A marketing perspective on the value of the social network site (SNS) relationship between selected South African Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and 'Digital Native' prospective students.
The landscape for Higher Education offers prospective students extensive choice when it comes to furthering their education and this competition makes it essential for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to market themselves via multiple platforms, including online. The use of Social Network Sites (SNSs) as a marketing platform has become increasingly necessary to engage the Digital Native prospective student. The value of engaging this sector of the prospective student market can be significant as a large portion of the young generation seeking to further their education fall within the Digital Native generational group, and also utilise SNSs such as Facebook and/or Twitter. This study focused on the South African context of SNS marketing communication and the opportunities to build relationships with the Digital Native market, especially in understanding the value for HEIs to recruit prospective students via their SNS page. Ten different HEI SNS pages were selected for analysis, both public and private across a wide geographical spread in South Africa. Both thematic and reception analyses were conducted to understand the recurring patterns and user responses to the marketing content. While the majority of the data was qualitative, there were also quantitative data considered to understand which HEI posts and what types of subjects attract high or low user engagement. The findings reveal that for an HEI to build meaningful and continuous relationships with their market and to gain the recruitment value from it, commitment and investment of time and resources are required due to the demanding nature of SNS marketing. It is important for HEIs to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the platform and then decide on their strategy, design their post content and have skilled staff to execute and manage it in order to effectively engage prospective student users on the page. A suggestion for further research in this field would be through access to the HEI’s applicant databases to track the success rate of SNS marketing communication to actual recruitment results. The nature of SNSs is that they change, as would users’ demands and needs, therefore these platforms should be continuously researched and analysed to optimise on any new marketing opportunities that emerge.