. As Charles suggests, “the alumni area is continuing to develop and the overlap between current students’ career pieces is deepening”. The communications element also has huge advantages for a range of university departments. Charles told Red Brick that during a visit to a UK university he met with their social media team, the alumni team, the careers team and marcoms teams and discussed how each department used LinkedIn for different audiences. Arguably, this provides a clear demonstration of how LinkedIn as a technology can impact many levels of an organisation, and clear evidence of the need for a fully integrated social media and indeed LinkedIn strategy so that all “three generations” of student are reached by a HE institution.
For alumni relations, tailored messages will contribute to a more distinct and valued ‘alumni culture’ and as a result generate increased engagement and revenue from alumni. For prospective students, institutions will be able to communicate employment outcomes, and for current students universities will be able to strengthen business relationships and promote work experience opportunities.
The motivation for universities to encourage students onto the platform is therefore significant, partly in terms of boosting student employability but also to help extend communications past graduation. Fundamentally, LinkedIn offers higher education an extensive engagement platform and a wealth of data for free. As social media becomes ever more prevalent within the sector it is important to remember that within the mix LinkedIn is a serious contender, and has a lot to offer a market that is becoming ever more linked to business and employment.