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5 Ways Universities Are Boosting Enrollment with Social Media

By collegemktgrp | April 12, 2019 | Universities

If you’ve got your fingers on the pulse of trends for marketing products to college students, then you know all the big brands are using social media to engage students in new and innovative ways. That’s because these brands understand that college students have some extra money to spend on things like clothes, snacks, and entertainment.

Social media is where college students spend a huge chunk of their time. Trying to market to college students while ignoring the power of social media is kind of like trying to eat a cheeseburger without your hands. You could do it, but it’s going to be way harder than it has to be (not to mention really messy).

Looking at how brands are using social media to engage with college students has got us thinking: Shouldn’t colleges and universities be using the same tactics to attract and engage top talent?

Short answer: heck yes. The numbers don’t lie— two-thirds of high schoolers say that social media affects where they decide to go to college.

The most forward-thinking schools are already capitalizing on using social to capture the attention of new students and increase enrollment. Some even have dedicated social media profiles just for their admissions teams.

From highlighting on-campus life to showing off the latest big wins of faculty and alumni, here are 5 ways universities are using social media to increase student enrollment.

1. Promote Campus Culture

A big part of what attracts prospective students to a college or university is the promise of an exciting campus culture.

That’s why using social media to show college students that your campus is a place where interesting things are happening is an effective strategy to up enrollment.

The universities that are succeeding with this strategy aren’t just sharing boring announcements about calendar events. They’re showing users all the action with photos and videos, often in real-time.

When Harvard hosted Elton John on campus, they didn’t just tell people about it. They shared his compelling and emotional speech online — and Sir Elton even re-posted it on his own YouTube channel.

Whether your school is hosting a guest speaker, putting on a festival, starting a new club, or hosting a sports game, showing people what they’re missing out on via social media can create a sense of urgency for high schoolers looking for a place to call home after their senior year is over — the idea is they might be prompted to go with the school that seems to provide the most compelling on-campus life.

Your brand voice is key here. It should guide your school’s social media posts with a sense of history and tradition, which of course are the roots of what make your on-campus culture unique.

2. Empower Students to Share Their Stories

More and more potential students are expecting all brands — including colleges and universities — to have thoughtfully branded and curated social media marketing.

One way universities are pushing past their followers’ expectations is by putting the megaphone right into the hands of their own students.

The University of New Hampshire created an Instagram hashtag for this exact purpose. #UNHTales allows students to share their on-campus experiences on their own profiles, simultaneously adding them to a network of fellow students. A potential student can scroll through these types of posts to get a feel for what life is really like at the school, straight from their soon-to-be peers.

Some universities are also regularly scanning social media to look for mentions of their school, even in cases where they haven’t been directly tagged.

Sharing a positive post from a current or incoming student is an extra-special way to show the student body that their voice is valued.

3. Post About Big Wins

Prospective students want to attend a school that succeeds, and current students want to be proud to wear that school hoodie that their mom bought them from the campus bookstore.

Smart schools use social media to let the world know about their big wins. That could mean a win on the football field, a New York Times article written by a sitting professor, or a research study published in a reputable journal.

Big wins like these legitimize a school and boost its reputation, which is an important factor that students (and their parents) consider before spending a lot of money on tuition.

4. Share Alumni Success Stories

Alumni go on to start innovative businesses, become champion athletes, silver screen stars, and maybe even become the President of the United States. That’s why universities are turning to social media to share the success stories of their alumni (Harvard didn’t hesitate to post shots of alumni Barack Obama stopping in for a visit).

This strategy is powerful for 3 reasons:

  1. Highlighting alumni successes shows prospective students what could be in store for them if they attend the same school.
  2. Engaging alumni helps retain them as important advocates for their alma mater. When a neighbor’s kid is wondering where to go to school, a happy alum will point them in the right direction.
  3. When a school posts about an alumni’s success story, that alumni is likely to share it with friends and followers, putting fresh eyes on the university’s content.

Yale, with its more than 1.3 million Facebook followers, provides a great example of this tactic. A lot of the school’s posts on that platform are all about celebrating the wins of its alumni, which include leading voices in business, politics, the arts, and beyond.

5. Engage Directly with Followers

Everyone loves the chance to win a contest. Social media provides an opportunity for social media-savvy schools to host polls, contests, and giveaways.

These types of posts bring a much needed variety to a school’s social media content, and also serve a dual purpose.

They give followers the ability to directly engage by giving their opinion on something or creating their own content in response to a school’s post. But smart schools also use these types of contests to both collect valuable information (like a poll on who should be next year’s featured guest speaker) and to get followers to share posts (like when a share gets a follower entered into a drawing for a swag giveaway).

These shares increase visibility. It’s a win-win!

Beyond the Post: Using Data to Up Your Game

If you’re part of a university’s communications or admissions team and want to get serious about your social media swagger, you’ve got to start digging into the data behind the scenes.

Analytics can show you the types of content that are getting the most engagement, which hashtags are upping your likes and follows, and the best times of the day and week to post on your various platforms.

Of course, it’s all well and good to read about all the ways you could be upping enrollment with social media. Finding the time to understand the intricacies of each platform and execute such ideas is a whole other deal — not to mention trying to stay in touch with the ever-changing interests of college-age young adults.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the never-ending rabbit hole that is social media, maybe it’s time to call in the experts.

College Marketing Group has years of experience in understanding and reaching out to the college-age demographic. Our team can provide consultations and customized plans to improve your university student marketing strategy and use social media to increase student enrollment.

Learn more about College Marketing Group’s social media services »


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