Improve student engagement in two easy steps

Improve Student Engagement in Two Easy Steps

I remember once discussing the merits of a university’s student engagement campaign to a friend. The campaign objective was to encourage more students to access the university’s hardship fund. It was cleverly executed and worked incredibly well. But as I explained this to my non-HE pal, he scoffed. ‘How hard can it be to give away cash?’, he said.

For those working in HE or FE you’ll recognise how difficult it is to engage with the student body – even if we are signalling a real benefit that improves their experience. So how do we better engage?

We take inspiration from empathetic brands.

Love heartLove heartLove heart

I’m writing this blog in the run up to Valentine’s day. My feelings towards Saint Valentine have fluctuated across the years depending on how happy/indifferent/heartbroken I have been at the time. How will consumers feel this year? Perhaps, now, more than ever, global sentiments towards 14 Feb will be especially intense. People may have lost their loved ones, endured a lockdown break-up or have renewed feelings of love towards their partners.

So, I was impressed when I received this email from Moonpig, courtesy of Head of Customer Service, Elisabeth Fennell-Connell.

Moonpig Valentines email

How unusual! A company treating me as an individual and appreciating that I don’t always wish to be the recipient of all of their marketing messages. As a cynical marketer, I’m very conscious of the companies I’m prepared to engage with. For those few, carefully-selected organisations, it can get boring receiving too many ‘Look at us!’ broadcasts. Sometimes I crave more of a dialogue. A bit of understanding.


So, my number one tip in engaging with your students is this…

Ask them how they wish to engage.

However, before you start crafting your questionnaire/email your communication MUST be accompanied by Step Two if you genuinely want to engage.

I’ll explain.

As a stressed-out parent attempting home-schooling in the middle of a pandemic, I was heartened to receive a questionnaire from my children’s primary school. It asked me how I felt about the level and frequency of homework my children were receiving. And, oh what a relief! I needed that survey to let off a bit of steam. No, I can’t get my children on two laptops to join two live daily meetings at the same time. And no, I don’t appreciate the additional Friday ‘live’ assembly. And no, I really don’t need to see other parents crafting Samuel Pepys out of everyday foodstuffs, thank you very much. But yes, I’d like to pass on my thanks to the teachers who are unwaveringly positive on those calls and are working really hard.

As I pressed ‘send’ I realised that my little cry for help probably would be lost in a larger sentiment survey. The school probably couldn’t tailor the home learning experience for this lone parent who is growing her own marketing consultancy. I’ll just have to keep plodding along.

So that’s my second tip.


If you’re going to ASK, then you must DO.

Another example.

In non-lockdown-times my rare treat of choice is a massage at the local day spa. Fellow spa-devotees will recognise the war-and-peace-style form that we complete before we even contemplate entering the treatment room. It will interrogate us on everything from our general state of mind, to our sleep patterns, general lifestyle choices (eek), details on piercings and pacemakers, to our exfoliation and supplement-taking routine. All for a 30-minute massage.

And the most frustrating thing?


I’ve ticked the GDPR box. I’m happy for them to tailor their service to me. But they never, ever do.

So, my advice is this. Please ask your students how they are feeling and what you could do to make their personal university experience better. But secondly, crucially, really take note and act. Not easy, I know. If you don’t deliver, you risk making things worse. Tip – this is what CRM systems were made for.

I’m looking forward to one fewer Valentine’s message in my inbox this year and I value Moonpig more for bothering to ask me.

And in case you’re feeling sorry for me, I have a sneaky suspicion that I may receive a proper Valentine’s card IN REAL LIFE this year (fingers crossed*). But first…back to carving a monument to the Great Fire of London out of a swede.

*Possibly jinxed it now.