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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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1.1 Introduction

In a world where organizations are more competitive than ever and majority of them are equipped with better resources, technology has contributed in a significant way, in terms of making businesses become able to connect to consumers locally and internationally. As a result of globalization and standardization (complete through technological advancements), organizations are tasked with creating Unique Selling Points to help distinguish them from there competition. This is usually through investing to improve the quality of their products/services and creating the most awareness through marketing.

With the birth of the ‘digital generation' came alongside a shift in marketing techniques. Marketing has evolved from traditional mass marketing through television and radio (Wertime & Fenwick, 2011). According to Hughes (2018), ‘'Screens, information and speed'' are the three words that defines how students in the 21st century interact with the world. The digital generation are students of the 21st century (from 2001 – till 2100).

 Nowadays, it has become apparent that most of the potential and existing University students in the U.A.E. spend a significant amount of their time on social media. Online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. have found their success in captivating the attention of the youth, with continual growth in the number of active users. Also, with the recent drop in prices of smartphones, the usage of smartphones has increased in the U.A.E., so much so that over 90% of its population is active on social media, the average social media user in the U.A.E. spends about two hours of the time on social media. The growth in active users in social media is attributed to U.A.E.'s demographics. Youths aged between 14-24 and adults aged 24-54 account for the majority of the U.A.E.'s population. With this information in mind, it is clear that the majority of the attention of the country's population are users active on many social media platforms. The target audience universities aim to reach in terms of prospective students, falls within Youths aged 14 – 24 (Undergraduates) as well as 24 – 54 (Postgraduates) group.  They are active social media users and in some cases the largest amount of active users on social media (ref) New college or university students are more familiar with their campuses than students were a decade ago. The availability of universities on social media platforms such a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, among others has allowed students to connect with their college environments before ever setting foot on campus (Weindling, 2017). 

This research proposal is based on University of Bolton, which is one of the higher institutions in the U.A.E.

1.2 Aim

The research project seeks to validate the use of social media as a marketing tool for Universities to admit new students.

1.3 Objectives  

¬ Examine student's views, opinions and perceptions of social media marketing (SMM) and what Impact these could have on University choice

¬ Determine the level of social media usage by Universities when marketing

¬ Examine the University of Bolton's marketing department's views, perceptions, attitudes towards social media when marketing

¬ Evaluate and display best practice when using social media for marketing

¬ To provide reccomendations and suggestions on the most suitable approaches higher education institutions in the UAE need to alter the marketing in order to meet the demands of students.

1.4 Research Questions

1.5 Relevance of Research on the chosen area

This research project has chosen the University of Boltovyn as a model to evaluate if student choices are influenced by their social media activities.

University of Bolton is a public higher institution in Bolton, Greater Manchester, the university has about 6000 students and 700 academic staff spread across its campus sites. University of Bolton has an academic center in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, which was established since 2009 with courses available for Undergraduate and Postgraduate students. The university OF Bolton is one of the five higher institutions that currently exist in Ras Al Khaimah,

Over half of the world's population uses the internet and social media users have risen by 21 per cent since 2015 (2.8 Billion users in 2017). Due to globalization and international student mobility, universities around the world compete for students by promoting their institution and modules using various methods. Also, prospective international students search for universities on the internet and make their decisions using different information fonts. Before the introduction of social media, information sources such as print media, Tele broadcast, education fairs and university websites were more prominent (Krings, 2016).

According to Khaleejtimes (2017) ‘' The UAE has the largest number of students studying in English international schools with 602,800 enrollees, a study has revealed. Saudi Arabia landed in the second place with 288,300 students, followed by China with 256,000 students. This highlights how important education has become in U.A.E. International higher institutions are looking towards the Middle East for future diversification or growth, with the population of students expected to reach over 15 million by the year 2020. There has been an increase in the demand for the recruitment of international students in the U.A.E, this is partly due to the increase in the quality of universities in the country as well as the rising number of expatriates in the country and the commitment of the government in bettering the overall standard of education in the U.A.E through investments in the sector.

