01 November 2019

The Unibuddy Conference 2019: post-conference report

Over 150 attendees from higher education institutions across the world joined us in London this week for the inaugural Unibuddy Conference.

Our biggest ever event was focused on the future of student recruitment, and we shared the news of our landmark partnership with UCAS. Plus – universities shared their experiences of managing ambassador teams, marketing to Gen Z, and more.

As always at a Unibuddy event, there was plenty of time for networking over a ‘Buddy Mary’ as well as those crucial refreshment breaks.

Whether you were there and want to relive it, or missed the event and need to catch up, here’s our rundown of the 2019 Unibuddy Conference.

Power to the Peers

The day began with a talk from Unibuddy’s Chief Customer Officer, Jonathan Tinnacher, on the Power to the Peers. “Today we’re putting peer-to-peer in practice,” he said. “Today is an opportunity to learn from each other and make better professional decisions. People who’ve been there, done that, made the mistakes so you don’t have to.”

With that objective in mind, we moved straight into the landmark announcement of the day: Unibuddy will partner with the UK admissions service, UCAS, for a first-of-its-kind new platform.

This new initiative will give over 700,000 applicants annually the chance to discover more about universities up and down the country, straight from the students that are studying there right now. Prospective students can utilise the tool at every stage of their journey: from initial research, all the way through to acceptance and enrolment.

Clare Marchant, CEO of UCAS, and Jamie O’Connell, Director of Strategic Development at Unibuddy, discussed the significance of the project and what it means to students and universities alike.

CEO of UCAS at the Unibuddy Conference

“One of our key strategic objectives is around information and advice,” said Clare. “Sometimes, the power of information and advice is underplayed. The quality of that at the moment is still quite traditional, it’s still about trudging through lots of information, it’s still about getting on a train to an open day. Uniting that advice, and making it really personalised – that’s what our partnership with Unibuddy will transform.

Jamie added: “Conversation is the epitome of the perfect form of personalisation. A conversation is two way – you’re listening as well as talking, and conversations lead to relationships.”

The Unibuddy Blueprint

Following the keynote session, delegates broke out into one of two sessions. Emma Froud, Head of Business Development at Unibuddy, teamed up with Middlesex University’s Director of Marketing, Paul Woods, to deliver a talk on the opportunities Unibuddy offers for your marketing and comms strategy. They shared the five pillars of successful Unibuddy usage:

👓 Clear, visible and easy to find
📢 Consistent and tailored promotion
🔴 Regular live events
📈 Track your ROI
🙋 Awesome ambassadors

Paul noted the importance of Unibuddy for so-called “stealth applicants”. He said: “We see Unibuddy as a great way of unstealthing that student. We can use that to personalise the journey for them.”

Key takeaways included the importance of embedding the platform throughout a university site and the impact that the “chat to a student” call to action has on open rates and clickthrough rates.

Business school roundtable at the Unibuddy conference

We also ran a session specifically on engaging with postgraduate and Business students. Recruiting for these areas is much more specialised than recruiting for broader undergraduate programmes, and our roundtable discussion reflected that.

The New Rules of Social

After lunch, we heard from Dom Weiss, Head of Planning at the youth marketing agency, ZAK Creative Agency.

ZAK creates big brand ideas that engage under 30s. In Dom’s talk, “The New Rules of Social”, we heard about some of the misconceptions and realities of social media and how Gen Z is using it.

Most young people are moving towards a more private way of communicating – through chats and groups, and away from broadcast-style conversations.

The problems with social media are well documented: from mob mentality and cyberbullying, through to the warped echo chambers and political advertising that is swaying elections. But brands and universities are capitalising on its potential and using it in new and creative ways.

Next up was the product session, looking specifically how we develop our features and shape the future of the Unibuddy platform. This year, we’ve gathered more user feedback than ever before to inform and shape the future of Unibuddy.

Head of Product, Yahya Wahbeh, explained how this feedback goes through a process of Discovery, Analysis and Design.

“Our process helps us confidently build the right things for you.” Called the User-Centred Design Process, Yahya explained how it allows us to best understand your experience, your ambassadors’ experience and the prospective student experience.

One recent example was the development of the AI-powered Question Suggestion System. We wrote in detail about why we implemented a Question Suggestion System, and how it works to boost engagement for your prospective students.

Hearing from our users

After Yahya’s speech on understanding the experience from all of our users, we heard from them first-hand in a series of panels. Our first Unibuddy Conference panel gave our university partners the chance to share their Unibuddy experiences and best practice.

What shone through was the benefit of Unibuddy for recruiting sometimes hard-to-reach international territories, as well as domestic audiences. It was also clear how the different ways in which universities can implement the platform to best suit their needs, but the key to success is buy-in from as many departments as possible.

We heard from current student ambassadors and had the unique opportunity to hear from a prospective student user of Unibuddy.

Finally, Unibuddy CEO Diego Fanara took to the stage to summarise and close the day. Unibuddy’s mission is to power better decision making through shared human experience, and Diego shared his pride at the thousands of connections our partners are facilitating.

He said: “It has been unbelievable to live this journey with you – from a powerpoint presentation in Queen Mary 3 years ago, to welcoming as of this week our 200th institution and improving over 75,000 students’ decision making so far. And I can’t wait to continue it with you.”

Diego Fanara at the Unibuddy Conference 2019

“I hope you felt good to be here with us today and I am proud to have you as members of our Unibuddy Family.”

Thank you to everyone who attended our inaugural Unibuddy Conference! It was great to meet so many of our university partners and share your ideas and experiences: peer-to-peer in action!

We look forward to seeing you soon – at #Unibuddy2020!


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