It’s time to change student recruiting.
Most recruitment activities are centered around college fairs and campus visits. While this has been effective for years, it’s out of touch with the way students look for schools today. Students are online and connected 24/7. When it comes to finding their dream school, they do their homework online and early.
One survey found that 68% of students used social media to research schools, and another found that 97% of schools use social media for online recruitment, so really, you’ll be falling behind if you don’t.
Just saying “join the best of the best” on your school’s homepage probably won’t cut it.
So if you want to reach prospective students, engage with them, and convince them to choose your university, use social media. Here are five ways you can try:
1. Show off campus life and school culture
One of the biggest questions prospective students have is: what’s life really like at this school? What do students do after class? Is it all books and no fun?
Social media is a great platform to cover school events. Whether it’s a rugby game or a sorority initiation, share highlights with prospective students on social. This could be done via Facebook updates, live tweets, or recap videos on YouTube.
The University of Southern California (USC) has dozens of social accounts dedicated to different aspects of student life:
By creating separate accounts for separate activities, prospective students can better see the different communities and interests on campus.
So what should you share on these accounts? Anything that shows off your culture or values, really. Here’s an Instagram post from Harvard sharing moments of their memorial for the Orlando shooting victims:
It helps prospective students understand your school values and culture beyond academic activities.
2. Let your students speak
Young people are influenced by their peers.
A first-hand experience from a current student is more effective at convincing prospective students to choose your school than another admissions officer’s presentation. Content from students feels authentic and shows applicants a real look at student life.
MIT understands how much student-generated content plays a part in convincing prospective applicants. Not only do they feature student blogs on their admissions page, they’ve got a YouTube channel with videos featuring students talking about college life.
The University of Nottingham also has a whole series of vlogs by students covering topics like first year experiences, accommodation and dining options, and the best coffee shops around campus.
All of this student-generated content offer prospective students a different perspective on your school. Sure, course offerings and admissions requirements are important, but the biggest question students have when they apply to a school is, “will I enjoy life here?”
And these videos, produced by their peers, answer just that. They give applicants a better understanding of the real college experience they can have, and reasons to choose your school over another.
So pick a topic, like sports or accommodation on campus, and invite students to share their opinions and experiences. This can be done in whatever format, videos, photos, even tweets – as long as they are created by your current students.
3. Host live chats and Q&A
Deciding which university to go to is a big deal. Naturally, most students will have lots of burning questions they want answered.
Hosting live chats and Q&A sessions on social media allows you to reach students no matter where they are. And since they’re interactive and happen mostly in real time, they’re much more engaging than a simple email.
Another great thing about hosting these sessions is that anyone can join and benefit from the answers. One stone, many birds.
So how do you actually host a live Q&A? A popular choice is via Twitter chat. Here’s an example from Penn State hosting one for applicants to ask admissions counselors questions:
Start with frequently asked questions around admissions, like all the deadlines, procedures, and course or accommodation information, and then encourage applicants to ask any questions they might have.
Here are some examples of questions you could answer during a Twitter chat:
And instead of just answering basic admissions questions, you can also ask questions to learn more about your potential applicants. What main factors do they consider when choosing a school? How did they find out about your program? What are some qualms they might have about your school?
Show the faces behind your school by hosting video Q&A sessions to get even more personal. This can be done via Facebook Live, Blab, or Google Hangout.
4. Use videos
Videos are another awesome way for engaging prospective students, or explaining information and procedures.
We’ll take another example from USC. (I swear, I’m not an alumna. They’ve just got this social media thing figured out!) On top of having dedicated social accounts for different school teams and events, they use a lot of videos to attract prospective students.
One of the most successful campaigns was USC Dorms, a YouTube series about dorms and student life in USC.
Each video in the series profiled one specific dorm room at USC, giving prospective students a glimpse of campus living. They were able to vote on their favorite dorm, spurring additional social sharing and engagement.
Videos are great for complicated and boring topics, too, like admissions procedures and financial aid.
The University of California created a whole playlist of videos to explain their loan, grant, and scholarship programs to help students:
5. Use social listening
A lot of questions and discussions around your school happen online. So being proactive – finding and joining those conversations – is key to attracting prospective students.
Here’s an example from Sweden Admissions answering a question from an applicant:
So answering these tweets are almost a given. But to really impress prospective students, join conversations that don’t mention your Twitter handle.
If you’re University of Texas (UT), for example, you’d want to jump on this opportunity to connect with Justin:
Social listening helps make sure you don’t miss any opportunities to engage with and help applicants.
For example, applications, essays, and accommodation choices can be pretty confusing. Students tweeting their frustrations will be pleasantly surprised to find someone helping them through the process.
You can also use social listening to measure conversation trends, and see how students feel about your school in general.
To find conversations that may not mention your school’s handle directly, use a monitoring tool (like Mention) to keep track of what students are saying.
Go where the students are
Students are changing the way they research and choose schools. You can’t ignore social media as a recruitment platform. To keep up with them, you must leverage different platforms and media forms to improve your image, answer questions, or just simply stay on their radar.