With over 600,000 students, the U.A.E provides an opportunity for the university of Bolton to increase Its student admission in-take in U.A.E and more than double the number of students it has globally (about 6000 student).

1.6 Research Methodology

Prospective students that have completed a further education course within the 21st Century and are applying for university, fall into the category of the Digital Generation. To maintain the focus of the project, the researcher has defined digital marketing as the ‘communications between universities and prospective students via search engines and official university websites.' Facebook and LinkedIn will be examined in most detail as these are the primary networks used by the Digital generation. Other social networks will still be discussed when relevant but the main focus of the research will be applied to Facebook & LinkedIn. The project will incorporate social media communication through any applicable digital medium e.g. mobile phones, tablet, laptop and desktop computers. The research project focuses on the recruitment of prospective students categorized as the ‘digital generation. Undergraduates is the category of student recruitment examined in this research and universities based in the United Arab Emirates. As applicable literature relating to the topic is limited; literature explaining social media marketing for universities based in the other parts of the world will also be assessed.

The variables considered in this paper is focused around the evolution of marketing and how universities can use it to their advantage when recruiting students. The objectives in the research will be answered through the gathering of data using the primary and secondary elements of research. The problems, objectives and questions asked in this paper, the research has to be done through appropriate methods that will significantly enhance the value and credibility of the research (Sekaran U., 2006).

 The primary research is more of a traditional approach of research whereby the researcher will gather information from the actual site of occurrence of events. This will be through observing events, people, and administering questionnaires to individuals relevant to the data gathering for the research. While the gathering of data through secondary research is a more modern and digital approach, gathering of information through the website of the organization, public and private publications, previous records, online data, and other overall information available on the internet (Sekaran U., 2006).

The research design is geared towards including a series of rational decision-making choices that relate to the decisions made regarding to the purpose of the study, the types of investigation, the extent of researcher interference, the study setting, the population and sample size will all be analyzed, in order to find out how the research objectives will be achieved. The source of data collected through primary research will focus on individuals (interviews and questionnaires) and focus groups, the method used for the interview will be face-to-face, the resources for a face-to-face interview is available to the researcher as the research question applies to the University the researcher is a student of. Interviewing individuals that are a part of the institution considered in this paper is very attainable and it gives the researcher the advantage of flexibility in terms of getting the most reliable information possible; be it through changing the questions, adapting to the availability of the individuals that will be interviewed making the process more efficient for the researcher (Sekaran U., 2006). The researcher will be interviewing middle-level managers so the interviews will be unstructured in the early stages, but will go on to be structured. The main purpose of unstructured interviews is to have an idea of the factors that could be the cause of the problem the research is trying to uncover.

 In order to get a more in depth information on the problems that may be raised from the results of the unstructured interviews (Sekaran U.,2006). Questionnaires are a pre-formulated set of questions to which respondents record their answers within closely defined alternatives. The questionnaire will be personally administered as the facilities are available to the researcher. This source of primary research is cost effective and the responses are almost immediate, respondents will be able to give their frank answers. Though, to minimize biases and general errors the questionnaire must be well organized and the questions must be well worded, in principle the questionnaire must be well designed (Sekaran U.,2006). The final source of the primary research data collection will be focus groups, which will be a gathering of 5 to 10 individuals who have a credible amount of expertise on the information needed. There will be a moderator present and the focus sessions will be aimed at obtaining impressions and opinions of the members of the focus group and it will be up to the moderator (the researcher) to keep the information on the course that would retain the engagement of members and give enough information relevant to the questions asked. The data obtained through a focus group is qualitative and it usually does not reflect the opinion of the overall majority, but it gives the researcher a new perspective to consider and enlighten them to why some approaches used by the organization may not work (Sekaran U., 2006).

