At the beginning of the year, TargetX partnered with mStoner to survey and compile research on the many ways teens today use the internet in their college searches. We asked about everything from which social channels they use, how and when they use them, to how they feel about college websites and digital ads. We came away with a lot of information that is more important than ever, as colleges and universities begin to put together recruitment plans for an uncertain future. 

Here are 8 tips for engaging and interacting with students online, from students themselves. 

1. They Like Social Media — to an Extent

Many of the students we surveyed use social media in their day-to-day lives, in researching colleges, and in deciding where to go. But they’re picky: The only channels used at least once a day by a majority of respondents are Instagram (59%), YouTube (55%), and SnapChat (51%). Interestingly, it’s a split between those who use Facebook (though not necessarily daily), and those who responded as “never” using the platform. 

2. …But it’s Not Hugely Influential On Their Enrollment Decisions

When asked if they did — or would — use social media as a resource when deciding where to enroll, respondents were about evenly divided between “yes” (36%), “no” (32%), and “I’m not sure” (33%). It’s important to note that they do pay attention to posts from currently enrolled students, though not on college-sponsored channels. 

When planning content for prospective students, it may be worthwhile to partner with currently enrolled students, so that the content is more appealing to these audiences, and comes from a place of lived experience rather than just a marketing piece.

3. There are Signs of Disenchantment With Social Media

Over the last year or so, there’s been some reporting surrounding the general public’s growing disenchantment with social media. Our research indicates that at least some teens are electing to stay away from social media altogether. A full third (33%) of our respondents said that they didn’t use social media at all to research colleges and universities, and numerous open-ended comments disparaged social media. 

This means that more than ever, the content on your website matters to your incoming classes, and should be refreshed, audited, and updated regularly. As many schools focus more and more on email and social media, it’s critical that your website isn’t being left behind, but leading the charge. 

4. They’re Really Interested in Video

The second most popular social channel among our respondents is YouTube. 55% of students surveyed use it at least once a day. Videos posted there have a significant influence on where they enroll: 27% said college videos on YouTube were a major influence, and another 45% reported that they had some influence. 

However, this interest in video seems to be confined to videos on YouTube and other social channels, with little interest in live streams. Investing in quality videos that give students an opportunity to see what your campus has to offer is a worthwhile investment, and one that can be used again and again, with clear insight into how much traction it’s getting. 

5. FTF is Still Important

Yes, teens use social media and websites to learn about colleges and universities. But when it comes to enrollment, conversations with friends who attend the college was the most important influence. Face to face interactions were a major influence for 41% of our respondents. This echoes findings from “Mythbusting Enrollment Marketing,” a study mStoner conducted with NRCCUA Some sort of personal contact from a college — in person or by phone — is particularly welcome once a student has been accepted and is deciding where to go. 

6. Don’t Expect Students to Interact on Your Social Channels

While teens are using social channels as part of their college search, they aren’t interacting with the pages they visit. 63% of our respondents liked or followed a college- or university-sponsored page or profile on Instagram and 34% on YouTube. However, they’re not inclined to interact with the content there. 

These numbers serve as an important reminder that looking only at vanity metrics such as likes and comments is not the only way to measure the effectiveness of your posts. Instead, look at metrics such as the number of users coming to your website from your social media channels. This will show what posts have an impact on your prospective students, inspiring them to seek out more information on their own. 

7. Websites are Vital for Teens Researching and Deciding on Colleges

54% of students surveyed said that a college’s website was important in their decision about whether to apply to that college. In contrast, just 16% said that a college’s social media presence was very or extremely important. An institution’s website remains the most important source of information throughout the process of research, application, and decision making. These numbers aren’t surprising, especially considering the social media disenchantment mentioned above. The key is to create a cohesive experience, allowing students to seek the information they need at their convenience.

8. Online Ads Don’t Turn Teens Off

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents have noticed college or university ads on their computer or mobile device. And of those who have, 56% have clicked on at least one.

A majority of respondents said they remembered seeing an ad for a college or university online or on social media after they visited the institution’s website, and only 13% reported a negative response.

Ready to learn more? 

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