Segmenting the social media activities of your university

Segmenting the social media activities of your university

Social media goes across almost all borders and we often find ourselves with an audience representing a very diverse set of backgrounds, cultural values and differing needs. As marketers we understand the importance of adjusting to different market segments, and segmentation according to nationality is often the first step we make in this direction.  The University of Groningen in the Netherlands and Nova Scotia Community College in Canada are two examples of higher education institutions which have done this successfully.

Before implementing a segmented approach, here are three things you should keep in mind.

Is nationality the most relevant segmentation basis for you?

Segmentation based on nationality is only one way to go about it, and depending on your purpose there might be other ways. As an example, when we redefined the brand of Uppsala University and tested tag lines on a group of students, engineers showed more trait similarity than Asians as a group. For our purposes, segments based on general subject interest would therefore be more relevant than segments based on nationality. So, look at your marketing strategy and decide what you want to achieve from a marketing/communications perspective before creating your segments. There might be other more relevant segments to work with.

Facilitate relations, not segregation

Social media comes in very handy for students to find other students with which they have something in common. It is also reassuring for prospective students to get in touch with others from their home country before they arrive at your university. But, make sure that you don’t end up facilitating segregation instead. The problem is usually not that students cannot find students of the same nationality to hang out with on campus. The challenge is to get them to hang out with students of different nationalities. So you should also look into other groupings the students might find useful. Future classmates and people with the same hobbies come to mind.

Think about image and tone of voice

When you segment according to nationality you will often get lots of people involved in managing activities, each one handling one market. In that environment it’s important to keep an eye on what image you project through the different channels. Obviously you will adjust activities and information to each target group but make sure that your image and tone of voice is consistent across channels. Remember, when students arrive on the campus they will experience the reality and you don’t want them to be too surprised when you suddenly change your ‘personality’. A good idea is therefore to train staff on image, tone of voice and similar softer values before they start working.


When done right, a segmented approach to social media based on nationality/culture will have a positive effect on your recruitment results. But, don’t do it just because you can. Think about what you want to achieve first and see if there might be other more useful segments. Remember also to keep an honest image as Jessica Winters talks about in her blog post. Keep that image and tone of voice consistent across channels and you will be fine.

Joachim Ekström
Dept. of Communication and External Relations, Uppsala University, SwedenJoachim is Head of Recruitment, Dept. of Communication and External Relations, at Uppsala University, Sweden.