Want to recruit the best and brightest for a university or college? Don’t overlook social media and its power in recruitment. Here’s a look at how to form a university social media strategy.
The idea that most major universities need to actively recruit students may be shocking, especially when plenty of potential students often are turned away for undergraduate and graduate degrees alike. However, recruitment is a vital part of a university administration’s role. It allows a university to attract top-tier students who can help it not only fill desks but fill desks with bright minds.
After all, every school wants bragging rights for the most notable alumni and the ability to snag the best and brightest out there.
When I was getting ready to apply for schools, I was swamped with flyers from the in-state colleges eager for applications. Now, though, it’s a little different … The Internet and social media have opened up so many new possibilities, allowing universities to connect with potential applicants in more meaningful and substantial ways.
In this post, we’re going to take a close look at different key strategies that universities can use to leverage social media for recruitment purposes, making it easier for social media managers to help them connect with your ideal audience of potential students.
1. Showcase What Life Is Like at School
Though myriad students obviously consider factors like a school’s prestige, their program strengths and weaknesses, cost, and location, one undeniable factor that sometimes gets overlooked is a school’s culture.
This is particularly true for undergraduate students, who are all about the college experience. They’re moving away from home for the first time, they’re living in the dorms, and they’re ready to start life. It only makes sense that they’d want to know what life is actually going to be like there.
Share photos and videos with potential students about university life
Doing so will take away doubt and can make them a lot more excited about an experience with you. I remember looking at Florida State’s Facebook and getting so excited, seeing students playing Frisbee on Landis Green (one of those disks definitely hit me in the head sophomore year, but I digress), seeing the on-campus circus, and videos of the football games.
Grand Valley State University has a video up showcasing the housing options for first-year students, letting them know exactly what to expect. This soothes doubt, offering students certain options and something that they can picture.
Arizona State also has culture-focused videos. One of their students hosts a video where they interview other students about free things to do around campus. It’s full of personality, and students can get excited about free yoga, the free gym, and tons of free swag.
Related reading: Use Video to Transform Your College Recruitment
2. Put the Spotlight on Influential Alumni
Showing that your graduates are walking the walk, so to speak, is a great way to attract potential students who have big career goals. It’s natural to see someone doing something incredible and think, “Well, they started at this college, so I can get where they are, too.”
If you look at most universities’ social media, you’ll likely see a long list of posts mentioning the great things their alumni are doing. This validates that their programs and education are sufficient to give students a great start in life.
George Mason University, for example, featured scientist Lance Liotta, an alumni number working on developing testing for COVID early on in the outbreak.
Sharing timely updates about your alumni is a great strategy. The University of Iowa also utilized the same strategy, posting during Black History Month about notable alumni working in relevant fields. Here, the university’s Instagram post featured a black alumni member researching the retention of black men in higher education and who is the president of a scholar program.
Invite alumni to help use social media for universities
Think about creative ways to enlist your alumni to help you for recruitment purposes, such as:
- Do a live Q&A with past alumni, allowing students and potential students to ask questions.
- Encourage your alumni to reach out on their own or promote UGC that they’re sharing. You can ask alumni to tag you or to use hashtags like #FSUalum to identify their content on social.
- Talk to recent graduates or about-to-be graduates about where the next stage in life is taking them. It can be useful for students to see recent alumni doing well; this sometimes feels more accessible than someone 20 years older.
3. Use Relevant Hashtags to Boost Reach
Hashtags can help you extend your reach on social media, making it easier for you to connect with your target audience. They’re particularly important for Instagram and Twitter, where they become clickable and can take users to streams of relevant social media content.
Make sure the hashtag resonates with potential students
Using the right hashtags can absolutely help you connect with potential recruits. This is an enormous opportunity that a lot of universities waste completely, Many colleges focus only on their own school hashtags and never really branch out beyond that. (There are lots of #WashingtonU or #FSUGrads.)
Though those hashtags are helpful to attract attention to one’s school, they don’t do much to put one on the radar of potential students who aren’t already invested in you.
Think about hashtags that potential students might be using. “#Highschoolgrad,” “#senioryear,” and “#collegebound” are all great choices that could connect you with the right people. If someone is a college freshman, after all, you may already be too late.
Think about a caption like “anyone ready to start their #senioryear? We encourage #highschoolgrad students to come tour our college if you’re college-bound! Come see what we’re all about!”
Northwestern University’s Admissions Department actually has its own Instagram account, and it does an outstanding job with hashtags meant to increase outreach: #collegecampus, #collegeadmissions, and #collegeapplication.
If you’re not sure what hashtags to use, take a look at what other schools are doing, but also check out what hashtags students in your target demographic are using. Plenty of potential students have public profiles, so you can get a good idea of what they’re talking about and how they’re saying it.
4. Set Up Ad Campaigns Targeting Ideal Students
Want more reach to boost recruitment on social media? Ad campaigns are almost always a great choice to test out!
Most social media sites have self-serve ad platforms that Pages can use to quickly create ad campaigns capable of reaching a hyper-targeted audience. If you want to target people who are 16 to 18 and who live within your state, you can! And if you want to promote a graduate degree program, you can also target users who already have their bachelor’s degree and who are working in certain industries (especially on LinkedIn, which has outstanding targeting capabilities).
Sometimes all people need to start applying is a push in the right direction. Let them know that applications are open for your program, mention a few key perks that are unique to your school, and consider adding qualifying information.
In the above ad from Washington University School of Law, the school offers an online degree from “a top 20 US law school.” The ad does mention that a bachelor’s degree is required, but that the GRE or LSAT is not. That makes the program seem much more accessible.
5. Make Applying to College Less Intimidating
Whether you’re a high school senior applying for an undergraduate program or a receipt of a bachelor’s degree considering grad school, the application process can be overwhelming and intimidating. This can actually dissuade potential students from applying altogether.
To help with recruitment, universities should be using social media to share information about the application process to make it seem more accessible and less intimidating.
Grand Valley State has an exceptional video that does exactly this. The video is titled “Apply to GSVU” and it covers all the key information students need to know, including what the process entails, how to access the application online, and when students will hear back.
Share quick tips for applying
Include tips for the application process, like “Here’s an example of an essay we loved!” or “Remember if you get the application in earlier, we may get back to you sooner.”
You should also encourage students to reach out via Messenger, direct message, or contact you on your site with any questions. Remember to use a social media management tool that will help you see and respond to all of these messages promptly; you can see an example of this here.
Many high school seniors, in particular, may be timid and embarrassed about feeling overwhelmed or confused, and might just abandon the application instead of reach out if they don’t know it’s an option.
6. Use LinkedIn to Reach Potential Students for Advanced Degrees
LinkedIn is an outstanding place to reach potential students for advanced degrees that you’re promoting. You can easily identify people working in a field that would benefit from your program in their careers.
I graduated with a degree in writing, for example, and I now have a content marketing business. I did get into several MFA programs several years ago for nonfiction writing but decided not to go because my career was taking me in another direction. An MBA for business or in marketing would likely be more relevant to me than a master’s in fine arts for creative writing.
LinkedIn’s ad system has outstanding targeting criteria, allowing you to even reach people who work for specific companies or who hold certain job titles. Use this to your advantage.
Recruitment is a major task that a university’s administration undertakes every year (and sometimes throughout the entire year). Getting creative is important for social media managers, so that you can reach potential students where they’re looking for information.
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