The metaverse: the next frontier of marketing and recruitment

The metaverse: the next frontier of marketing and recruitment

We in the world of higher education marketing and recruitment know what it’s like to be in a fast-paced institution, where it is hard to find time to step outside metrics of student enrolments and ROI to prepare for the next big trend. This is especially the case when it’s something that seems so distant and – let’s face it – a little bit like science fiction, like the ‘metaverse’.

The metaverse is a shared virtual world, one which complements the real world yet is not a single space or an actual ‘thing’. This is a fully immersive and fluid series of worlds where the physical, augmented and virtual realities co-exist. 

What is the metaverse?

Gaming, shopping, experiencing, interacting, working, creating and so much more all blend and evolve here. You are not observing, but you are actually (or rather virtually) there, and you can shape your own environment, create your own spaces and communities, and generally do your own thing. 

This is not Web1 with its ‘read-only’ invitation to check the sports results and the latest news. Nor is this Web2 where, let’s face it, users and their data are essentially products from which companies extract profit. Web2 has also shortened their attention span, and younger people are finished with being passive recipients to be saturated with information. They want to be the protagonists now. 

The metaverse is Web3, where we can author content in decentralised spaces, and take real control over what we see, do and engage with. This requires not just a shift in our strategy, but also in our mindset. 

What does it mean for marketing and recruitment?

For those in our profession, this will upend everything. The terms of engagement are changing. This is a world where everyone is a content creator, present through virtual identities, in spaces that may be democratically controlled by their inhabitants, and not centralised in the servers of an institution. Permission is different, cookies are back in the jar, communication platforms and channels are evolving, and it is all happening quickly. 

We all know there’s no special metaverse budget coming to your office any time soon, and deciding to drop a chunk of your Google Ads, Meta Ads, student portals, agents, or fairs budget, in favour of this new metaverse channel, might feel like a risk in these uncertain times. But risks can be analysed and demystified, and when we give them a bit of attention and thought, they reveal opportunities. Marketing can become so much more immersive, exciting and therefore engaging. As we shift from working out how to make existing approaches less obtrusive and unwelcome for a new generation of prospective students, we can only get so far with the tools we have: we need to pick up some new ones. 

Preparing for generation Alpha

Generation Alpha (the one after Gen Z) is coming down the line, and in 2025 will start looking at universities. Those who start to position themselves for this now will be far more competitive when the shift swings into effect. 

The change is significant, and make no mistake: adapting to this will take time and energy. Simply being present on TikTok does not mean you are ready to meet Gen Alpha where they are. TikTok is a start (and a fun one), but there's much more to it. Gen Alpha, like their older Gen Z siblings, are gamers at heart. Their sense of ‘reality’ isn’t tethered to the physical world, as they interact, shop, earn, learn, socialise and develop in a virtual world where they are in control.  

Those of us who did not grow up in this dichotomy of worlds may never fully appreciate or internalise what that is like, but we can at least try to understand it. When we communicate and engage generations who hang out with friends and build communities in immersive virtual landscapes, we have to appreciate that emails to read and brochures to download feel utterly anachronistic to them. When we interact with them like this, we are clearly not meeting them where they are at. 

So how will you use these three years before Gen Alpha comes knocking on your virtual doors? Let’s start small. We have a few things to unlearn and relearn before we start crafting a much more developed version of a virtual campus tour, designing our office in the metaverse, and deciding that your colleague is not allowed to have a unicorn as their avatar. 

Small steps

Small steps mean getting the feel of this new world. Join communities such as Discord, Goin' or The Eduverse. Segments of your target audience are flowing through these spaces, tired of other environments solely optimised for sales. You need to be there too.

Discord is a community-driven communication space that is hugely popular, especially among gamers (ie the majority of Gen Z, and the Alphas who will follow them). Goin' is a friendship ecosystem which helps students build a sense of community and belonging at their higher education institution, and is powered by some mighty fine artificial (and real) intelligence. Lastly, The Eduverse is as cool as it sounds, and a visit will help you get to know what metaverse learning environments look and feel like. 

Dive into opportunities for an immersive experience, engage with fellow community members and sense all by yourself the power of relationship-building in the virtual world before inviting them to join you on campus, in person. In short, embrace it. When you meet Gen Alpha not so long from now, you can meet them on their terms, speak their language, respect their values and build real relationships that not only catalyse enrolments, but create strong communities, in the metaverse too. 

Changing our mindset and learning experientially about our new generations of learners: that’s the real ROI, which will pay dividends for many years to come. To get started, join us at the 2022 EAIE Conference in Barcelona on Wednesday 14 September from 09:00 to 10:30 for our session Marketing and Recruitment presents: Metaverses, Discord, Slack and (still) WhatsApp: community building reinvented. Join our social experiment in this feature session, where I, as an education marketing consultant, together with heads of offices at higher education institutions, will walk you through what we’ve learned so far about using innovative marketing and recruitment practices through community building in the metaverse.

EAIE Barcelona 2022

The platform will remain open for conference participants until 30 September, enabling you to log in at any time to re-watch recordings and access resources, as well as retrieve any chats, messages and contact information you collected during the event.

Alejandra Otero
NEO Academy, USAAlejandra Otero is Founder and CEO of NEO Academy, an education marketing and recruitment consultancy.