How University Marketers Can Harness the Power of WhatsApp

4 min read

Joanna Hughes

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Messaging apps, also called chat apps, are giving social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter some serious competition when it comes to keeping people connected. A quick and convenient communication channel, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps around; with great potential for university marketers. 

Here’s a closer look at WhatsApp, along with its potential as a tool for universities looking to engage prospective students, build relationships, and boost recruitment. 

What is WhatsApp? 

WhatsApp is a multiplatform messaging app that supports texting, video and voice calls and much more:all via Wi-Fi and completely free. Other core features of WhatsApp include voice messaging, secure messaging through the use of end-to-end encryption, photo and video sharing, file sharing of everything from GIFS and Memojis to documents, desktop access, and WhatsApp Business, a dedicated business account for companies to showcase their products and services. 

One of the first mobile apps to offer internet-based messaging as a free alternative to traditional text messaging, WhatsApp has skyrocketed in popularity since it was launched in 2009. In fact, it was purchased in 2014 by Facebook because it was significantly outperforming Facebook Messenger

Today, WhatsApp has more  than 2 billion users around the globe. This number is growing by half a billion every two years, according to data shared by Oberlo. Extremely popular in Europe, Latin America, and Africa, with especially fast growing markets in India, Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, WhatsApp leads the mobile messaging app pack with significantly more users than other competitors such as Facebook. 

The Benefits of WhatsApp

All of  the above begs the question: What makes WhatsApp so great? For starters, there’s the messaging app’s remarkable potential to enhance and refine how people communicate. WhatsApp provides instant streamlined communications regardless of the user’s device or location. It’s also packed with features and customizations, all of which are completely free. There are no signup charges, data plan rates and allowances, or any hidden fees. WhatsApp is also easy to use, supports group messaging and is ad-free.

Another noteworthy thing about WhatsApp is its international presence. While it may not be the best-known messaging app in the US, “it’s an essential part of everyday life” in many other countries, according to Business Insider. Its real-time communication, affordability, and user-friendliness has made it a go-to for people and organizations seeking to connect across international borders, especially in countries with high SMS rates. 

HigherEd Marketing and WhatsApp

WhatsApp and higher education marketing are a terrific fit for many reasons; not the least of which being that WhatsApp is a hit among the younger generation. Both present and future students love its multitasking capabilities, which may allow them to seamlessly switch between talking to an admissions officer and chatting casually with a friend. 

Since WhatsApp directly links to phones, it boasts open rates that trounce those of emails, as well as speedy response times. Whether you’re sending out news about everything from enrollment deadlines to open days, or looking to develop more personal relationships with prospects through live conversations, WhatsApp can help. Factor in its ability to integrate photos, videos, audio and even maps, and its potential grows.

While it may not yet be the go-to in the United States, WhatsApp’s internationality makes it ideal for  interacting with sought-after overseas prospects. At a time when international calls can be a hindrance to information exchange, free international messaging via WhatsApp can be a significant selling point. 

Getting Started with WhatsApp

Despite these allures and the push among higher education entities to establish a strong social media presence, many colleges and universities are failing to realize the potential of including WhatsApp in their marketing mix. Possible reasons for this may be that more established platforms are familiar both in terms of use and purpose, as well as being able to provide insightful analytics data. 

However, when you consider the opportunities and benefits, these obstacles become less immobilizing. Plus, getting up and running with WhatsApp is a relatively straightforward process, although you will need to designate a mobile number exclusively to the app. 

You’ll also want to keep some things in mind, beginning with the fact most people do use WhatsApp for personal communication. As such, steer clear of generic mass messages and instead deliver personalized content to segmented groups, such as by program and purpose. WhatsApp is not well-suited for “cold calling,” but is an excellent tool in cases where students have initiated or expressed ongoing interest. 

Many schools are also using WhatsApp to create a social atmosphere, such as by starting conversations among new and prospective students; a vital imperative in our increasingly remote world in which face-to-face interactions have dwindled. 

While WhatsApp will not take the place of your existing social media marketing efforts, it has tremendous supplementary potential for student recruitment and engagement. Not only does it meet students where they are as a free, user-friendly and popular messaging app, its potential to support near-instantaneous communication makes it a uniquely powerful engagement tool in the hands of university marketers.

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