How Do We Better Engage Prospective Students?

UNH Social Media

Higher education enrollment and retention is down. How can we better engage current and prospective students through social media? According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollments decreased by 1.3%, or more than 164 thousand students from last spring. This is what keeps many of us up at night, including administration.  How can we better engage with prospective students and compete for their attention, especially in these trying times of COVID-19?

First, you must define the audience. Who are you trying to reach? Of course you want reach high school students and transfer students, but you should also try to reach parents and family members, too.

Next, establish social media goals. What do your goals look like? Are they narrowed down to reach the right audience? Having a goal, or a set of well-thought out objectives can help increase brand awareness across social media. Having goals can also help increase inquiries, campus visits (both remote and in-person) and increase applicants. With these set goals you need to also work to acknowledge yield and prevent melt, especially in the summer months… especially in a pandemic. Lastly, you definitely want to increase visits (CTR) to the admissions website.

Always be listening. It’s important. Your institution is being talked about all over social media, but are you paying attention to what’s being said? Are you involved in the conversations when appropriate? Look at the comments and mentions of your school on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, even TikTok, and respond. Provide the information your audience is looking for and of course, be human. Demonstrate that someone is actually on the other side, and not automation, or a bot. Pay attention to certain hashtags associated with your school and keep track of influencers. Do you have social media star students or accepted student influencers that just love to talk about your institution? Reach out and work with them. It can only help.

Do you use social media management tools? They come in all shapes and sizes for every budget. At the University of New Hampshire, we’ve used Hootsuite for a number of years, but very recently switched to Sprout Social for a better user interface and deeper reporting tools. If you’ve never used any of these tools, it’s worth investigating. These tools save my team a lot of time, but they also provide great insights and reports on how our social media is performing and they allow us to stay closer to our audience, having the ability to respond faster through setting up alerts and searching keywords. Scheduling social media posts saves time and allows more time for other things and the handy and colorful, easy to digest PDF reports are great to share with administration.

If you’re looking for tools to help create content, besides the Adobe Suite, look at Canva and Infogram. They both have free versions, but the paid plans are not expensive, and they can help you with graphics and resizing photos for all your social media campaigns. I love Canva! It has all the social media presets available and the ability to save and download with ease.

What’s Next?

Now that you have the audience defined and goals established. It’s time to create a strategy. Having a social media strategy will help you stay focused on the objectives and allow for more participation and engagement for the targeted audience that you’re trying to reach.

Use hashtags. It doesn’t have to be many, but adopting a hashtag is great for content discovery, but also works for branding and marketing purposes. Incorporating a hashtag into printed materials, social media, and websites can help it become more familiar with your audience. A hashtag can also help identify campaigns.

When posting to social media, obviously you want to make sure you’re reaching the largest audience possible. Making sure the photos and text are the proper length is key to expanding your reach. When you see the read more tag on Facebook or Instagram, do you actually click to read more …or do you just keep scrolling?

The handle @BeAUNHWildcat is used for UNH Undergraduate Admissions on social media. It’s the consistent username across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Not only does it help our audience remember the username, but by making it a call to action, it also tells the audience who we are, what we expect, and it has some pride built into the name.

The benefits of video are HUGE, especially with the current generation in and entering college, mostly Gen Z.  At UNH, we create more video now than we have ever before and it’s important because video shows more personality and builds trust because our audience can see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Video also increases brand awareness and we’ve seen a larger click through rate on our videos than we have on other recent content. What really helps is having an amazing video team that always produces quality content and understands the objectives at hand. Just like with text and photos, there’s also an optimal length for video.

Video content is important to Gen Z and the next generation. Do you use the optimal lengths for your video assets?

Lastly, it’s important to share authentic content. At UNH we work with current students to produce and create authentic campaigns. Students help make are institution successful. We must tell their stories. It’s important to showcase students because prospective students are watching and learning what it’s like to attend your institution through their eyes.

Authentic content doesn’t have to be low quality, students can work with staff to share their ideas and then work as a team to produce remarkable stories that are not only authentic, but honest and genuine showing your institution in a positive light.


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