The secondary data refers to  information gathered by someone other than the researcher, it could be internal or external  and it is usually accessed through the internet or published information, or general digital extrapolation, the sources of secondary data that will be used in this paper will mostly come from online publications, books, periodicals, and government statistical reports, the sources of secondary data are qualitative and the give the researcher access to a plethora of information. This form of data collection saves the researcher a lot of time but having it as a sole source of information could not meet the specific needs of the questions that need to be addressed, it is important to use sources that contain up-to-date information (Sekaran U., 2006). The sources of primary research such as questionnaires and focus groups will be able to give a significant amount of information putting the sample size to over fifty individuals.

1.7 Limitations

The population of the research is highly diverse so, there are three issues to be considered when dealing with cross-cultural data collection; response equivalence, timing of data collection and the status of the individual collecting the data. In terms of the questionnaires, it is very important to introduce the study, researcher and instructions, the researcher can use this as incentives to motivate the responses to be received with positive and accurate responses, building a certain level of trust will be a useful tool for the researcher, in order to get the most reliable information possible. There are ethical issues that need to be addressed while collecting data, the researcher has to make sure, they can assure confidentiality of the data received (Sekaran U., 2006). the limitations that might be experienced in this study can vary. The study that this paper focuses on is an analysis of how social media could become the most effective marketing tool for student recruitment in the university of Bolton. The phenomena that is social media has still not provided evidence of it being an effective marketing tool, SMM for universities is still a new approach, causing suspicions and doubts on actually validating it as a marketing tool. The university of Bolton in the U.A.E. does not have a strong presence across all platforms of social media, although the youth is very active on social media, it's not always likely that they can gravitate towards looking for universities while going through their various social media accounts. The way technology is set up, most platforms on social media monitor the likes and interests of the user and keeps them in a bubble of their interest or that of their friends on the platform. The timescale that will be used to gather the information may not provide the most accurate of results.

1.8 Summary

Nowadays, social media provides Universities with the ability to reach international audience.

This research will help understand the level of social media marketing used by universities

This research aims to investigate if there is a correlation between high social media presence for universities and number of students' admissions.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.1 Introduction

This section of the research will critically analyze theories relating to social media marketing (SMM). The aim of this review is to use academic literature and journals to ascertain a concise view of theories relating to SMM.  The review provides an insight into the advent of social media marketing and how it's methods have evolved over time. The research appraise, compares and contrast theories relating to the various SMM methods used by management of universities, why the prefer their chosen methods and how effective they are, in terms of  showing evidence that SMM is an effective marketing tool. The literature review will also contain the perspective of the consumer and investigate which methods of social media marketing they prefer, with an overall conclusion of the most successful tool that both the management and consumer will be equally satisfied with and how accurate it will be in terms of creating the most awareness for gaining admission to universities.

2.2 Establishing the Variables.

In the introduction of the chapter, it was mentioned that there are two perspectives that will be looked at and these will help decide whether SMM can be validated as a marketing tool, for universities to use confidently when trying to market their brand to students of this digital age we live in. the two perspectives to be considered are that of the consumer, who the product is being marketed to and the management at the organization, who are the ones making the decisions on the best possible method that can be used when trying to raise awareness for the organization. This ultimately makes an argument to that could prove to both parties on whether traditional forms of marketing are still as impactful or relevant as they once were. There is a link between both parties because ultimately, they both want the same thing, and that is customer satisfaction. Universities are not solely focused on having the students with the best grades, because it is more than that. The marketing department in universities nowadays cannot solely focus on academic rankings and believe that this is the best way for them to get the most students they can get. If there is a relationship between customer preference and employee preference in terms of social media marketing methods, then it will be in the best interest of the marketing team to explore the methods and consider adopting them as it will help them in terms of creating a marketing plan that will be more accurate and helpful in terms of attracting consumers. With the help of the discovery of the relationship between the consumer and the company it will help them know what their consumers want and then they will be able to fulfil their consumers wants, this will then go on to improve the brand image of the university and also gain them more admissions from students because it will show that they are listening to their consumers and satisfying them according to what their consumers are demanding.

