How to Attract + Convert Gen Z with Social Proof

May 18, 2016 - Joe Matar
“If Bobby was going to jump off a bridge, would you jump too?” I’m sure we’ve all heard our parents say some variation of this analogy — heck, some of you have even said it to your own kids at some point. Kids have always been more likely to value their friends’ opinions over those of their parents. And in today’s social media, app-driven world, teenagers and young adults are constantly surrounded by the opinions of their peers. It’s probably not surprising that they are listening to their peers at a higher rate than millennials did. What does this mean for enticing the upcoming freshman class, though?

Wait! These Kids Aren’t Millennials, Too?

Nope! Make way for the new kids on the block: the centennials, or Generation Z. Born near or at the turn of the century, Gen Z has been shaped by the turmoil of terrorism, economic recession, and technological advancement. They’re “practical pragmatists;” they’ve never known a world without the internet or smartphones; and they value peer opinions above all other influencers. [jumbotron background='#f6f6f6' color='#000']

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[button text="Download Now" url="" type="info"][/button] [/jumbotron] We are all prone to the influence of our peers (see the success of Yelp, Glasdoor, and other review-based sites), but Gen Z takes this tendency to a whole new level. Growing up within a polarized nation and being raised by cynical Generation X has shaped Gen Z into more self- and peer-reliant people. They rely on personal recommendations, not broad reviews or ratings. According to Lisa Trosien, founder of, Generation Z “are not particularly interested in the opinions of the masses.” They have been bombarded by advertisements since birth, giving them a remarkable filter for pertinence. It’s been said that Gen Z’s average attention span is about 8 seconds, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it simply means that within 8 seconds, they are able to judge whether the content they are viewing is worth their time.

How to Use Social Proof to Increase Gen Z Applications and Improve Yield Rate

1. Ask For Student Reviews

Schools like the University of Texas and Devry University showcase their students’ perspectives of the college life and the campus environment via student reviews and testimonials featured on the university’s website. These blurbs give prospective students insight into opinions of their peers. Be careful not to overproduce these reviews, however; Gen Z highly values transparency and honesty, especially when it comes to major buying decisions they make. Whether you like it or not, your university is a brand that they are deciding whether or not to commit to. Aim for a diverse collection of reviews, giving multiple perspectives (different genders, races, sexualities, majors, etc.) in order to give prospective student a better look at your school from the inside. Choose a group of students whom you believe represent your school‘s attitudes and dynamics, then let them illustrate to applicants why your school is a good fit in their own words.

2. Feature Student Blogs

Want to really lean into authenticity? Try featuring student-run blogs. While a review is goal-oriented by nature (the goal being to issue a rating or assessment), a blog is more open and personal: exactly what Gen Z loves. It’s up to you how much freedom you give student bloggers. After all, they are representing your school in their writing and blog aesthetics. Here are two different approaches that prominent schools MIT and Cornell employed:
  • MIT had more focused bloggers, where their posts reflected the school, its programs and culture, and their overall opinions of that. These writers stuck to MIT’s blogging interface and policy.
  • Cornell, on the other hand, gave its writers more freedom with their individual blog layouts, design, and post content. Many of these writers depicted not only their lives on campus but off campus as well, featuring fashion tips, recipes, and more.
The MIT strategy guarantees a more informed depiction of the school and its direct culture, but Gen Z might think it lacks personality. Cornell’s approach definitely has that personality factor, but might lack the narrower focus on the school that applicants could be looking for.

