When it comes to reaching students in 2020, higher education marketers need to meet them on their playing field. No, we don’t mean taking to the stands of college football games with a megaphone. We mean finding ways to grab their attention on the channels we know they’re visiting more and more: social media. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 91% of adults ages 18-29 in the US used Youtube in 2019, while 79% used Facebook, 67% used Instagram and 62% used Snapchat.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes right now , saying “it’s so obvious! I already have campaigns all over social media!” But if the campaigns you’re thinking of consist of annoying pop up ads, stock images of perfect, blemish-free “students”, and the most heavily edited photo of your empty campus that you have, then we suggest leaving those in 2019. Five years ago, your ad or promoted post may have received a lot of attention on Facebook. But today, consumers are so heavily bombarded with advertising, it’s almost instinctual to scroll, swipe past, or just ignore anything vaguely resembling an ad.
To capture the attention of prospective students, distribute authentic, relevant content that provides insights into what differentiates your school and what life is like at your institution. Higher education marketers have an amazing opportunity for user-generated content. Most students today already know the ins and outs of social media. For higher education marketers, it’s just a matter of curating this content. Many universities around the world have already started student “influencer” or “ambassador” programs where they ask for students’, alumni, and/or professors’ help creating content. When Education New Zealand started having students showcase their life on their instagram, they quickly gained 15,000 followers.
How can I use student-generated content for my marketing?
User-generated content is a less expensive, more authentic way to let prospects get a peek into what life is actually like for students at your university or college. Students interested in design, social media, or marketing will often be willing to create content for free, simply for the experience and practice. The applications of student-generated content are endless, but we have a few ideas to get you started.
What are the hot channels?
-Instagram and Facebook are the perfect channels to share images of real students’ day-to-day lives: at sporting events, participating in academic clubs, and partaking in campus traditions. Both channels also have ‘stories’ and ‘live’ features so students can post content in real-time as events occur.
-As digital natives, today’s students are very attracted to video content. In fact, last year Youtube was the most used social media channel among adults ages 18-24. Students who are highly involved on campus could create a ‘vlog’ style “Week in the life of a student at _____ University” video, or film students could create a more cinematographic “What being a (your mascot) means to me” video.
-Snapchat is a great channel for more casual video content. Students could share short clips of their first day of the new semester to be collected together on your University’s story-with your University’s location filter of course.
-The bravest higher education marketers will try their hand at TikTok in 2020. TikTok’s use cases for marketing are still being developed (by Chipotle, among others). But it’s key to not overlook TikTok as an effective marketing channel in higher education, as it had over one billion downloads and 500 million active monthly users last year. TikTok videos are only one minute long, so students will need to get extra creative to make their message land within that time frame. It may seem a little intimidating, but with 60% of users being Gen Z and 80% between the ages of 16-34, it’s the perfect channel for reaching prospective students.
Authenticity Makes a Difference
By distributing content that gives a peek into life at your school, your marketing campaigns will be able to break through the noise. Rather than swiping past another irritating ad, prospective students will be excited to see what your institution will share next. Authentic content will leave them envisioning what opportunities may await them there, and they may even begin to imagine themselves as part of the exciting student life they’re seeing on their screen.