A Look Back At Clearing 2018

If you work in higher education marketing in the UK, just the mention of the word “Clearing” can bring you out in shudders. I’ve labelled Clearing Higher Education’s “Christmas” but that’s not to associate it with warm tidings of joy, roasted chestnuts and Slade banging out of the Sonos. No, this is more the Christmas where you spend 10 hours stuck in a motorway traffic jam with a car full of luggage, two screaming kids, an angry partner and a bladder bursting from all the coffee you had to drink to get you through the 5am set off time.

The kind of Christmas where youΒ wonder why exactly you need to see “close” family to deliver presents Yodel could have easily transported with a similar level of emotional attachment. You know, the Christmases where even the script writers from Eastenders turned down the story line for being too traumatic.

For international visitors that could be a paragraph of confusing references. So I’ll try to simplify things. Basically Clearing is a marketing campaign where the planning starts in the December before, goes live 3 months before any real “sales” can be measured, culminates in one frantic day of offers then slowly trails off before you have to start the process all over again. Along the way you’re aiming to promote multiple different “products” with multiple USPs to multiple different target markets and audiences who have multiple different needs and influencers who may or may not be able to “purchase” your “product” before the official sale date.

And if that wasn’t enough of a headache, you also don’t control the point of “sale” to make tracking of results and ROI difficult. Oh, and it also needs to take in to consideration a completely different set of “customers” who have just been “delivered” their “product” on the same day other people are finding out their delivery is no longer going to happen.

It is quite simply, the most wonderful time of the year and when higher education teams flex their creative muscles and pull out all the tools to make the most of digital advertising.

As I write this, Clearing technically is still on going, but the main event is 4 days gone, so I thought it would be a good time to shake off the PTSD, stick my head above the parapet and take a look back at what I’ve learnt from this year’s campaigns, what I saw from across the industry that impressed me and what I saw that made me think “thank god that didn’t happen to us.” So let’s begin.

Pets win prizes

We all know dogs and cats rule the internet, followed by dramatic hamsters and witty ducks. But when you get people’s pets posing next to your Results Day swag and shared online, the engagement meter is through the roof.

My points in this category go to Loughborough University for the shear range of pets featured!

Do you even gif bro?

Animated gifs are great. There’s one for every occasion, and when it comes to Clearing and Results Day, as a university you better have yourself an animated gif or two ready to help your new students celebrate online.

And if you really want to show off, you need to be doing personalised animated gifs for the extra special welcoming touch.

Stick with it

Animated gifs maybe great, but they’re kind of 2015 for Clearing and Results Day. Hipster unis are on to the next big thing – Giphy’s sticker integration with Snapchat and Instagram Stories. What better way to get your brand in to the peer-to-peer space than providing branded content people can use to celebrate their big day?


With nearly 1 million views on our top 5 performing stickers in under a week, it’s a great form of brand awareness.

Schools and parents get active

Back when I first started working Clearing/Results Day campaigns the vast majority of content shared on public Twitter and Instagram was from happy students celebrating getting a place at university. Fast-forward 4 years and there are still “kids” celebrating on these channels, but some of the most active people on public social are now schools, colleges and #proud parents.

What to do if you don’t need to do Clearing

Each year the number gets smaller and smaller, but even this year some university’s didn’t need to do Clearing. So what is a marketing team to do? Sit back and twiddle their thumbs while their admissions team cash in on over 800 years of brand awareness? You could, or you could do some reputation management.

Not.Even.Slightly.Jealous (although I’m not sold on the old school Snapchat caption style Cambridge have been using this year).

Watch out for hashtag leeches

You craft a campaign, you put blood sweat and tears in to the assets and you generate an awesome unique hashtag to bring it all together. Things are looking sweet as; ready for it your hard work to be unleashed on Results Day. Then within minutes of results being public and the Clearing phone line opening the leeches latch on to your hashtag and hassle all your lovely new students with sales messages.

As one guy put it

This tends to happen throughout the year but this Results Day the private accommodation sector were particularly active and quick off the mark.

Twitter still exists

Believe it or not, Twitter actually worked out well this year. Both in an organic and a paid sense. It’s just a shame Twitter’s own advertising support team didn’t quite get in on the act in time:

An email from Twitter

Oh gee, thanks for offering to help, but Results Day was pretty much finished by the time your email was sent. Or are you asking about 2019?

It’s an emotional time

On the one hand, we spend Results Day celebrating people getting a place at our establishments. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who didn’t get their grades and are in serious need of a big hug and some human warmth. What better way to deliver that than through the power of social and bringing some humanity to our campaigns?

Follow the thread on that tweet to see the magical story of Lydia unfold. As one guy put it:

But not always a time to get quirky

The University of Essex tried some sass to mock Leeds Beckett’s use of new tech to get applications through Clearing.

Image by Eric Stoller and Inside Higher Ed

Needless to say, it did not go down well, led to gifs of support for Beckett from other unis and a backtrack and tweet delete by Essex.

Eric Stoller has a great piece on this for Insider Higher Ed if you’d like to read how it all went down.

So that’s all I’ve got to say for now on Clearing 2018. It’s been a long hard few months (hence the lack of any kind of blog posts or social interactions for a while) but we got through it and hopefully everyone got the perfect students they were after. Lets do it again next year yeah?

About Matt Horne

I'm a broadcaster and social media guy who makes digital content and spends too much time on the internet so you don't have to.

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