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How Your College Can Reach Gen Z (and Boost Enrollment, Too)

By collegemktgrp | December 9, 2019 | Universities

Every new generation of college students is a little different than the one who came before. That’s why university admissions offices would be remiss to assume that Gen Z is the same as Gen Y, aka Millennials.

Gen Z includes everyone born between 1996 and 2010. This is the first generation to not know a world without the internet, smartphones, and social media. They’re also the largest generation, making up over 25% of the U.S. population.

And what’s more, Gen Z is more ethnically diverse than any generation who has come before. Combined with their intimate relationship with technology and the unpredictable world they’ve come up in (the Great Recession, global politics, 9/11, climate change, and more), Gen Z’ers have a unique mindset that college student recruiters need to understand to successfully connect with these students.

You might be surprised to learn that Gen Z’s mindset is quite practical, and at the same time discerning, with a critical eye for what is and isn’t worth their time.

Understanding those aspects of the Gen Z personality can help you reach them better when trying to attract new students to your college. Here’s our guide to 7 tips for universities to reach Gen Z.

Find Students Where They Are

Gen Z is all over social media, but their favorite platforms?

Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, followed closely by Facebook.

That means that your university should be putting a big priority on video content. YouTube and Snapchat are inherently video based, so this is a good place to start.

Over on Instagram, the rising popularity of Instagram Stories has changed how we’re thinking about that platform — videos are much more popular in Stories than in the normal newsfeed.

As for Facebook, while image and text-oriented posts can and should be a part of your overall recruitment efforts, videos will get you a much bigger bang for your buck. Video posts get 60% more engagement than any other type of post. More comments and shares means more reach for your post.

Plus, when someone watches a video, it requires more of them — they have to actively give it their attention. This means the content of your video is more likely to make an impact with college students. But only if you do it right, which brings us to our next tip.

Impress Them In 8 Seconds

With video content aimed at Gen Z-ers, you have about 8 seconds to win them over. This isn’t because they have short attention spans — rather, Gen Z has a strong filter for what is worth their time online.

They’re more than willing to engage with content for hours on end. But because they grew up online, they’re discerning about what they will give their time to.

This doesn’t mean that you have to get your entire message across in 8 seconds. You only need to make it clear what your video will consist of in those first 8 seconds.

If you make a video of current students talking about why they love your school, it should start with a student saying “I love my school because…” Extended footage of your campus before the crux of your video is revealed is likely to cost you in Gen Z viewership.

Be sure to include captions in all of your videos. When scrolling through newsfeeds on social media, people are likely to watch videos with the sound off. Captions ensure the message gets through, and might also persuade viewers to turn the sound on once they read what your video is all about.

Keep Your Content Real

Whether it’s a video, text, image, or other type of post, you need to remember that for Gen Z, authenticity is valued above all else.

That means they don’t respond to hollow sales slogans like “The Best School in the World!” It’s more important to show the real side of your school — the student body, the professors, the campus, and its history.

You can do this by highlighting each of those with real photographs, videos, and stories. You don’t ever have to say, “Here’s another reason why you should attend our school!” That goes unspoken. Focus on the authentic stories, and the marketing takes care of itself.

Keep Your Content Organized

Gen Z is more likely than previous generations to actively do their own research about your school. So make sure that content about your school is easily accessible across all digital platforms, from social media to your website.

Harvard’s Instagram profile with organized Highlights

It might be hard to include everything about your school, from its history and important contributions to society to graduate employment rates and information on each degree program, on every platform.

But there are some ways to make the information a prospective student is looking for easier to find:

Instagram

  • Organize your Stories posts in Highlights, with titles like “Our Students”, “Our Programs”, “Our History”, “Our Faculty.”
  • This keeps your stories available to view after the normal 24-hour period, and creates a guide that visitors to your profile see as soon as they arrive (Highlights are features at the top of your profile).

Facebook

  • Facebook allows you to organize your videos into different playlists.
  • You might have one playlist of all student testimonials, another of footage from campus events, one dedicated to your sports programs, etc.

Link to Website

  • Think of all your online profiles as spokes that connect back to your website as the hub of everything.
  • That means that you should always have an easy-to-see link to your school’s website on all your social media profiles, and that your website should be easily navigable with concise information that’s easy to find.

Recruit the People They Trust

Gen Z places a big emphasis on the word of their peers. This means that using a celebrity alumni to help endorse your school might be less effective than authentic testimonials from people closer to their own age.

Try reaching Gen Z through social media influencers. That doesn’t mean you have to find a current student who has hundreds of thousands of followers. Recruiting a number of micro-influencers that have 2,000 to 10,000 followers can have just as big an impact.

There are a few ways you can do this. One is to reach out to first or second year students and ask if you can photograph or video them during a typical school day for use online. When you do post and tag them, you can expect them to share it with their followers.

Another way to spread your reach through student influencers is with hashtag campaigns.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Moving in? Show us your #CycloneHome! Images by university photographer @christophergannon. #IowaState

A post shared by Iowa State University (@iowastateu) on

For example, during move-in weekend this year, Iowa State University asked students to post photos of their new place with #CycloneHome (their mascot is the Cyclone).

When students post their pic of where they’re going to college, it reaches all their followers. Even if most students have just a few hundred followers, the reach can make an impact when multiplied by hundreds of unique posts!

Focus on the Practicality of a Degree

One thing that might surprise you about Gen Z is that they are a practical generation. They grew up in a tumultuous time of American history — 9/11, the wars that followed, and an economic rollercoaster, just to name a few.

On top of that, they’re the first generation to have to fully deal with the implications of climate change. As they age, the real-world effects of the climate crisis will become more pronounced.

All of this uncertainty makes for a generation who expects the future to be full of unique and unpredictable challenges, and wants to be in a stable position to weather it. It makes for a generation who is interested in finding a good job, and doesn’t trust that things will simply work out in their favor.

For this reason, they’re bound to be concerned with three things:

  1. The likelihood they will find a job upon graduation
  2. How much the job will pay
  3. How much school will cost.

Highlighting the cost-effectiveness of attending your school can be a good way to speak to the concerns of prospective students.

Make sure your tuition and other costs are clearly spelled out on your website, and heavily promote job placement rates, average salary of graduates, and scholarship opportunities to make attending your school as practice as possible.

Showcase What Makes Your School Important

Above all else, Gen Z is interested in making a difference in the world. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Where they choose to go to college will play a big role in that aspect of their identity.

You can speak to this desire by promoting the social and environmental justice history and current work of your university.

Are your labs working on new technologies for a fossil fuel free future? Promote it. Did it play an active role in the Civil Rights Movement? Promote it.

By showing how your school has worked to change the world, you’ll find new students who are looking to do the same thing.

Reach Even More Students with College Student Marketing

Your content is just the beginning of how to reach Gen Z. With the power of digital marketing, you can make sure the great content you’ve developed gets in front of as many potential students as possible.

The digital marketing experts at College Marketing Group know how to reach online audiences by age, where they live, what they’re interested in, their parents’ income, and much more to get your posts and ads shown to the right people.

If you need help connecting with new prospects online with targeted campaigns, and you want reports to show who is engaging with your content so you can drive toward measurable results, we’re the college marketing group for you.

Contact us now to get started »


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