The New TEF Awards – Part 2: Drilling down into marketing behaviours of individual institutions

Following on from last week’s blog sharing first impressions of the new TEF awards here we go into more detail in three specific areas:

  • The varying approaches to publishing
  • Building awareness through organic search and
  • Building awareness through social media

The varying approaches to publishing

Our research indicates the vast majority of the 59 institutions awarded the TEF “Gold” rating in 2017 published new content to their website to build awareness of their achievement. Many, such as The University of Kent and Edge Hill University, published news or blog articles, while others, such as The University of Huddersfield and De Montford University, added dedicated pages to their “About Us” section in addition to news stories. City College Plymouth was the only institution that did not publish any new content relating to their TEF Gold award.

Gold rated institutions gained higher levels of engagement on social media when publishing news or blog posts. This is likely due to the “real-time” nature of social media, meaning that current, recently dated news or blog content will attract more clicks from social browsers than an apparently static, undated page.

On the other hand, where a dedicated “About” page was published alongside a blog or news story, our research shows that Google would frequently rank the dedicated page ahead of the news story in general searches words relating to the university and TEF.

Of course, where no content was published, no awareness was built through either social media or Google rankings.

Building Awareness Through Organic Search

We reviewed the rankings of each Gold-awarded institutions’ websites for a range of related keywords including “TEF”, “teaching excellence framework” and “TEF Gold”. These keywords had received a significant surge in demand in June, amounting to tens of thousands of searches in total. The increases in searches for these keywords provided an excellent opportunity for Gold rated institutions to be found amongst the results, and build awareness of their award, by creating engaging, keyword-focused content.

As digital marketing experts, Altain Education understand that there are myriad ways that Google judges a page when deciding where to place it in its organic search engine rankings for relevant keywords. Among the most important of these, however, is the use of target keywords within the titles, headers and copy on the page itself.

The vast majority of Gold rated institutions did indeed create new content to raise awareness of their award. However, it is evident that not all of this content was created with the same care to include relevant keywords.

Those articles that did include the words “TEF”, “Teaching”, “Excellence”, “Framework” and / or “Gold” within their content and, crucially, the title of the page were vastly more likely to rank ahead of the websites of other institutions for searches that included these words.

Building awareness through social media

Our research revealed a vast difference in the level of social media engagement earned by each Gold rated institution upon sharing the news of their award. Of course, institutions with a larger “following” on social media started at an advantage here, there appears to also have been other factors at play.

For example, Edge Hill University has 85% fewer followers on Facebook than The University of Birmingham, but upon announcing their respective awards, Edge Hill received several times more social engagement in the form of likes, comments or shares. In this case, the significant difference could be that Edge Hill pinned their post to the top of their Facebook feed, where it remains at the time of writing. This has allowed the post to continue to attract engagement and build awareness of the award over a month after original publication.

Some institutions also failed to take advantage of the opportunities made available by the wider range of social channels, preferring to focus on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter. In many of the cases in our study, greater engagement was achieved by the sharing of content on LinkedIn than on Twitter, indicating that digital managers in higher education institutions are neglecting this channel.

We also noticed that some institutions were failing to share their content efficiently. For example, many institutions informed their Facebook followers of their Gold award by posting images, instead of links to their content, limiting the engagement that might otherwise have been made.

See our next blog for key takeaways and some suggestions

The New TEF Awards – Part 1: First impressions

The very first Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) outcomes for universities and colleges across the UK, released in June 2017 sent shockwaves through the traditional higher education hierarchy. Many of the UK’s leading universities failed to achieve the highest awards in the assessment, finding themselves outranked by other institutions many of which were smaller or more specialist ones.

As customer and marketing strategists specialising in education, we have been following the developments with interest as the composition and presentation of the award is arguably as much a customer satisfaction and market positioning vehicle as a reflection of teaching quality.

We were interested to see how the institutions responded to the outcomes, to establish an initial gauge on public response and we took the opportunity to drill down on the marketing presentation of the outcomes amongst those institutions receiving a gold award.

Whilst there are few surprises at the strategic responses, our research demonstrates a surprising variance in how different institutions are using their digital channels to engage with key stakeholders and prospective students – a major opportunity missed by some.

Crucially, our data suggests public interest had dropped markedly after the announcement and some proactivity may be required by those institutions for whom the awards are considered beneficial.

First impressions

Institutional response – Whilst many of the 59 institutions awarded “Gold” can now claim to be amongst the best in the country, unsurprisingly they have led the pack on publicising the award, whilst those in the “Silver” and “Bronze” categories have exercised some level of damage limitation by criticising or ignoring the results, whilst some have gone on to appeal.

Public response – Google Trends shows that interest in the TEF was little to non-existent throughout the first few months of 2017. However, as this trends graph shows, there was a short-lived spike in demand for searches for “TEF” and “Teaching excellence framework”.

This spike in demand represented an opportunity for gold ranked institutions to increase awareness of their status through engagement via their digital channels. It was an opportunity most institutions took advantage of, with varying results. However, the analysis suggests that traction with the public generally may benefit from attention, either collectively or individually as interest fell rapidly after the initial launch period.

See our next blog for the more detailed analysis & insight

COMING UP: Altain attending ‘Next steps for REF’ event

Altain will be attending the forthcoming Westminster Higher education forum event considering next steps for the research excellence framework (REF) on Monday 31st October. We hope to see you there.

Following the recently published review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), commissioned by Government and undertaken by Lord Stern, this timely seminar will provide an opportunity to examine key recommendations in the Review, including in the areas of promoting excellence, reducing administrative burden and improving efficiency, extending submissions to all research staff, and widening the definition of research impact.

Delegates will assess the extent to which the concept of impact – and its proposed greater weighting in the overall REF score – would affect the commercialisation of UK research outputs. They will also consider the Stern Review’s proposals for utilising the REF to incentivise interdisciplinary research, as well as concerns around whether the REF process furthers the concentration of research funding to a select group of institutions.