Official Rep Insider: advice from an ex-Rep who joined The Student Room

Steven (Ste) Walsh was an Official Rep for Liverpool Hope before joining The Student Room as an Account Manager. His dual experiences give him a unique perspective on how to make the most of the Official Rep tool. We asked Ste to share what he has learned from working firstly as an Official Rep in a university setting, and then from gaining an insider’s perspective as part of The Student Room (TSR) team.

What was it like being an Official Rep for Liverpool Hope?

When I first came across the Official Rep account for Liverpool Hope, it hadn’t been used as well as it could have been (mainly due to a lack of resources). For the first couple of months, our team would spend time engaging in conversations with the aim of being a helpful source of guidance for students, whilst also getting the Liverpool Hope name visible across the site.

We enjoyed the opportunity to engage with students in a new way (new to us at least!) and to have genuine conversations where we could offer advice. We drew from our own experiences in higher education (HE) or knowledge we gained through working in a university, which seemed to really work well for us. It did take time to develop our confidence though; when you are really trying to help somebody and give them advice or solutions, particularly in a public space, it can feel very daunting at first. Ultimately, the feeling of helping individuals navigate the confusing world of HE, with all of its options and jargon, meant we were happy to spend hours browsing TSR and answering threads. 

Over time, our Official Rep team grew in numbers and this was super helpful. It gave us the opportunity to improve on the great repping we were doing already, but also apply more focus and forward planning. We had somebody join the team who had just graduated from Liverpool Hope. Being a mature student, they were able to dedicate a lot of attention to the mature audience on TSR in a way that we were lacking before. The same was true for another colleague who had spent their university experience in both university-owned and private accommodation, having moved to Liverpool from elsewhere – experiences like these were really helpful for prospective Liverpool Hope students to read about on TSR.

We also started to be more proactive in planning for future repping with the help of our amazing Account Manager at TSR and the monthly UPP Reports. These allowed us to identify current trends and upcoming conversations (such as from the word clouds you find toward the end of the reports). We used the insights to prepare original content with the aim of answering students’ questions before they needed to ask them. For example, if we could see that “Personal Statements” was going to be a big talking point in the next month, we would post a useful thread that gave advice on this topic and offered students the chance to ask follow-up questions about personal statements. With the large lurker audience on TSR, the views for these threads always gave me encouragement that they were helpful to somebody – and even if it was just one person, it was worth it of course. Further to that, if there were people taking in that advice who were seeing our university for the first time, that was a great result for Liverpool Hope.

After being an Official Rep at Liverpool Hope for over 3 years, now you work at The Student Room. What have you learned about the Official Rep tool from experiencing both sides? 

I’ve realised just how useful the Official Rep can be to both students and universities alike. Not only can good repping help students in their decision-making journeys, but as every university is different, Official Reps play an important role in highlighting a university’s unique selling points and challenges, as well as answering questions that are specific to that institution. The Student Room provides a platform for universities to connect with the students who are asking those questions. 

I’ve seen now, from both sides, that it doesn’t matter if a university is campus-based with smaller student numbers, city-centre based with students spread across several buildings, offering hundreds of course combinations, or specialising in a few subjects – young people on The Student Room always want to know more, and so good repping can be very impactful for any university.

At any point, a university could have hundreds of students in their forum asking questions – good repping can help engage with these students. Even for universities that are not as well-known (and may therefore have less of an audience in their forum to begin with) good repping across other TSR forums can help build their audience.

I do wish that in my earlier days as an Official Rep I had known how big the lurker audience is on TSR! Sometimes I would write what I felt was a really insightful post and expect to get loads of replies and rep points. If this didn’t happen, I’d sometimes feel like I wasn’t getting the reach I’d like. But then I’d see stats in the UPP reports and see the views our posts were really getting! I’d remember that just because one person had asked the question, didn’t mean that hundreds and thousands more didn’t want to know the answer. I see that more now, working with other universities and understanding the power that the lurker audience has on The Student Room – always remember to consider them when you post.

What are your top tips for new Official Reps?

The Student Room is a great platform, but I understand that starting out as an Official Rep can be a little daunting! Posting on threads is putting yourself out there and using your knowledge and experiences to be genuinely helpful, and that’s not always easy. If your confidence in posting isn’t quite there yet, spend some time browsing the site, getting familiar with the tone of voice and looking for examples of good Official Rep posting. 

I also found that confidence will grow if you are fluid with your time spent on site. Sometimes planning to spend a dedicated hour at the same time every day can be restrictive and not as productive – it limits your window of browsing and conversation potential. Instead of one intensive hour or two, spend smaller time chunks of time onsite across the day. You’ll be exposed to more conversations and a greater variety of questions.

