Every year, colleges and universities compete for their piece of the college decision pie on social media. Trends like #CollegeSigningDay and #CollegeDecisionDay have institutions around the world curating custom hashtags and trying out gimmicks to motivate those elusive teens to “Pick me! Pick me!”
But now, as we learn more about Generation Z — the first true generation of digital natives — it’s clear that these high school students are carefully curating their online presence. Are they curating so carefully that institutions lose the free marketing that comes with #UniversityXSaidYes? Should we be investing time and resources into glitzy acceptance packets when an email — or Snapchat — will work?
Are these social media campaigns for admitted students still worth it?
Social Media Use
Before diving into social media efficacy, we should take a look at social media use. Pew Research Center (yay, free data!) has documented social media use since 2005. Twelve years ago, only 5 percent of American adults were on a social media platform. Now, 69 percent of the population uses some type of social media. The majority of users are women between the ages of 18 and 29, coincidentally, the same demographic of accepted college students.
There’s no denying that social media is a way of life for teens. There’s a different language (don’t ghost someone, srsly) and a different social currency that comes from getting Instagram love or building a Snap streak.
But when it comes to choosing a college, students stick to the tried and true platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Just like social media managers spend time shaping a tone and voice for institutional social media channels, students do the same with what they choose to post online.
Social Media Selectivity
What gets students to post on these oh-so-important channels? Good content. The best content. The. Very. Best. To share is human — students are motivated to share by the same reasons we all are: self-fulfillment, to define themselves, and to grow and nourish relationships.
Before you ask students to share, make sure your content is worthy.
Students today are much more selective about their social media real estate than ever before. Facebook is formal — the professional, appropriate content they want family and schools to see — and it’s one of the only public-facing platforms students use. Conversation happens across DMs and in Snap streaks, they try not to clog their friends’ Instagram feeds with photos that won’t get more than 11 likes (that magic number before students delete a post).
Selective posting is one of the reasons Arizona State University switched up their decision day strategy. Last year, they turned #FutureSunDevil Day into #FutureSunDevil Week. The team took time creating engagement opportunities asking accepted students to post photos with future friends or to thank a mentor, among other activities.
This year, because teens are so in-tune with their personal brand on social media, ASU is switching it up again, focusing on Snapchat. They aren’t asking students to post their story or even tell their friends, but they are asking students to send their “Snapsterpeice” to the ASU account directly. This avoids the risk of teens annoying their friends with college acceptance news. ASU plans to share those snaps on their flagship account, giving those who participate a little extra clout.
ASU still plans to encourage hashtag use and interaction across social channels, but it isn’t the sole focus of success for an engaged decision day strategy.
And that, my friends, is the answer to the question. Maybe social media campaigns for accepted students are trending down, but maybe — more importantly — we should change the metric by which we’re measuring success.
Watch Casey Thomas, assistant director of digital engagement at Arizona State University, and Eric Clark, director of admission at Quincy College, discuss social media campaigns for accepted students: what works, what doesn’t work, and what we should use to measure success on Higher Ed Live Special Edition.