Five predictions for 2016

1. VR-tainment

Virtual Reality looks set to become mainstream in 2016, reaching a projected 10.6 million consumers. VR headsets are decreasing in value, such as the $99 Samsung Gear, whilst cheap alternatives are being offered by Google Cardboard, including instructions for a DIY option.

Meanwhile, the VR industry is growing rapidly, thanks to Oculus Rift and investment from its parent company Facebook. Gaming may currently occupy 76% of the VR market but Oculus is hoping to expand into film, as revealed at Sundance Festival this year when they unveiled their production company, Story Studios. Hollywood studios are also moving in this direction, such as 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate.

All of this is good news for Higher Education. The adoption of VR headsets on a wider scale means investment in Virtual Reality Open Days will become more viable and offer a greater ROI. VR Open Days would make the events accessible to overseas audiences, which will be very positive for student recruitment.

Universities and the Web use Google Cardboard for the first time

The Universities and the Web editorial team use Google Cardboard for the first time

2. The Rise of Snapchat

Snapchat is the fastest growing social media channel according to a Harvard report. The ephemeral social media platform has seen an 8% growth amongst 18-29 year olds this past year, whilst Facebook only received 1% growth and Twitter saw no growth at all.

Snapchat averages 4 billion daily videos views – the same as the mighty Facebook – which is not surprising considering that 27% of 13-17 year olds watch video content on Snapchat every day.

This means universities need to start giving Snapchat serious consideration, especially due to its popularity with the undergraduate target market. A few universities have started to embrace Snapchat, such as Newcastle University and the University of Houston, but the majority of universities are failing to recognise the potential of reaching students through Snapchat Stories.

3. The Video Boom

I have posted before about the Image Boom of social media but the Video Boom was hot on its heels.

YouTube is more popular than ever and remains the second largest search engine after Google, with 3 billion searches a month – more than Bing, Yahoo, Ask and AOL combined. Yet YouTube has plenty of competition from Facebook, Hulu and new contenders like Fullscreen. Meanwhile, video is booming on other social media platforms, such as Snapchat (see above), Instagram and Vine.

Consumption of video is especially high amongst the undergraduate target market, with 50% of 13-17 year olds viewing YouTube videos on a daily basis and 33% watching content on their phones. Universities therefore need to invest significant budget into producing films about their courses, campus life and neighbouring cities to meet this growing appetite for video content.


4. Just Giffing

You would be hard-pressed to find a university website that isn’t highly visual and mobile-optimised these days. But there are miles to go before the sector can rest on its digital laurels.

One stylish flourish which may arise this year is the addition of background videos on university landing pages. This technique is widely-used outside the HE sector – check out Airbnb and Dadaab Stories.

Some universities have already employed the technique – see the rolling waves of Drexel University – and others are sure to follow suit. The rich, immersive nature of background videos will capture the interest of prospective students and could offer some exciting snippets of life on campus.

Dadaab Stories

5. Vlog Standard

Student blogs are now a well-established marketing tool for universities, with impressive efforts from Warwick, Cardiff and especially Imperial.

But very few universities have made the transition from blogs to vlogs. This is strange considering our target market idolise YouTube stars, flock to their channels (and book signings) and might even buy their action figures.

So finally, I predict 2016 will see the rise of university vlogs. It would sure beat another talking head interview.

Imperial College London student blogs

Simon Fairbanks

Simon Fairbanks

Simon Fairbanks is the Undergraduate Marketing Manager for the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham. He has been working in Higher Education since 2011. Simon is a self-published author and has written several books. You can read more about his writing projects at

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