3. Let Students Run the Instagram

Despite 25% of 13- to 17-year-olds deleting their Facebook accounts in the name of privacy, Facebook remains the number one most-used social media platform amongst Gen Z teens and young adults. However, Instagram and Snapchat are skidding in as close seconds. The student-run-social-media trend is not new, and with the right students and goal in mind, it can really give prospective students a taste of your school’s personality. Duke, DePaul, Syracuse, and more have launched student-run Instagram accounts to depict life at their universities for all groups of students: prospective, current, and alumni. Worried about giving students that much power over a university-affiliated account? Instagram “takeovers” are a popular solution. All the personality, none (or significantly less) of the risk. What does a “takeover” look like? Generally, students are only given control of the account for a certain day of the week or week of the month, or a different student is given control each week. In a CASE interview with Meg Bernier (St. Lawrence University) and Mike O’Neill (Ithaca College), Bernier cited the success of the account, saying, “our students have the chance to tell their stories in their own way…” O’Neill said, “We felt it was better to keep everything on one account and showcase our entire campus community, which is made up of students, alumni, faculty and staff.”

4. Implement Student Takeover Days on Snapchat

Some claim that Snapchat is the “most important” app for Generation Z. This could largely be due to Gen Z’s fascination with the ephemeral and rare, bringing them to appreciate pictures that self-destruct in five seconds. Many brands know that, when utilizing Snapchat for marketing purposes, you need to stress the casualness and transparency in the Snap. Universities are no exception. The more human and less rehearsed you seem to prospective students, the more likely they are to trust you and choose you (hello, higher yield rates!). When Snapchat first flew across admissions teams’ radars, it was a bit of a NSFW chaos. With the right provisos and management, though, this popular application has become extremely useful to improve yield rate among Gen Z admitted students. Take it from schools like West Virginia University who host student “Snapchat takeovers” every Tuesday. “Allowing students to take over for the university is perfect,” one WVU student said. “The students make up what the university is and represents and there is no better way to truly and honestly show that than letting students ‘take over’ the various accounts.” [clickToTweet tweet="The students make up what the university is and represents, so allowing students to take over social is perfect." quote="The students make up what the university is and represents, so allowing students to take over on social media is perfect."]

5. Host Online Events to Connect Admits with Current Students

While in-person events will always play a role in the admissions process, these are often an impractical solution for prospective students due to distance and cost. This is where online events really shine. Brazen customer, Gettysburg College recently hosted their first online chat event aiming to link up admitted students with current students. It was a massive success, expanding their yield rate by 42% in students who had attended the event still undeclared as students.

6. Connect Prospective Students with Alumni

In addition to valuing social proof, members of Generation Z have been described as practical pragmatists, meaning that they care as much or more about the outcome of college as they do of the experience. Who better to discuss the value of their degree than your own alumni? Show prospective students how alumni have utilized their college experience in the post-graduation world. Penn State World, another Brazen client, has utilized the Brazen chat platform to meet students where they are (which is on the internet, most of the time) and connect them with alumni. It was a massive success with over 200 attendees, all prospective students eager to talk one-on-one with teachers and alumni alike.

7. Unite Admits with Each Other

Your prospective students are all going through the same process, so help them go through it together. Many schools have set up online communities to facilitate discussion amongst admitted students. University of California Davis has implemented a separate portal just for admitted students called “MyAdmissions” where admits can network with one another. The portal also includes information about financial aid, student and faculty profiles, and maps of the campus. “Admitted students can now do everything online before they reach campus,” MyAdmissions Project Manager, Tom Hinds said, “All the pre-enrollment transactions are gathered together. This site allows new students to stay organized online.”

Your Prospective Students Love People, Not Brands

Gen Z students can “smell advertising a mile away” and just want honest, transparent people to talk to them and treat them for who they are: humans. Not machines, not numbers, not quotas, but living, breathing people. According to Brian Solis, author of Engage!, no one likes to “converse with a brand”; they want to talk with “ambassadors of the brand.” Like it or not, your school is a brand. Is your brand human enough that prospective students feel like they know you? To attract and engage this new generation of prospective students, you must learn to utilize your best assets — your students and alumni. Featuring current students and alumni through blogs, social media, and one-on-one chat connects prospective students with your campus on a more personal level, which makes all the difference come decision day. admissions ebook blog cta