10 Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Higher Education Enrollment Success

Social media has become the buzz-phrase of the marketing world; the must-have solution to all marketing challenges. It’s cheap, fast and has reached near saturation in some age groups.

But leveraging social media marketing – the art and science of getting your message out using this online ecosystem – isn’t as easy as setting up a Facebook page. The ability to shape opinions of prospective students, current students, and alumni in this online world is largely determined by the social authority that your message carries. In other words, successful social media marketing campaigns depend on the trust the market places inyour messenger.

This should come as no surprise. It’s the same trust process we, as admissions professionals, use when we visit high schools, engage college counselors and have alumni-sponsored events in distant cities. The differences are simply the delivery channel and the types of trusted sources. For social media, the delivery channel is web-based (via a social media site) and the trusted sources tend to be students and peers, rather than adult authority figures.

In this playbook we outline how colleges can leverage their existing resources to build an effective social media marketing strategy. We will also give some guidance on “do’s” and “don’ts” for insuring that your message is heard, while also enhancing your brand identity.

Why should you care?

So why should college admissions officers care about all of this social media business? Because your prospects care – a lot!

According to a recent EDUCAUSE study[1], social media use has reached near saturation levels, with 95 percent of 18 to 19-year-old college students using social media sites regularly. Facebook still leads the way with 80 percent of 18-24 year-olds checking in several times a day. Social media touches virtually every facet of these students’ lives. It has become the primary way that today’s students stay in touch with each other and the world. It is where their attention is focused and where they first look for information, including details about colleges.

These trends have a direct impact on college admissions because high school students are increasingly turning to social media, rather than a college website, as they begin looking for a school. Today’s college searches begin on sites such as collegeprowler.com or Facebook (with enhancements such as Campus Buddy). Mash-up sites with titles like “Ten ways to use social media to pick a college”[2] are the new equivalent of the college section at the local bookstore.

In a recent study by Noel Levitz[3], 74 percent of college-bound high school seniors said they think colleges should have a presence on social media sites. Eighty-one percent of these students admitted that they rely on official and unofficial online content about colleges during their search process.

Yet, despite this obvious shift to social media content, college marketers have failed to keep up. The study also showed that only 26 percent of private four-year institutions were intentionally using social media resources in their marketing efforts.