Admissions offices across the country are looking for new ways to reach prospective students, and social media provides a natural outlet. In North America, 77% of internet users are active on social media, up 6% from January 2015. More importantly, applicants are using social media in their college search. In a recent survey, 57% of students “reported using social media expressly for the college search,” and almost all of those students agreed that social media influenced their choices.
Whether it’s a tweet about important deadlines or a Facebook post highlighting an exciting event held on campus, admissions professionals know how important social media is for promoting their school’s brand. Unfortunately, these types of campaigns too often create one-way conversations. As decision-making time approaches, prospective students are often not seeing their interest in a school reciprocated. Unengaged, they’re likely to change their mind in the final hour. In other words — low yield rates.
If the sole function of your social media presence is funneling prospective students to your school’s admissions website rather than creating a conversation, you may be doing it wrong. Here are three common social media mistakes that admissions teams make, along with ways you can better use social media to attract prospective students.
1. Your Facebook Page Is a Dead End
Facebook pages for the admissions offices can feel more like a digital bulletin board than a dynamic conversation space. Most schools’ pages have news articles highlighting what’s happening at the school, important dates about the application process, and links to important materials on the school’s website.
Schools have tried to combat the feeling of a static information board by creating specific groups for the incoming class. This may be a great way to disseminate relevant information, but it’s not always a great way to create conversations within the group. “Engagement” in these groups looks like students posting paragraph-long bios posted to the entire group that sometimes garner likes and the occasional comment. This may work for your more outgoing students; but for many, posting to a group of 2,000 strangers that your favorite food is your mom’s lasagna and that you like to play soccer can feel a little odd.
Instead, Try This:
Focus on pushing your prospective students into using the chat component of Facebook. Figuring out creative ways to break the ice so that students feel comfortable sending private messages to each other should be the goal, as this is a great way to help students build relationships before getting to campus. What helps a student feel engaged with your community pre-enrollment is authentic engagement with other students, one-on-one — not in a one-to-many broadcast format.
2. Your Twitter Conversations Are One-Sided
While Facebook has the larger user base, Twitter’s lack of a news feed algorithm makes for a more real-time experience. Through Twitter, students can tweet directly at the team and get an instant response from the school account itself or for the scores of alumni and students who may see the tweet based on keywords.
This form of communication may seem two-way, but the responses tend to be links to the school’s website, application tips, and decision dates for those who just can’t wait. Oftentimes, these messages feel strictly transactional (Twitter’s 140-character limit does a good job of stifling real connections).
Another pitfall of admissions-specific accounts is recycling content from other university Twitter accounts. Prospective students are most likely not as interested in learning about the details of an upcoming on-campus event as current students.
Instead, Try This:
Among several other innovative engagement strategies, Penn State World Campus is known to host a weekly Twitter chat for undergraduate applicants to chat live with admissions counselors. Having a common hashtag not only allows all students to see the questions and answers — it also helps prospective students find and follow each other pre-enrollment.
3. You’re Not Using Snapchat Enough (or at All)
Since its inception in 2011, Snapchat usage has exploded, especially with teens, and it’s up to your team to figure out how to use it to your advantage. Between June and November last year, Snapchat’s video traffic more than tripled and is now estimated at more than 7 billion video views per day. And according to the most recent Piper Jaffray survey, more teens consider Snapchat their most important social network than those who favor Facebook.
Snapchat is here to stay — ignoring it won’t make it go away.
Instead, Try This:
Many schools are already using Snapchat in creative ways to create a sense of community among their prospective/admitted students. For instance, Texas Tech sent admitted students red cut-out moustaches like that of their mascot, Raider Red with instructions to follow and send snaps to their admissions team on Snapchat. The University of New Hampshire hosts “Takeover Tuesdays” that allow current UNH students to show off the university over the course of the day. Using Snapchat is a great way to show prospective students that you’re willing to meet them where they are.
Bottom Line: Engagement is a Two-Way Street
While all of these social networks are great ways to increase the visibility of a school, they too often act as portals or extensions of a school’s website. Often times admissions teams recycle information through every available medium instead of offering a unique opportunity to engage with members of the school’s community.
Prospective students (and their parents) want more — they want a real relationship with someone at the school (students, alumni, professors, counselors, or admissions officers) who can guide them through the process, share experiences, and help them create a connection with the school. Unlocking the power of social media to attract prospective students means helping them find those authentic touch points with your school.
What would be the most useful to these prospective students is not even more paths to a school’s FAQs page, but rather, the opportunity to have actual conversations. By providing your prospective students a way to speak with professors, admissions counselors, current students, and each other, you give them way more information about your school than they can ever get from a web page.
Mike Sutter is a business development representative here at Brazen, specializing in admissions and alumni relations. An American University alumnus from Buffalo, Mike loves to cook and watch the Buffalo Bills (sometimes at the same time). He can be reached via email at michael [at] brazen [dot] com.