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Posted by Emma Mulder on 12 September 2016

We explore the different benefits of using social to recruit new students

Recent stats released show that 16 – 24 year olds now spend an average of 2 hours and 26 minutes on social media each day (Ofcom 2016). That's a huge part of their waking day and a pretty compelling reason as to why social media marketing needs to be a crucial tool within your universities’ student recruitment strategy.

The use of social media is now such an integral part of most young people’s lives, and we're not just talking for socialising, but also as a means to search for information. 

In this blog post we'll take a closer look at the benefits of using social media to improve your recruitment strategy, and share some examples of universities putting this into action.

Build relationships with prospective students through social media

If you want to appeal to prospective students you have to be active in places where they spend the majority of their time - it’s as simple as that.

Social media marketing offers universities a unique way to engage with potential students as they travel through their university selection journey.  Not only can you offer them a direct view into university life – you can use your social media channels to easily provide quick answers to any questions or concerns they might have, encourage them to connect with other students, and gain valuable insight into their interests and needs. 

Through effective use of social media channels, a university can build and nurture close relationships with prospective students, welcome them into the community and make them feel excited about a future at their university. And by building a rich understanding of the behaviour and motivations of prospective students, universities can gain valuable insight into exactly what type of content to deliver, and at what stage of their selection journey to do so.  

Example: Using social media to bring your campus to life online

A successful example of a social media campaign used to engage with, and inform prospects, was carried out by the University of Southern California (USC).

Their admissions office recognised that the topic of campus housing was a recurring theme in questions they were receiving from students who were considering applying.  So, in response to this content need USC created a YouTube series inspired by MTV’s Cribs, showcasing a variety of student dorms in order to provide a glimpse of what campus life will really be like. Prospective students were also asked to vote on their favourite dorm, triggering engagement and social sharing from an early stage in their university selection process.

Create an online community

Social media can also be used to create a sense of community amongst current students, offering universities a way to easily engage with their student body and help those students be involved as much as they choose in university life.

Sharing this type of content freely on your social channels offers a key benefit for recruiting new students.  By demonstrating the varied university life on offer, you can make your brand look stronger and more appealing to those prospective students who are looking for a university that delivers more than just an academic education.

Establishing a social media connection with a new student at the beginning of their university experience will help ensure they get the most out of their time at university, allowing a dialogue to be developed that keeps them informed about all aspects of student life.

Additionally, building a strong sense of community spirit can also offer the benefit of motivating current students to get involved in promoting your university as a brand. And who’s a better advocate to promote everything that's great about your university than your own students?!

Example: Using social to showcase your student community

An interesting example of this in action is shown by George Mason University who were keen to explore ways in which they could tell the many different stories of their university community (the university prides itself on its diversity with students from more than 100 countries) - so they wanted to find a way that all of these different voices could be heard.

Their solution was to give control of their @GeorgeMason twitter account to a different person every week, which could be a student, member of faculty/staff or alumni.  The member of the university community who is in charge of the social account for the week is encouraged to express their personality and interests through the twitter account, and share their view of university life.

The main aim of this was to allow as many different voices of the university as possible to be heard, and the experiment was called The Mason Nation Project. This was inspired by similar projects that ran in Sweden and Leeds - giving the people who lived in the country / city the opportunity to share their voice on their social platforms.

George Mason University adopted this approach to broaden and diversify their social media voice, engage with their audience in a unique way, and to increase their number of twitter followers in six months, all of which they successfully achieved. 

Example: Using user generated content to better engage with your audience 

Another example of a university taking advantage of their social media channels to extend the reach of their community spirit online is the University of Michigan who used their School Pride Pets campaign to encourage students to share pictures of their pets dressed up in school colours through their Michigan Pets Pinterest board.  With over 8000 followers of this Pinterest board, the value of user generated content can clearly be seen, and is a great way to engage with your target audience, and significantly amplify your messsage.

Social media as a tool for real time support

With over 150 higher education providers to choose from in the UK, selecting which university to go to is a major decision. Consequently, your prospective students will want to be well informed and have easy access to all relevant resources.

Social media provide universities with the opportunity to interact with prospective students in a quick and easy way, and offers them the opportunity to reply to questions in a timely and efficient manner.

According to research by J.D. Power, consumers between the age of 18 - 29 years old are most likely to use a brand's social media page for real time support. Therefore, if run well the social media channels of your university can be the most efficient point of contact for prospective students wanting a quick response to any queries they have.

Example: Providing a customer support service through social

This engagement can be at different levels throughout the university, for instance at a department level as can be seen by the example of the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University of Nottingham.

The @CLASUoN twitter account use their twitter presence to offer live question and answer sessions for undergraduate offer-holders of their courses. Using the #AskUoNCFM they invite questions on a full range of topics covering courses, the University, life as a student in Nottingham etc. they also ensure that this information is available to non twitter users by sending a transcript of the questions and answers following the session via Storify. 

A further example can be seen by the fact the University of Hull now ensures their @UniOfHull twitter account is manned for the hours of 8am - 10pm (many universities still just offer a 9am - 5pm twitter response service), demonstrating their understanding of the value of providing real time support as much as possible, and that their student audience don't necessarily follow a working hours schedule of when they source information.  More and more businesses now offer support hours that fit in with their customer's lives to ensure they're available whenever their customers or prospects need support, therefore it makes sense for universities to do the same.

Interested to find out more?

Hopefully this blog will have provided a helpful introduction to some of the many ways which universities can use their social channels to effectively engage with prospective and current students.

Want more tips and examples on how to take a strategic approach to your student recruitment? Download our FREE University Recruitment eBook

In future blog posts we’ll be sharing more insight into how a university can improve its digital marketing performance, and engage more effectively with its target audience. If you're interested in learning more then please take the opportunity to subscribe and you’ll get all future posts delivered straight to your inbox!

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