Three Key Considerations When Trying to Engage Millennials With Social Media


Throughout my eighteen year career in the higher education student recruitment industry, it’s clear to me that the evolution of social media in the 21st century has been one of the most challenging aspects of the student search process for many admissions officers.  Three key strategic considerations I share with my clients revolve around:  Knowing your audience; Talking with students, not at them; and Engaging with social media.

Know Your Audience

It’s easy for my college clients to forget who their audience is ─ high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  Their tendency is to write using highly academic language that appeals to them or their superiors rather than their teenage audience.  For instance, how often have you heard teenagers use the word “accolades” in their daily conversations?  My guess is never.  So why not use the word “praise” instead.  Speaking in their language is critical when trying to get a message across and when trying to capture their interest.

It’s also no secret that most teens have a short attention span and are slaves to digital devices.  In fact, when driving home after my 16-year-old son’s football games, I can glance in the rearview mirror to find him fully engaged playing video games, listening to Pandora, watching YouTube, or texting.  I do my best to encourage my clients to keep these traits in mind when detailing a multi-channel communication plan using social media.

Talk WITH Them, Not AT Them

Through the incredible global adoption of powerful social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, the millennial generation has become proactive contributors to the web.  This consistent progression of technology has led this audience to not only want, but to expect personalized communications.

A couple of years ago, I attended a conference called the College Board Forum, and listened to a high school student panel where they spoke about their college search process – remember those days before choosing UMass Amherst?  One marketer in the audience asked the students this question, “What do you dislike the most about the marketing materials you receive from colleges?”  One common response was, “I get too much information that doesn’t interest me.”  In other words, speak to me and tell me something unique about you that I might relate to!  So why do so many colleges continue to waste their marketing budgets on irrelevant, cookie-cutter, bore-you-to-tears marketing campaigns?  The answer probably isn’t as simple as I’d like it to be, but my sense is that part of the problem is that 21st century marketing challenges can seem overwhelming and the status quo is more comfortable.

Engage With Social Media

It’s important to remember that today’s students are digital natives.  They communicate, learn, think, act, and research differently than earlier generations because they’ve grown up with the internet in their back pockets.  Admissions officers today know that social media is a huge part of recruitment and that it should never be an afterthought.  It’s no longer a question of whether or not schools should have a presence on popular sites, but rather what is done with that presence that matters.  I advise my clients to keep their websites up-to-date and stay active where these kids live on tools such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.

The problem I see often occurs when admissions officers insist on being part of the social conversation and in essence, take on the role of a watchdog.  On one hand, I understand that they are apprehensive about giving students too much freedom for fear of negative or controversial chatter about the school, but I also feel that these conversations are going to take place with or without them.  I think it’s a better idea to use student ambassadors instead of faculty so that prospects aren’t intimidated or lose trust due to one way conversations about the institution.  In my opinion, this only increases the chances that the students won’t be engaged by what they are reading unless it’s from their trusted fellow students.

There’s no doubt that some colleges and universities are facing enormous enrollment challenges today due in part for reasons like a sluggish economy, declining demographics, parents questioning the value of a traditional college degree, among many others.  For these reasons, they need to make wiser marketing decisions and embrace all of the powerful social media tools available to them in order to communicate with prospective students the way they want to be spoken to ─ on their terms with personalization, relevancy and coolness!

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