Why social media should be a key part of your strategy to attract more students to your university
These days, most universities have social media pages and accounts. Many also have separate networking sites dedicated purely to the admissions side of things. But how many of them are actually using social media effectively when it comes to attracting prospective students?
Most young people are now incredibly tech savvy and use social media to look for information, research their options and make decisions. According to data from the Zinch Social Admissions Report 2015, 50 percent of students research universities on social media and will factor their interactions with particular institutions into their overall decision.
In 2013, Drake University found that a fifth of their students were encouraged to enroll as a result of their social media activities, and they are not the only ones who are seeing similar success.
Curious as to how they’re doing this? Here’s a look at how some universities are using social media really well for recruitment, and some of the tactics that your own team could use.
The Inside Scoop on Campus Life
You can talk about all of the great things that your university has to offer, but at the end of the day, this is still marketing and not all students will necessarily place much trust in it. Chances are that they will be a lot more swayed by what current students have to say about you. The stats back this up too: nearly half of students will read student blogs to get a feel for a university.
Encouraging student-generated content such as blogs gives an insight on what it’s like to be enrolled at your university. Most universities share campus culture through photos but some go a step further by letting students have a platform and share their experiences of being there.
The Ohio State University is one of these universities. The Buckeyes Blog is regularly updated with posts by students, who blog about all things OSU.
The University of New Hampshire also encourage alumni to contribute to UNH Tales, their student blog.
How to Leverage It
Give current students a platform to share their thoughts on your university, their studies, life in the local area and anything else that will appeal to potential students. If student blogs are easy to find on your university’s website and you share posts through social media, potential students can use the content to have a better idea of what to expect if they enroll and whether you will be a good fit for them.
Social Listening and the Art of Conversation
A lot of universities are good at using social media to broadcast information to their current students, but this isn’t going to reach prospective students
Instead, your team can use conversations with potential students to be helpful and informative (and fun, where appropriate!), and ultimately position your university at the forefront of their mind when they’re deciding where to apply. Students will often be asking the same kind of questions on social media, which is an ideal opportunity to address them and be creative if you can.
The University of Southern California is a good example of how to do this. Their social listening highlighted the fact that many students were asking about dorm accommodation, so they used this knowledge to create their USC Cribs video series on Youtube to give prospective students a glimpse of what to expect if they enrolled.
To do social listening well, close monitoring of social media channels is absolutely essential. This gives your team the means to pick up on questions and comments from potential students in timely fashion and engage them in conversation.
It’s not just a case of monitoring and being on top of your own notifications though; ideally, you will need to go far beyond this and pick up on social media postings that mention your university indirectly and look for opportunities to advise students, get into conversations with them and ultimately leave them with a positive opinion of your school.
Clemson University has taken this to heart and worked with Dell and Salesforce Radian6 to develop their own social listening center. This was set up predominantly as an academic tool for students to use, but it has also proved to have benefits for marketing. “From the university marketing perspective, we do see a great deal of benefit from the listening perspective around major events and initiatives,” says Robbie Fitzwater, Director of Content Strategy at Clemson University.
How to Leverage It
There are various tools that make social listening and monitoring a whole lot easier, such as Hootsuite and SproutSocial. Your team can set up streams and searches to track direct and indirect mentions of your university and keyword monitoring to get involved in conversations.
Not using video content can mean that your team is really missing a trick. A massive 80 per cent of students have watched videos as part of their research, according to the Zinch Social Admissions Report 2015. Traditionally, this would have meant uploading to YouTube or on the university’s website and hoping that students came across them.
With the introduction of Facebook Live and Periscope, videos can now be uploaded directly to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so that potential students can take a look while they’re checking out your profiles on these platforms. Drake University is making use of the Facebook Live feature on their Facebook page:
Videos that give an insight into university life can be compelling for prospective students, especially if they are not able to travel to campus for an in-person visit, such as this YouTube video from UC Berkeley that was uploaded to their Facebook page. They have also used a hashtag here to help the post reach students who are thinking of enrolling with them.
Boston University doesn’t necessarily post a lot of video content directly to their Facebook page but they do make great use of the Videos tab with uploads such as this:
How to Leverage It
Get your team out there shooting videos on campus and highlight all of the great things about your institution. Involving students gives a human touch and is likely to get engagement. It also helps prospective students to picture themselves within the community.
Encouraging students to use hashtags is another way to give prospective students an idea of what to expect if they enroll. George Washington University has leveraged the #OnlyatGW hashtag to highlight unique and memorable things about their institution and it is predominantly populated by students.
They also have an active community on Instagram and Twitter around the #PictureGW contest hashtag.
How to Leverage It
Encourage students to use hashtags that build a community feel around your university and promote these on your social media accounts. Your team could include the hashtag(s) in Facebook cover photos, for example.
Staying in Touch With Past Students
Alumni are often very keen to share their experiences of being a student at a particular university, which is great for giving potential students a positive impression of what it would be like if they enrolled there too. This is definitely the case for Brigham Young University, whose Facebook page is a great example of how to build an engaged alumni audience.
For example, this post was commented on by current students but it also got good interaction from former students, who were keen to talk about their memories of the campus:
Leveraging an alumni’s emotional attachment to your university can be a great marketing tactic that reinforces a sense of community that new students will want to be part of.
“I’m not sure that there’s any better testimonial than a happy, successful alumni of the university coming back organically to our page and commenting how much they loved their time at BYU so it’s huge for prospective students to be able to see that,” says Jon McBride, who is Social Media Manager at BYU.
The potential benefits for encouraging more applications and enrollments means that BYU has made it a key part of their social media activity. “Engaging alumni is definitely part of our strategy,” he adds. “If you look at it in business terms, this is a key group of users for us who not only know our product but actually are our product. What they are and who they’ve become is a major outgrowth of their time at BYU so we really value their attention, feedback and influence.”
Some universities choose to create pages or accounts specifically aimed at their alumni. For example, the Ohio State University has a separate Facebook page for The Ohio State University Alumni Association, and posts photos like this to take their alumni back to their university days:
How to Leverage It
Photos that trigger memories of life on campus are great for engaging past and present students. Anything that encourages nostalgia for their time as a student has a good chance of capturing their attention and compelling them to comment.
Sally Aquire is a freelance lifestyle writer. Follow her on Twitter @sallya1234. Find out more about her at www.sallyaquire.com.