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Gen Z will dominate higher education’s first-year student populations for the foreseeable future which will force a shift in marketing and recruitment strategy to align with generational preferences. What changes should higher ed be making to keep up with marcomm trends?
User-generated content AKA student-generated content in our case.
The data is clear on what Gen Z wants, or perhaps demands. They require authenticity and practicality and rely on their peers’ opinions more than admission or school counselors when it comes to selecting a college (NACAC).
Research outside of higher ed supports these findings. According to a global consumer survey from Bazaarvoice, 73% of 18-34-year-old respondents prefer when brands use user-generated content in their social media channels (CSA).
User-generated content isn’t new, but institutions still miss opportunities to pivot their content strategies toward authentic, student voices. I know “authentic” may be the most overused word in marketing, ever, but hear me out. Students don’t want another polished, scripted, talking head video. From the words of Dan Mote, please put down the cliche lab coats, beakers, and filtered beauty shots of campus (How to Market a University).
Students want to see themselves in the content institutions are producing, and they want to see other students that look like them, share the same values and dreams, and represent the real student experience.
How do you either start or increase student-generated content? Start with inspiration from these great examples across social channels:
Twitter and the University of Delaware
As I scrolled through university Twitter accounts, I came across the University of Delaware. Compared to other Higher Ed accounts, @UDelaware frequently shares and posts content created by their students. I like how they use multiple student-generated content sources to change up their feed.
Retweet from a student’s own Twitter account
Can you name a more beautiful sight at 7am? pic.twitter.com/JM9QIyNXbo
— BlueHenLindsey (@BlueHenLindsey) January 12, 2021
Content from Instagram
— Univ. of Delaware (@UDelaware) February 4, 2021
— Univ. of Delaware (@UDelaware) November 9, 2020
First week of classes ✅
📸 IG: shannajaninne pic.twitter.com/xztpvh7MyX
— Univ. of Delaware (@UDelaware) September 6, 2020
Post of a candid photo
Saturday study break with the pod 💙💛 pic.twitter.com/J1efIUxOgj
— Univ. of Delaware (@UDelaware) January 30, 2021
— Chelsea Chatterton (@BlueHenChels) October 26, 2020
— Gina Cantatore (@BlueHenGina) October 20, 2020
TikTok and the University of Georgia
Ah, yes, TikTok. TikTok in higher ed seems like a love-hate relationship. Some institutions are embracing while others are watching with a wary eye, but we can’t deny the data.
So, if you’re #TeamTikTok, student-generated content is perfect for the platform and the University of Georgia proves that with their student videos. I love how the University of Georia use student-generated content to discuss and show importnt public health needs. Check it out on their TikTok account, and in this example below.
@universityofgaReply to @michaelcbanks // because South Campus needs love too ##UGA ##college ##tiktokuniversity ##GoDawgs ##campus♬ Campus – Vampire Weekend
University of Georgia
Pinterest and Duke University
Pinterest isn’t just for decor inspiration, in fact, there are many popular boards you probably didn’t know existed, including college-related ones you could definitely do at your own institution.
When I came across Duke University’s board, I was pleasantly surprised at how much student-generated content was used.
Facebook and McGill University
Higher Ed also has a love-hate relationship with Facebook but this channel is still a great way to reach Gen Z. It’s also a top channel to reach alumni and donors. That’s why McGill University’s day-in-the-life of a student video caught my eye. This is a great way to show multiple audiences McGill Univeristy. Check it out!
Instagram and Babson College
Instagram is the leading social platform for Gen Z in terms of daily usage so it’s an obvious choice for higher ed institutions to embrace. Instagram also has multiple ways to post content including stories, a favorite among higher ed to showase student bpices. I love how Babson College handed over their Instagram stories to current students so they could answer questions and provide insights to prospective students.