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How to Foster Authentic Personalization in Student Recruitment

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Credible connection. Genuine interaction. Trustworthy information. Prospective students expect it, and you, as a higher ed recruiter, know you need to provide it. But where do you start building out authentic personalization into your student recruitment plan – or are you even the right person to do so? 

As part of Unibuddy Connect 2022, we hosted a panel asking the question: How do we listen to tomorrow’s students today? How can we provide Gen Z with the insight, tools and data they need to make informed decisions regarding their higher ed education? 

Led by our very own Director of Customer Success for UK and ROW, Amy Downes, our panel included: David Corscadden, Digital Engagement and Communications Officer at the Irish Universities Association; Ellen Thomas, a Student Recruitment Officer at the University of Sussex; and Molly Darley, a Student Recruitment Marketing Officer at the Royal Northern College of Music. All four speakers have extensive first-hand experience working in higher ed student recruitment and provided valuable insight into how and why you need to foster authentic personalization into your student recruitment.

Here are some key takeaways from their chat:

Understand how Gen Z defines genuine authenticity 

You might have all the answers a prospective student could want, but, as a paid staff member of your higher ed institution, your prospects might question the authenticity of what you’re telling them. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that today’s students are changing and so is the way they absorb and interpret information. As such, according to Unibuddy data, 92% of Gen Z students say it is beneficial to speak to one of your current students, someone who has walked in their shoes, during their search process. 

Related: What is a student ambassador? 

All speakers highlighted this caveat – that students want more information about higher ed institutions, but do not want to hear it from staff. At Unibuddy, we can help enable these authentic student-to-student interactions by enabling connections between prospective students and student ambassadors. In addition to providing them with the same information you want to convey to them, student ambassadors can go further by relating to prospective students at a personal level – helping cement a feeling of empathy and genuine authenticity. 

Know where Gen Z goes to gather information 

How do you currently connect with your prospective students? The majority of higher ed recruitment teams today, according to Unibuddy data, employ a combination of traditional methods to reach prospective students, like snail mail, telephone calls or in-personal interviews, and digital methods, like virtual events or social media. 

Related: The next generation of student recruitment: Global insights from higher education recruitment professionals 

And yet, on the other side, Unibuddy data tells us that students are increasingly siding with a preference to digital – with 72% gathering initial information about a higher ed institution before heading to social media for further research (something done by 55% of the same data pool). And, according to the panel, the water gets even murkier as you dive into the enormous and ever-changing social media landscape, from choosing whether to maintain presence on older social platforms, like Facebook, to investing resources into newer platforms, like BeReal.

Understand why they turn to social media

As per Gen Z definitions of authenticity, prospective students flock to social media to get a second opinion from their peers on the information they’ve gathered from your site. Within the context of social media, the “peers” of Gen Z are the influencers which dominate platforms – providing seemingly first-hand information on the pros and cons of a particular higher ed institution. Gen Z considers this information, originating from their peers on social media, to be trustworthy. 

Related: The Gen Z journey to higher education

Cracking this code within your own recruitment efforts can be as simple as enlisting the help of existing students at your higher ed institution, as student ambassadors, to help spread your good word. Not only do student ambassadors belong to the same peer groups as prospective students, but they also provide authentic, first-hand information about your school that you can trust is genuine within environments you can trust and control, such as those offered within the Unibuddy Platform.

Be sure to take authenticity full circle in your recruitment program 

An effective student ambassador program isn’t just a flash in a pan – it’s a regenerative program which should be designed to renew itself year-over-year. By enlisting the initial help of the right students, you can help create the positive authentic experiences which might compel a prospective student to later apply to become an ambassador. This can be achieved by encouraging ambassadors to be themselves, without templated questions, and highlighting some of the many perks of joining on, from learning resume-worthy skills to networking opportunities. 

Related: How to leverage the win-win of student-to-student connections 

The panellists stressed that building the right student ambassador team boils down to ensuring all your higher ed bases are covered – from different programs to different interests. Through solutions like Unibuddy Chat, prospective students can filter and choose student ambassadors to connect with based on program, interests or even country of origin. This empowers students to find, not only students who have walked in their shoes, but also to connect on their own time and terms for true authentic personalization. 

Maintaining control over the conversation 

From student safety to gathering insight about what your prospective students are looking for, there is a tremendous advantage to hosting conversations within your branded domain. Knowing what students are interested in when it comes to higher ed can help you stay ahead of your competitors. And there is the added benefit of ensuring that proper online etiquette is observed. 

With conversational, topical, demographic and message-level data available at your fingertips – and with options for integration with CRM solutions like Slate – Unibuddy can help you elevate your recruitment strategy, while providing the necessary tools you need to ensure student safety. Integrations at this granular level can help you boost conversion rates and retain more students by enabling you to track authentic interactions. 

Learn more about the Unibuddy Platform.

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