Using Twitch to reach ad-averse audiences
Livestreaming is an underexplored option in higher ed marketing.
With 30 million daily users and growing, Twitch is an untapped resource in higher ed and a vein of student connection. Many of your prospective and current students are already there, every day, authentically sharing their lives. We couldn’t help but wonder: how might colleges and universities harness this platform to reach their student audiences in a more casual way?
What is Twitch?
Twitch is a livestreaming platform owned by Amazon that has primarily been used to stream video games. In recent years, it has expanded into other genres, such as music, art, and sports. Creators on the platform stream their gameplay (or music, or art) and interact with their viewers in real time via the chatbox.
Since its beginning 2007, Twitch has become a juggernaut in the gaming community. Here’s what you need to know:
- It’s a platform on the rise. In 2020, Twitch saw its concurrent viewership grow from 1.5 million to 2.6 million in just nine months.
- It’s the place to be for what has historically been gaming-focused streaming. Twitch dominates this market, holding 73 percent of the market share (well ahead of YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming).
- A significant portion of the prospective student audience is already here. Forty-one percent of Twitch’s user base is aged 16 to 24.
- Twitch has expanded to include much more than video games. Accounts will livestream chess games, DJ sets, artists drawing, and even continuous hours of animals just lounging around.
So … Twitch and higher ed?
The real question is, does this streaming service really translate to higher ed? It does. You can meet prospective students where they already are and where they’re authentically sharing their lives. If Gen Z audiences are going to even consider interacting with your ads or sponsored content, they need to feel like you’re reaching out to them personally. That’s the beauty of Twitch: even the sponsored content is a full-blown experience. In fall 2020, higher education podcast Thought Feeder discussed the uncharted world of video gaming in higher ed marketing. But since then we’ve only seen a handful of colleges or universities create an established streaming presence.
Here’s where the University of Kentucky is ahead of the game. The UK Esports program owns the @universityofky Twitch channel, where students are curating a variety of content. Its streaming schedule includes gaming-focused talk shows, competitive esports, community tournaments, and student newscasts. All of these streams have the added benefit of connecting members of the Twitch community with the university along the way. For example, when we stopped by the UK channel recently, there were 20,000 viewers watching a current student playing a video game, right there on the streaming site’s home page.
One of the core functionalities of this platform is the ability for users not only to stream their screen and what they’re sharing, but also to stream themselves via webcam or mic. They use their voice and presence to interact with viewers in a chat window that the entire audience can see. So while a UK student plays a game, the audience also gets real-time insight into what life at the university is like — asking questions, building relationships, and having fun. This is what makes Twitch special, and this is how it can elevate your institution’s community and relationships.
Why should we invest our energy into yet another social platform?
Social media is ever changing, and it can be challenging to keep up with the near constant fluctuations on existing social platforms. We get it — the idea of jumping into another platform can feel daunting. But here’s why Twitch matters: its primary function is livestreaming, where other platforms may have streaming only as a secondary feature. YouTube’s 2021 Culture and Trends Report emphasized the power of live video, explaining that it’s compelling precisely because you don’t know what will happen, like you do with a pre-recorded and uploaded video. Live videos create a sense of immediacy.
Twitch can provide that immediate access into the student experience at your university. Filters and scripts are minimal, and this creates a strong platform for reaching an ad-averse audience like potential students.
How do you harness the potential and do it well?
Before you jump into this platform, it’s important to make sure that you do it right. If you’re going to introduce your institution and brand on Twitch, you have to be willing to take an informal approach. Here are some content ideas to get you started:
- Reach out to the esports club to help plan an experience.
If you want to engage current students, start by reaching out to the esports club — it’s quite likely one already exists at your institution. Support their work, instead of competing with it. Not only does Twitch give prospective students an opportunity to learn about the student experience, but it also gives current students a chance to share what they enjoy, and a chance to advocate for a school they love. And along the way, they can foster new connections with potential students.
- Tap into your campus tour guides or admissions counselors to be hosts.
Instead of giving an admissions presentation or a virtual campus tour, try bringing on one of your tour guides or even an admissions counselor to play a game with the host of your channel. Then, as they play, the two can discuss their favorite spots on campus, little-known facts about the school, or fun insights about the school that viewers might want to know about.
- Expand your Twitch presence beyond admissions events.
Any event that already has an audience, whether it’s a competition or commencement, can serve as a strong kickoff for your livestreaming presence. If your institution hosts a tournament of any sort, you can work with the event’s team to stream the competitions that take place. And charity streaming is a type of event where many Twitch streamers will rally their audience around a specific cause or philanthropic effort, raising funds during the length of the stream.
Twitch’s potential within higher education is undeniable. This is a space where you can build relationships with prospective applicants, increase their awareness of your institution, and tap into a community that already has a shared interest. Twitch is a space for one-on-one community and relationship building, which may require rethinking some of your traditional touchpoints. But any opportunity to meet students where they are is worth it.
More resources to help you dive into using Twitch as a higher ed marketer:
- Andrew Cassel is a social media strategist and content producer for Middlebury College. In March 2021, he published a case study on Twitch and higher ed in the Journal of Education Advancement & Marketing Vol. 5, No. 4. The case study examined social media communicators at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and is titled, “Twitch for higher education marketing and communications: Creating a presence in the gaming world.”
- In August 2021, Dr. Josie Ahlquist hosted a chat with the Higher Ed Digital Community Builders group about the applications of Twitch. On her website, you can watch the recording of the panel and review some of the key takeaways from the panelists about how Twitch relates to higher education and student development. The panelists were: Andrew Cassel, Jack Blahnik, Paul Bennett, and Devan Tozzo.
- Listen to episode 22 of Thought Feeder, a higher education podcast that focuses on the digital marketing challenges and opportunities within higher ed. In this episode, hosts Joel Goodman and Jon-Stephen Stansel interview Andrew Cassel.