2.3 Current Marketing tools used by Universities.

With the influx of international universities opening up campuses, across different parts of the U.A.E., it is becoming even more challenging for the marketing teams of the universities, due to supply almost exceeding demand in the higher education sector and also the increase in competition. The increase of universities, also means more options for students to choose from. Having a stellar academic performance is not only what students now tend to look at when selecting the best universities for themselves. Marketing teams in universities now, know that in order to appeal to students they have to also offer the best environment for their students. Universities are spending a considerable amount of time and resources in creating the best environment for their students' in order for them to have the best overall experience, this is not only through the promotion of academic programs, but also university culture, and values (Chafee & Tierney, 1985). In a recent study carried out by students in the American University in the Emirates, the study concluded that a large majority of the participants of the study of over five hundred individuals saw that word of mouth was one of the most important factors that influenced their choice of university, another factor was the university's presence on social media; most especially Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat (Spearman et. Al,2016). The large majority of the Universities in the U.A.E. are small and private and they all tend to offer similar programs, so in order for some to separate themselves from others, they need to have recruitment and promotion strategies that are carefully thought out, management need to have a very good understanding of students' expectations, habits and factors that influence their decisions to enroll or not in their institution.

2.3.1 Word of mouth marketing

Recruitment and retention activites at the university are interconnected and word of mouth being one of the most important means of university promotion (Eliiot & Healy, 2001). This form of promotion, is one of the most traditional ways of generating awareness for any type of product, it has stood the test of time and it continuously remains to be one of the most important tools of marketing. Word of mouth marketing can simply be defined as the simple exchange of information between two or more individuals. In this case, it could be a student telling a friend of theirs's about the incredible opportunities their university has and this passing of information could lead to the students friend deciding that he or she may like to switch to the university their friend is studying at because of the positive reviews they have heard.

2.3.2 Digital Marketing

The serious advancement in technology over the last decade has seen the world become digital, almost everything done in the world today is through the involvement of technology, this is also the same in marketing, technology has birthed various new forms of marketing, including online marketing. Online marketing is simply like having a serious presence of your brand on a digital platform, digital platforms that are most popular where the receive a lot of traffic through visits on the page. This can be done through the Universities website for example, modern day students such as millennials and generation Z, prefer to make digital research of universities and it plays a great impact of universities because students tend to get the first impression of the university through an easily accessible online platform, therefore the need for a clear, concise and strong online presence is very important (Gregory J., 2014). In 2017, the American University of Sharjah, had various virtual exhibitions in different parts of the world most especially, central Asia and their office of enrolment management has launched a number of digital initiatives, in order to increase their online presence (ref.?).

2.3.3 Event Marketing

this form of marketing can be defined as the activity of designing or developing a themed activity, occasion, display or exhibit in order to promote an idea or a brand (ref.?). this traditional marketing tool has always been useful for universities because they are promoting their product through a physical form of marketing and it gives the institution the chance to get to know their potential customer better and get to know some of their wants. This method of marketing has been useful and key to the university departments as it is a way to give their target market- students in this case, the opportunity to have a look at the institution and see what it has to offer. Examples of event marketing, are university open days and university fairs, etc. this powerful promotional strategy, has been a very successful tool, because it allows the companies to have face to face contact with the consumer and the consumer could even been further convinced by the interactive displays and also they will be fully engaged because with event marketing the consumers tend to always be in  a participatory position. A 2012 study carried out by the Event Marketing Institute showed that fifty-eight percent of participants purchased the product that was marketed to them and eighty-six percent of these consumers became regular customers (ref). In contrast to traditional advertising methods a successful event marketing campaign provides a lot of value to consumers and makes them feel like they are benefitting from it because it is more targeted, there is a lot of participation and also it creates an experience that the consumer tends to rarely forget and that is why this marketing method is vital to both parties.

