skip to main content

2020 pandemonium: how do we speak to a disillusioned generation?

The new UCAS January deadline was a swift response to the increasing pressure being placed on students and teachers alike. It’s fair to say that with multiple lockdowns, schools closing and the long-terms effects of that A-level results day, it hasn’t been great. Unsurprisingly, this has created uncertainty in a sector that typically runs like clock-work. What UCAS were saying through their extension was this; let’s give everyone a break.

The ability to read a room has been crucial for brands this year. This wasn’t a marketing ploy by UCAS, but it was a strong reminder of how agile and responsive universities need to be. Luckily in the chaos of 2020 there were some things to be learnt. We could quote something cheesy from Good Reads about adapting to change, or we can discuss it below. Let’s do the latter and start with the obvious.

What you say is important

The civil unrest that’s been consuming the world recently has had a big impact on brands. They’ve had to consider their own brand activism and take a stand on social issues. Consumers want to know the ethics behind the businesses they support. For Generation Z, they will only place their money where their mouth is. From tackling climate change to dismantling a whole generation of Harry Potter fans, they don’t tolerate nonsense.

This doesn’t mean jumping on a cultural bandwagon and pandering to an audience. Saying you support a cause when all evidence points otherwise won’t make you ‘woke’, it will make you ‘cancelled’. Being authentic right now is key. If a university doesn’t have all the answers - admitting this is the best thing to do. If there isn’t anything to say, then don’t say anything at all. If there is a small win, talk about it.

Students don’t want a gritty and ‘cool’ brand from a university. They just want it to be human. According to MIND, nearly three quarters (73%) of students have said that their mental health has declined since the first the lockdown. Creating a sense of trust and security is essential. One way to do this is through communicating honestly and responsibly. It’s all been a bit strange. A lot of it has been awful. Especially for students. At Penna Education we recognise that building a community in a time of crisis is important. But how do we do this?

Yep, Bebo is back

During the first lockdown in March 2020, life outside the home stopped but social interactions didn’t. Facebook’s analytics department reported a +50% surge in messaging. WhatsApp saw a +40% lift during this time and TikTok global downloads grew by +12% over one week in March. Bebo has announced its comeback. That sums it up, really.

People are using social media to check in with their communities. It’s no longer a personal branding tool or a way to secretly enjoy cat memes. It’s a genuine way of trying to ask your parents if they’re okay. Seeing what a close friend has been up to. Forming community chat groups.

Overly curated and polished newsfeed posts are becoming a thing of the past. Ask any influencer who has been to Dubai recently. People are on social media a lot these days. Fleeting and informative content is much more digestible and relevant.

So, we now have an idea of how communities are forming in this current climate. The second part of this blog post will discuss how universities can move (or maybe shouldn’t move) within these spaces.

Part two of this series is coming next week, but if you have any questions regarding the above, please feel free to contact us at

Thank you for reading.