Instant Messaging Apps for Higher Education Marketing and Communications: WhatsApp

By Posted in - Content & Content Strategy & Higher Education & Instant Messaging & Mobile & Social Media & Social Networking & Student Marketing & Student Recruitment & Technology & University & WhatsApp on November 12th, 2014 0 Comments

The first two blog posts from our instant messaging (IM) in higher education three part series have been obvious success stories, with SnapChat and WeChat being used by universities as a useful tool for their marketing and communications. But how do we go about using WhatsApp in higher education?


WhatsApp, an IM app that allows you to exchange messages and media for free, is the most popular IM platform in the world, with over 600 million active monthly users. So why hasn’t this IM service followed suit in higher education and taken off in the same way?

What is holding universities back?

One of the main hurdles for universities is the fact that you have to use a mobile number to use and add people on WhatsApp, compared to SnapChat or WeChat where you can add contacts by their username. This creates issues around privacy and is probably why many universities and brands haven’t been so quick to start using it.

There have also been whispers of concern about the security of the IM app. Technical consultant, Bas Bosschert, recently highlighted that Android users were at risk of their chat history being hacked. Universities may not want to run the risk of being involved with a breach of privacy, so could be avoiding WhatsApp for this reason.

Time consumption could be another issue. Adding in another platform that runs on real time could be hard to manage. And if the university wants to get tutors involved, will this mean more contact with students out of work hours?

Saying that, there are a few educational institutes that have given WhatsApp a chance.

WhatsApp for Admissions

HAS University of Applied Sciences and HZ University of Applied Sciences, both situated in Netherlands, use WhatsApp as a service for prospective students. Students can ask questions to university staff, aiding them in making the right choice about university. Whether it’s proving a success for them is unknown, but perhaps time will tell (or they’ll let us know!)

An image from HAS University showing their logo and WhatsApp number

WhatsApp for Learning

A private school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, uses WhatsApp as an educational tool to continue learning outside of classroom hours. By sending an early morning quiz questions, a teacher claims that his students come to school ‘optimistic and motivated’ hoping to win the prize for the best quiz answer. Lesson recaps and homework tasks are also in the WhatsApp group with the teacher on hand to answer any questions.

Brands Using WhatsApp

In addition to these schools, there are a few brands out there who are being creative and using WhatsApp to create a line of communication with their customers.

The most notable would be Absolut Vodka, who in 2013 used WhatsApp to promote their product Absolut Unique in Argentina. To gain access to an exclusive launch party, Absolut Facebook fans had be creative and convince Sven, a fictional doorman, to let them in, all via WhatsApp. Not only did it create a huge buzz on the internet, but they gained over 600 contacts on WhatsApp and over 1,000 exclusive images and videos from participants.

An screen grab from the Facebook page of Absolut Vodka showing their WhatsApp number and instructions for the competition


All of these ideas are transferable to marketing used in universities. Here are a few more ideas to get you started on WhatsApp:

  • Use it as a customer service tool and invite new students to ask you any questions they might have about settling in. You can have real time, one-to-one conversations with students and create a personal relationship.
  • Create hype like Absolut and offer students who add your WhatsApp number discount entry to an event, exclusive offers at the bar in the SU and prizes hidden on campus.
  • By setting up a group chat, tutors can have discussions with their tutor group between certain hours and be on hand for questions. Internal staff could also use it to communicate instead of email.
  • Initiate conversation and send your prospective students updates on their university offer, reminders about open days and applying for accommodation and what to do when they arrive on their first day. Create a ‘Broadcast List’ to send a message to multiple people at once. Oxford Mail have taken advantage of this feature and send out morning and evening bulletins to their users.

With 600 million users, the majority of your students will probably be on WhatsApp and  carry their phone on them permanently, making the chance of engagement much higher. So take the plunge. With a little creativity, there is a platform that can be used to generate some exciting conversation, all for free.

Has your university used WhatsApp to engage with students and if so, was it successful?


Find out more about how Pickle Jar Communications can help with planning your approach to using digital technologies, working out what’s best for you and how to use it.  

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