How Social Media Is Reshaping Higher Education

Lauren Durfy

Generation Z aka “digital natives” are hitting college, and bringing a whole new set of expectations that will change everything for marketing departments. This generation grew up using social media as their primary form of peer-to-peer communication. Old fashioned advertising doesn’t break through to these digital natives who expect authentic, two-way conversations when interacting with social media. According to research on Gen Z, 84% trust recommendations from people they know compared to just 15% who believe company messages.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at just who this up-and-coming Generation Z is and what makes social media a uniquely effective channel for connecting with them. Then examine how higher education organizations can use social media to reach these savvy digital natives where traditional advertising fails.

Who is Gen Z?

Generation Z is defined as the group born from around the mid-nineties to late 2000s. You could say this generation was born with an iPad in their crib, and you’d be right. You’d also be correct to view them as having similarities to Millennials – yet different. Millennials may have grown up with computer screens. Gen Z grew up with 3 or 4 screens – all on at the same time. Not only are the typical advertising channels less likely to get through to them, you’ll probably need to be active across multiple channels in order to reach them. If your school is still marketing in traditional ways or using social media as a broadcast channel to blast your message, then it’s time to get up to speed with Gen Z.

What to Know About Marketing Effectively to Gen Z

The Forbes article “10 Tips for Marketing to Gen Z Consumers” identifies some key differentiators between Gen Zers and other generations. Gen Zers are the first generation who grew up with easy mobile and Internet access. They’re not just digital natives, they’re the most technologically adept generation in history. They want candid real-life experiences, and they spend much of their time on social media. But you won’t reach them by going about marketing and social media with a business-as-usual attitude.

They’re Ninjas at Skipping Ads

Don’t expect them to suffer through ads gladly, you’ll need to find other ways to reach them, preferably something that provides value. They’re turned off to ads; according to Vision Critical, 69 percent of Generation Z think ads are disruptive. However, they’re not turned off to genuine experiences. They crave authenticity. Showing them what you’re all about will go further than telling them.

They’re Social Media Animals

Social Media is where they feel most comfortable with so it is vital for universities to market their campus culture and educational offers on social media. When looking at the channels you’re currently using to reach Gen Zers, social media will be an important part of any campaign. And not the old-fashioned kind of social media where you just bounce some stuff off your blog to Facebook that automatically generates a tweet and posts to Instagram. These whippersnappers are going to demand you bring something real.

Here are a few insights from a recent survey of college and high school students about the way they use social media:

  • Snapchat holds a special place with Gen Z, 89% report using the network to keep in touch with friends
  • An overwhelming 88% of students reported using Instagram and Snapchat
  • Facebook use slightly trails Snapchat and Instagram, with 81% of students using
  • 90% of students who use Snapchat said they enjoy the Geo-Filters

A recent Ad Age article points to using both social media and casting a wide net across digital experiences. “To reach Gen Zers, it is paramount to reach them through two-way conversations, which are initiated online. An authentic digital and social presence as well as a slew of complimentary digital experiences in which Gen Z fans can engage with and share their brand allegiance is perhaps the best currency.”

How Can Higher Education Appeal to Generation Z?

Universities want to ensure a steady flow of admissions. The best way to do that is to be where students already spend their time, and that means social media.

New concepts like employee advocacy are part of building out a more authentic social media strategy for schools, colleges and universities. A social media advocacy program can help higher learning institutions get the word out by having those who are already attending the school (or considering attending) promote their campus.

Given the personality of Generation Zers, an advocacy program perfectly fits with their need for authentic experiences. In a study by SCG, students reported that their favorite kinds of content were “real stories or day-in-the-life,” videos, “how-to videos” and “behind-the-scenes videos.” These candid experiences all resonate with Gen Z.

Capturing these real-life experiences from your university or college with a social media advocacy program is exactly the way to generate the content Gen Zers love. But it won’t happen by accident (or by running old-fashioned social media campaigns). The key to appealing to this demographic is to create fresh, two-way conversational-style social media marketing that they want to connect with. Class dismissed.

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