2.3.4. Direct Marketing

This cost-effective method of marketing, is highly favoured by managers, has proven to be quite successful for managers, because it is focused on the consumers that are highly interested and more likely to be engaged and purchase the product. Direct marketing is best described as any direct communication to a consumer or business recipient that is designed to generate a response in the form of an order, a request for further information, and a visit to a store or other place of business for a purchase of a product (Solomon M.R. & Stuart E.W, 2003). Direct marketing has a number of types, from mail order- the oldest form of direct marketing, telemarketing to direct-response television. Although, the mail order is quite an old form of direct marketing, it is quite effective and the marketing team at universities use direct mail- a brochure or pamphlet offering a specific product or service at one point in time, for example through direct mail can be personalized, but it tends to be sent through an illegitmate way, similarily to email spamming it does not always mean that the consumer will read or open the mail (Solomon M.R. & Stuart E.W., 2003). Another disadvantage of direct is that, whenever there is a scare of attacks that may have happened to make any random packages being received by consumers such as a recent bomb scare then it will be hard for the readers to trust any mail that does not look familiar to them (Solomon M.R. & Stuart E.W., 2003). Telemarketing is simply described as direct selling conducted over the telephone, that is cheap and somewhat easy (Solomon M.R. & Stuart E.W., 2003). This form of direct marketing is a way to make customers know that they are important to the company and it has an impact on the consumer loyalty and is a boost to the organizations but for new customers, they tend to feel after a telemarketing call, they feel swindled. From interviews and research, the university of Bolton's marketing department view direct mail and telemarketing to be most effective methods of direct marketing, these methods have been adopted by them and it has proved to be successful to a certain degree but generally the most effective method of recent has been social media marketing.

2.3.5 Social Media Marketing

As explained throughout this research paper, in the world we live in today, it is extremely important for any business regardless of its' size to have a strong presence online, due to the impact technology has had on the world in recent history internet marketing has been a huge contributor to the success of marketing products to the world and getting an organizations brand image out there. Internet marketing is the use of the internet and other network systems for marketing a firm's products. From internet marketing, social media marketing was birthed, social media marketing is the techniques organziations use to spread brand awareness or promote products through social networks and applications (ref.). Social Media statistics in the U.A.E. as at the second quarter of 2018, with a population of 9.45 million, 9.38 million people are active social media users, that accounts for a whopping 99.26% of the population who come on social media on a daily basis. The country is clearly technologically advanced and is clear a nation whereby majority of this are done digitally. With the introduction of Facebook, a decade ago social media has now evolved from being a force of connecting people to an advertising medium for brands to connect with their consumers. The consumers are known as social consumers and there are strategies used in order for marketers to get the information to the social consumers. As a social consumer, it is quite easy to gain access to our digital identity; this is the way we represent ourselves via text, images, sounds, and video on the web, our digital identity is formed through the social footprints that are created by visiting various social media vehicles and social media channels (Tuten T. & Solomon M., 2012). A consumer's social footprint can be broken into four zones, the social community, Social Publishing, Social Commerce and Social Entertainment. The more the digital footprint, across all the four zones the more it shows that an individual has an active social digital life, the current updates in the social media vehicles and channels is helping marketers to have access to their specified criteria, nowadays with the help of our digital footprint, social consumers tend to see similar content to what they have researched, for example if an individual does a search on Instagram of an account that is created for car lovers, whenever they go on to the explore page on Instagram they will see multiple accounts on what they have previously searched, the same thing occurs if they like a picture or follow an account then they will start seeing similar accounts or even be followed by those account, and this is due to the algorithms that are set in place by the engineers of Instagram, the algorithms will put users in a bubble of their interest making them spend more time than they anticipated on different car pages, this occurs with all the social media platforms available (Tuten T. & Solomon M., 2012). In the U.A.E, the growth in active social media users has an annual increase rate of 176,000 users. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are the three most popular platforms, they represent 82%, 79% and 53% of the population of social media users in the U.A.E. (ref.). In 2010, the ministry of education in the U.A.E, developed a decade long strategy, dedicated to improving overall education in terms of providing high-quality education at an affordable rate to the growing number of students in the country. A report on student enrolment report by the United Nations Educational, Scientiific and

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