Higher education marketers face the challenge of engaging with the youngest generations—generations yet to be named, who lack behavioral data, and with whom marketers struggle to relate. The current generation marketers are speculating over is Generation Z, who were born in the late 1990s to mid-2000s (though the dates are still in flux). As marketers, we must do more than keep up with this technology-driven generation, we must stay ahead of them, to anticipate their needs and create compelling messaging in the spaces they reside.
Naturally, social media offers the means to stay ahead with your digital strategy and your target audiences. For the past few years, many higher education institutions have used social media channels to connect with prospective and current students, and their efforts are paying off.
Working at a digital marketing agency, my colleagues and I are always looking for interesting opportunities through social media. Below, you’ll find advice on how best to utilize the top social media networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat—along with our favorite examples to help inspire your higher education social media marketing strategies.
Despite recent speculations that Facebook users are reducing their monthly activity on the social network, Facebook remains the number one social media platform for teenagers ranging from 13-17, a prime target demographic for higher education marketers.
How to Use Facebook
- Build digital communities through groups
- Show campus culture
- Promote upcoming events
- Encourage athletic teams
- Keep students informed with campus news/announcements
Doing It Right
J.S. Stansel, the International Communications Manager at the University of Central Arkansas, says he created a Facebook Page specifically for international students at UCA to “make event announcements, answer student’s questions, connect international students with their American peers, and create a stronger community.” He boasts that this Page has more than 1,300 likes and high engagement.
According to the Business Insider, Twitter is omnipresent in the daily lives of Generation Z. Research shows that this generation's attention span has decreased to eight seconds, meaning communicating in “bite sizes” is key to gaining their attention.
How to Use Twitter
- Give live updates for events or emergency situations
- Respond quickly to students’ questions
- Post timely and relevant news
- Cultivate discussions with unique hashtags
- Ask questions and get real-time feedback
Pro Tip: Consider owning multiple Twitter accounts for the different departments and schools across your university (in addition to a central, university-wide account). You can build a richer niche audience and target your messaging to the followers who are invested in your content.
Doing It Right
The University of New Hampshire’s Twitter account, @UofNH, has more than 17,000 followers and a high level of engagement. Some of its recent posts include congratulating alumni members for their professional success, informing students of current events happening on campus, and cultivating a community culture for incoming students with the hashtag #UNH19.
Generation Z differs from Millennials in many ways, one being that they prefer to communicate through images, icons, and symbols instead of text. As such, 60% of 13-18 year olds use Instagram to share their lives, stay connected with friends, or to stay on top of culturally relevant news.
How to Use Instagram
- Highlight campus life & activities
- Promote events, sporting or otherwise
- Foster a campus community & culture
- Provide sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes content
- Showcase model students, groups, faculty, and more
Doing It Right
The University of Florida’s Instagram uses its account to post behind-the-scene images of the parts of Florida and UF not normally seen, helping to create a community. Photos of class lectures, images inside its television station, and point-of-view photography—such as from the podium at the commencement ceremonies—all make up the many diverse images posted to its account. With more than 50,200 followers since its start in 2011, UF's strategy is clearly working.
More than 39 million students and college graduates make up the audience on LinkedIn. The professional networking and job acquisition site provides colleges and universities ample opportunity to execute their digital marketing strategy.
How to Use LinkedIn
- Build connections with alumni & current students
- Showcase alumni success stories
- Profile your faculty’s professional and relevant experience
- Display your institution’s value and merit
- Create groups around academic programs, clubs, and more
Doing It Right
Making sure your institution has a completed page on LinkedIn is the start of developing a successful presence. From there, take a look at The University of British Colombia (UBC) to see how to develop a great presence. UBC posts a combination of news, research breakthroughs, campus events, and fundraising successes. It has even used targeted updates to reach specific alumni groups.
With 71% of its users under then age of 25, Snapchat appears the perfect contender for reaching prospective students. A nascent social network, Snapchat might intimidate a lot of marketers who are not quite sure how to jump in or measure success—your content disappears forever after ten seconds, after all. Therefore, we recommend only getting into Snapchat if you truly understand the network and have a clear strategy in place. Snapchat is definitely not something you want to dive into without knowing how to swim. How to Use Snapchat
- Share special, time-specific announcements
- Pair with sporting events for real-time content
- Show off your university’s personality with funny or quirky moments
- Host contests or giveaways
Doing It Right
The Tennessee Wesleyan College (TWC) dominated Snapchat right out of the gate by creating a scavenger hunt on orientation day. Followers received ten-second images ("snaps") of the TWC mascot posing at different locations around the campus. Not only did TWC engage students with a fun, incentivized competition, they also familiarized new students to the campus.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
The youngest generation has never known a world without the Internet. They're coming to age online and across various different social media platforms. They stay constantly connected, mobile, and virtual. If higher education marketers expect to appeal to the newest generations, then we need a social media strategy that reflects the needs of this generation. Keep your eye on those who are doing it well and learn from their successes. Even social media marketing begins with a good education.