Social media has become an indispensable part of higher education marketing and admissions. But too often, the link between success on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat and enrollment results is tenuous at best. A photo of campus gets plenty of likes and engagement. But if those likes come from the same 200 excited alumni, will that really help a high school student decide what college to attend in the fall?
Typically, the marketing team posts high-engagement content, while the admissions team does its best to bring in the new freshman class.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, social media has the potential to be one of the most powerful recruitment tools at your disposal. In fact, according to one recent study, 58% of incoming college students use social media to look up schools they’re considering. 78% of incoming college students call the medium either extremely or somewhat influential in their admissions decisions.
So, let’s talk about how to leverage that. In this guide, we’ll share 8 of the most effective ways any school, public or private, can use social media to boost admissions and play a more central role in the recruitment process.
1. Strategically Share User-Generated Content
Prospective students don’t just want to hear from you. They want to hear from their peers, other high school students as well as current students in your university, to get a more unfiltered opinion of whether the school they’re about to choose is right for them.
With user-generated content, you can get that message in front of your incoming classes. Set up a social listening report to find social media mentions of and common hashtags used in relation to your school. Then, repurpose positive content for your own channels to enhance your messaging credibility.
2. Integrate Social Media in the Recruitment Process
Of course, you don’t have to wait and hope for students to post on your behalf. By integrating social media into the recruitment process, you can encourage it in a number of ways:
- During campus tours, have your tour guides point out spots that are especially good for photos. You can even include a suggested visit hashtag in the visit materials, which you can then re-post at a later date.
- Show your viewbook digitally, with easy options to share with students. We’ve seen schools use both simple flipbook solutions like Issuu.com and more complex alternatives that create fully customizable online viewbook experiences.
- Create an admit packet with social media in mind. The admit letter may well be the most frequently shared item for future college students. So why not guide them? Suggest a hashtag, like #[schoolname]bound, then monitor that hashtag and share the excitement of students and families.
Of course, these are just a few of countless examples to integrate social media into non-digital experiences. The purpose of them all, though, remains bi-fold: it’s a way to more strategically highlight user-generated content, while also making the students whose content you share feel more special and connected to your school.
3. Leverage Student Takeovers on Social Media
Periodically, let your students take over your accounts to post an entire day’s worth of content from their perspective. It’s the ultimate way to build user-generated content and tends to be exceptionally well-received by prospective students.
Many higher ed professionals worry about the lack of control they have once students take over their account, even for a limited time. Follow a few simple steps to ensure quality control and turn the takeover into a successful admissions tactic:
- Use a student already working for admissions. Tour guides tend to be great fits because they know the expectations that come with speaking on the university’s behalf.
- Lay out expectations and train your students specifically on the takeover to provide a framework they can work with.
- Create a Takeover Guide document that’s easily accessible for everyone involved. This example from Boston University can help.
- Make yourself available throughout the day for questions and concerns from the student taking over the account. If necessary, ask the student to run posts by you before publishing.
- Promote the takeover through your regular admissions channels, from email to highlighting it on your events web pages.
Once you have the basic process down, you can expand the same concepts to cover other aspects of the recruitment funnel. For example, we’ve seen universities have success with social media Q&A Days, in which they use short videos to answer submitted questions from admitted students.
4. Create a Campaign for Alumni or Students to Share Their Thoughts
At this point, you might have detected a focus on user-generated content to boost the recruitment effectiveness of your social media channels, and that is no accident. Elevating your voice beyond your institution can add both credibility and variety.
It’s not just about major UGC efforts, though. You can also build more simple campaigns specifically designed to help your community of students and alumni to chime in.
For example, consider starting a social media campaign in the fall, as students return to school. Ask your audiences to share the top reason they love (or loved) their school, with the top 10 posts receiving a prize of university swag. Once responses begin to roll in, you can re-post them on your main channel. As an added benefit, each participant also automatically advocates for your school to their own followers and friends.
5. Boost Select Posts to Expand Your Reach Beyond Your Followers
At its core, social media content tends to be isolated to either your followers or the followers of anyone who engages with it. That’s beneficial, but relatively limited, especially if your prospective students and their families don’t yet follow you.
Fortunately, you can expand your reach easily. Facebook, for example, allows organizations to “boost” their content to audiences beyond their followers. With an investment as low as $10, you can begin to reach demographically defined audiences that are likely to include prospective students.
You can even invite anyone who likes the post to like the page, which about a quarter of your boosted audience will. That increases your follower count within the demographic you most want to reach, making every future post designed to help your admissions efforts more effective.
6. Post About Big Events
Every university has them. From sporting events to homecoming, the academic and student affairs calendars offer plenty of opportunities to ensure that your social media audience feels like they’re part of the action.
Posting about these events is, in many ways, low-hanging fruit:
- Let your followers know that your sports teams won a big game or show of school spirit from the student section.
- Highlight alumni and faculty reunions during events like Homecoming to show the togetherness and community surrounding your university.
- Cover the opening of a new building to highlight how your university continues to invest in its students.
Of course, events coverage like this should not take up your entire social media feed. But sprinkled in between some of the other content types we’ll discuss below, it can help potential students better envision themselves at your college or university.
7. Share School and Program-Specific Rankings
They’re often dismissed within higher education, but rankings from publications like U.S. News and World Report remain a key part of how prospective students determine the quality of a school or major they’re interested in. According to one survey, it’s the single most important factor students use to judge academic quality.
In recent years, a cottage industry of publications focusing on rankings has popped up to account for that fact. You’ve probably seen rankings from websites like Study.com or BestValueSchools.org.
When your institution or programs receive a favorable ranking, especially with respect to some of your competitors, share it on social media. Alumni will eat it up and engage with it at high levels, recognizing that it elevates the value of their own degree. Prospective students, meanwhile, use it to evaluate your school and the prospects of their future education.
A single high ranking probably won’t make a major difference in the admissions decision. But if they flow through your social channels on a regular basis, they can combine to make an impact.
8. Share Admissions-Related Content, Like Your Virtual Tour
Finally, don’t underestimate the potential crossover power of social media. Every bit of digital content on your website can reach a greater audience when strategically shared on your social media channels.
For example, consider building a strategy around periodically sharing your virtual tour on your core channels. Especially around core visit dates in fall and spring, share the experience so that students and families who might live further away can still experience your campus and potentially apply or schedule an in-person visit from there.
Of course, this step requires a virtual tour that’s optimized to be shared on social media and includes natural next steps for admissions. That’s where we come in. Our experience in higher education has led to a product that’s uniquely designed to help the recruitment process. Looking to learn more? Contact us today.
BONUS: Gen Z could be the most elusive generation to engage with. Just when you understand the newest trend, it’s already outdated. We are hosting a webinar September 28th, 2021 to teach you how to engage Gen Z before your neighboring university beats you to it. Save your virtual seat now!