It's Time Your Students Get Involved
We've truly arrived in the digital age. Today, almost every college and university has a social media presence. And yet, few of them can show actual success in attracting potential students and their parents, while assuring them your school is the right fit.
That's a significant missed opportunity. According to the 2017 E-Expectations report by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, students and parents alike use their favorite social channels to learn about schools, find out what life on campus is like, and connect with others who are going through the same process.
And yet, when they arrive on the pages for schools on their short list, their experience is often very different. Stiff promotions of upcoming events, bland links to the website, and other unattractive content tends to rule. Graphics are highly stylized and clearly vetted by multiple people, failing to convey the authenticity audiences are looking for in this venue.
A bleak picture? Definitely. Perhaps it's even a bit exaggerated. But a simple truth remains: too often, colleges and universities use social media as a promotional outlet rather than an opportunity to engage their audiences. The solution to that problem is at once complex and simple: it's time for your students to get involved.
The Power of Peer to Peer Communication
You might have heard about user-generated content (UGC) as a core trend in digital marketing. In an age where online credibility is difficult to achieve, consumers tend to believe what their peers are saying about a brand more than the communication efforts of that company itself. As a result, organizations across industries have built comprehensive strategies to encourage their users to build content that only subtly promotes the brand.
In a recent survey, 75% of consumers said content from their peers made brand messaging more authentic. It tends to increase both the total reach and engagement with individual posts, and builds credibility of the brand over time. Especially younger audiences trust UGC to be truthful and relevant to their needs and questions.
The same effect is magnified in higher education. Here, you have the perfect audience to start creating this type of content right on your campus: your current students. Get your current students to start creating content for you, and you will begin to see prospective students engage with it.
The Need for Authenticity in Modern Higher Education Marketing
Any higher education marketer knows: the field is crowded. A student considering your school likely also has 3-4 others on their short list. And even getting to that short list can be a struggle, given that they have a wide range of community colleges and online options regardless of their location.
At the same time, marketing in higher education is not necessarily unique. You might rightly boast about your beautiful campus, small class sizes, and generous financial aid package, but so does every other school trying to reach the same students. When that message becomes generic, it loses any effectiveness or differentiation factor.
Instead, it makes sense to show rather than tell these benefits to your potential students. That means having the message come straight from the source; if a starter on your basketball team boasts about how much they love walking around campus, that drives the message home much more authentically than the same statement from an anonymous enrollment staffer.
Leveraging the Full Potential of Social Media
Another missed opportunity we often see in education marketing is failing to use all of the features of the various social media networks. It's easy to fall into the habit of posting images, some links, and little else. After all, that's the low-hanging fruit on many campuses, and it's only natural to promote news stories as well as campus pictures.
But that also limits the types of features that could actually magnify your social presence. Above all, that means video. On Facebook alone, including a video in a post increases the reach of that post by a factor of more than three.
Your students can easily post videos that showcase your institution and its campus. These videos might not be polished, but will certainly be more authentic. Given just how successful videos have become across networks, including live streaming options, turning some of the content creation over to your audience can have a significant impact on your long-term social media success.
How to Build a Student-Centered Social Media Strategy
All of the above, of course, sounds great in theory. Who wouldn't want to see greater awareness, engagement and higher education lead generation? Getting to that point, though, can seem complex. It certainly requires a comprehensive strategy and engagement that goes beyond managing your social media presence from a single point. Here are some tips to get you started, ranging from least to most complex:
- Run social media contests in which your students share images and videos relating to your school.
- Organize Instagram or Snapchat takeovers with students who are already engaged in your enrollment or marketing efforts.
- Work with marketing or communication classes to turn video creation for your social media outlets into a class assignment.
- Hire one or two student workers who can actively help you run the institution's social media account and provide feedback on all posts from a student perspective.
- Create Facebook groups for students and parents in which they can connect with each other and peers who have already gone through the same process.
- Build a group of social media ambassadors who capture events, post from their perspective, and represent the university on an ongoing basis.
That last bullet is undoubtedly the most involved. It often requires at least a few months to set up, from deciding whether these ambassadors should be paid to setting clear policies that ensure their posts will remain within the institution's brand and social media standards. Still, it's also the most effective. The more you can get your students involved, the higher the payoff in form of leads, applications, and admitted students will be in the end. As a result, you can turn your social media pages from a static platform into a dynamic presence designed to attract and convert modern student audiences.
If you are interested in developing a successful social media marketing strategy for your institution, let's talk.