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Social Media Marketing for Higher Ed in 2024

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Connecting with Gen Z on social media is a key way to build attention and interest in your higher education institution. However, the challenge can be daunting even for experienced marketers as social media offers high traffic but not specificity to higher education marketing. Gen Z, having grown up with the Internet, are intuitive users of social media and can spot when something feels inauthentic or not worth engaging with. Products like Unibuddy are built around higher education marketing to provide experiences worthwhile to students.

Social Trends that Continue to Grow

An important trend that is still around and growing is keeping up a social media presence wherever Gen Z is. Common platforms used to seek information for higher education include established channels, like Instagram, Reddit, Discord, and TikTok, and rising channels like BeReal. Channels like Facebook (Meta), meanwhile, used to be effective with it’s audience targeting, but may no longer have the high engagement they once had for Gen Z. You may want to experiment with Instagram reels and stories instead.

Social media as a trend is growing as Gen Z continues to look for authentic interactions and media. Influencers and peers are viewed as unbiased sources of information, while paid ads are not seen in this light. 92% of Gen Z prospects say that chatting with a current student lets them make an informed decision, while 20% say that paid social media ads don’t represent them.

Higher Education Social Trends That Work

Some higher education institutions have used their social media to collaborate with other popular figures in the social media world. Having influencers help promote your school and its community can really make the connection to prospective students, as they’re perceived to be providing honest information. However, influencers usually come at a cost, and you have current students who can speak candidly to their more representative experience at your institution. 

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

Student ambassadors are viewed by prospective students as their peers and future selves. They’ve been there and have valuable advice and insights to share, in a conversational, open way. It might take some time getting used to the idea of not pushing your brand or scripting conversations, but this has been shown to garner great results in terms of student enrolment and retention. For example, Alfred University, a Unibuddy partner, has seen an enrolment boost of 68% over the last eight years and 90% retention rate, which can be attributed in part to programs featuring student ambassadors. 

Higher Education Social Trends That Don’t Work

Trends that are not interesting, engaging or relevant to Gen Z are not going to work. These include traditional ways of marketing, like generic paid campaigns and email blasts, which are impersonal, inauthentic and don’t emotionally connect or represent Gen Z students.

This is why influencers are so popular with Gen Z, as they don’t sound like marketers and have a more authentic feel. It is important for Gen Z to be able to see and feel that their experience is represented in the media they view, so language and digital assets that is institutional and cold which essentially doesn’t provide the warm feel or “good vibes” that they’re looking for is going to get discarded.

Related: The Gen Z journey to higher education

In addition, platforms and marketing that makes Gen Z too visible or lets their personal information be used too freely is going to be construed negatively. In offering them a place to connect anonymously, like Unibuddy Community with its Reddit-like forums, gives them a low-anxiety provoking environment to have authentic and honest experiences. Given that 20% of students who accept and put a deposit don’t show up for school, appropriate marketing is a crucial factor to work on to reduce melt and increase retention. 

How to Choose a Social Channel That Works

Picking a channel that encourages authentic connection is important. Being able to provide two-way communication is even better than a channel that only delivers your messages but doesn’t allow for feedback or questions. A good channel is one that students regularly use, are comfortable being on and sharing information, and lets them have control over what they do, who they talk to and what they can view.

Social media like Reddit, TikTok, and Discord make it easy for Gen Z to have authentic and casual interactions that are also pretty anonymous. However, they aren’t catered specifically to higher education and don’t necessarily have the resources that a prospective student might be looking for, like verified student ambassadors.

Related: The Power of Digital Orientation: Why Selling Higher Ed Doesn’t Stop At Admissions

Using an app like Unibuddy Community means connection for students among peers, ambassadors and faculty, as well as easy integration with your existing social media and websites. Unibuddy Community allows users to join groups that are interesting to them, like a First-Year chat, or International Students’ chat, and participate in group interactions without revealing their personal information. Higher ed institutions, like University of Leiceister,  have seen massive growth in enrollment since implementing Unibuddy Community. 

How to Build Authentic Social Media Interactions

Building communities and interactions around authenticity is a good place to start. Give student ambassadors control to express themselves and connect with your prospects in their own way. They can speak better to their experience than anyone else, and can do it in a manner that resonates with prospective students (without the intentional and biased language of marketing). Let them have the tools to do the work of making candid connections for you.

Unibuddy Community is a partner in this endeavor as it offers engaging forums for anonymous and informative participation or viewing. It also has the additional benefit of being built specifically for higher education, higher ed platforms and other tools and marketing initiatives for data collection and properties that promote ongoing student engagement.

Looking Forward to 2023

2023 brings the opportunity to assess your higher education marketing plan. You can take a look at how students are interacting and using your digital assets, and branch out into areas that overlap more with Gen Z social media habits if you haven’t done so yet. In addition to keeping key aspects like websites current, it means generating video content, student blogs, infographics, student forums and continually assessing the growth and engagement with all media.


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