Engaging in conversations on a more personal and friendly level is really effective. Firstly, posting from an Official Rep account called “Official University X Ambassador” is great, but signing off with your name is so much more friendly and gives the original poster an actual person to engage with, not just an account. Also, if an Official Rep account has multiple people logging into it, come up with a system to make sure you are on top of the notifications and conversations you’re actively involved in. With a fairly large team on the one account, I was keen to encourage consistency in conversations where possible. If one person had replied in a thread and had a response, I thought it was much better if the same person carried on the conversation, as opposed to two or three other names getting involved and making it slightly less personal. 

But what was also really effective, especially for new Official Reps, was engaging with the resources that TSR offers as part of the package. Firstly, attend the weekly Official Rep Training – it’s a great habit to get into. Secondly, those monthly UPP meetings with your Account Manager can really make the difference. The UPP reports are useful by themselves and offer great insight, but the context and additional insight that your Account Manager can bring takes it to another level! 

Where do you think Official Reps should sit in a university’s overall communications strategy and what kind of resource should be invested here? 

As I mentioned before, good use of the Official Rep can help universities regardless of their unique selling points or challenges. Therefore, I think an awareness of Official Rep activity across the different teams in a university is crucial. Proactive use of the Official Rep across the site will help with recruitment, marketing, gaining insights about how universities are perceived, communications, and conversions.

However, in my personal opinion, if Official Reps sit chiefly in or close to the recruitment team this is really effective, both students and the university themselves. That said, Official Reps shouldn’t be used to amplify hard sell messages like “come to university X” – that just isn’t what repping is about. Members of recruitment teams are usually the ones who are out-and-about speaking to students every day, so they have a finger on the pulse of what matters to applicants and the challenges faced in any given year. This awareness about the student landscape is crucial to being an effective, genuine Official Rep. 

Consistency across a university’s messaging is obviously important, but The Student Room’s forums and threads are unique, with personal questions and conversations happening all the time. As much as that consistency needs to remain, just as important (maybe more so) is having genuine, knowledgeable people engaging in forums and threads.

The main resource required, from my perspective, is an appropriate time investment and appropriate personnel; if the right people invest the right amount of time, the Official Rep will be so effective! 

What does success look like for an Official Rep? What should universities be measuring and is there such a thing as bad data?

Measuring success is not a clear task. I guess it depends on each person’s priorities and their ideas about what success looks like. 

I became a little bit obsessive about particular data points during my time as an Official Rep (like how much we were posting each day, for example). Sometimes I needed to ground myself back in reality and remind myself that there is always a bigger picture that needs to be digested. The amount we posted, (to go back to that example) was sometimes a good measure of our success as we would see views and engagement numbers go up. On the other hand though, sometimes it certainly wasn’t a measure of success as we were spreading ourselves too thinly to achieve our target post numbers. If those posts were not in the right places on-site – or were not as meaningful and helpful as they could be because they were rushed – that couldn’t be counted as successful in my opinion. Quality over quantity is certainly important.

In isolation, any data point can be perceived as amazing or terrible, depending on your interpretation. For example, if posts in your university forum are down, you may immediately think of the negative connotations and go into fight mode to create actions to rectify this – there were points where I certainly would have done this.

But actually – could it be a good thing? Could it be that posts are down because the Official Rep account is being used so well and giving so much useful information each time they respond, that there is less need for students to ask questions? Maybe they have all that they need from you already! That’s where more data points (such as the number of users in the forum, or post views) can be used to build a bigger picture beyond that one statistic. 

Also, the wider context is so important – and that’s where your Account Manager can help. What are the numbers for posting across the site looking like? Is this a statistic unique to your university or is it a trend? 

Take every bit of data and information as a collective, not an individual.

Overall, I would say that the success of an Official Rep is reflected in the monthly UPP report, but even here, keep in mind that the UPP reports and The Student Room site are both parts of a bigger picture in the student journey, and that picture is made up of many moving parts and influences.

What to do next

  1. Check out our Official Reps resources – you’ll find more advice on how to make the most of your Official Rep accounts
  2. Attend training sessions and webinars – we hold Official Rep training every Wednesday at 10am. (Also, sign up to our mailing list to be informed about webinars, student insights and more)
  3. Use your UPP reports and Account Manager meetings – you’ll gain a deeper understanding about where your best opportunities are

Do you have great ideas about using our Official Rep tool? We’d love to feature your university in a future blog on Official Rep top tips.

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