By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
A couple of months ago in a P.S. at the bottom of an article I wrote I shared four recruiting strategies I believe we’ll see more of in college admissions over the next few years. I got a lot of feedback and questions from readers about those comments, so today I’m going to expand on one of those things…the one that produced the most questions and the one that I believe has the potential to deliver the biggest ROI.
Just about every college in the country is using social media in 2019. Unfortunately I would argue that very few are using it as an effective tool for student recruitment. Instead, most schools are using the different platforms to post the same content that’s also on their website and/or in their viewbook. And most schools are also re-posting the exact same stuff onto each platform instead of being native.
That approach isn’t helpful for prospective students, nor is it how they think colleges should use social media during the student recruitment process. I can say that because for the past year and a half we’ve been asking them in different surveys we’ve conducted.
The overwhelming majority of students all say the same thing – Use social media to show prospective students all the things that happen on campus throughout the year (i.e. campus life and events). Show what it’s like to live and be a student on your campus, but show it from the student perspective, and keep it real and authentic versus being forced and scripted. That, in their minds, would be interesting, helpful, and something they would consistently check out.
So, how do you all that, especially if you don’t have a big budget or a dedicated social media person? Well, if you’ve had me on campus to lead a workshop in the past 18 months, or you follow me on Twitter, or you’ve heard me speak at a conference, then you know that I believe the answer is student vlogging. I believe that every college will eventually do that at some level as part of their student recruitment digital strategy…a handful of colleges already are.
Let me start by answering the why. Having your current students vlog is something you should consider because:
- Vlogging has experienced a huge surge in popularity over the last few years with some vloggers accumulating more than 20 million subscribers. Many vloggers have a direct and loyal audience.
- 91.8% of students we surveyed in the past year said that if a college had some of their current students do a VLOG on social media in which they showed “day in the life” stuff, high school students would potentially find that interesting/helpful as part of their college search.
- It will offer the student lens that your admissions staff can’t truly provide. Like it or not, hearing something from a peer who’s living through it resonates more.
- Video is more impactful than pictures or written word. All three are valuable, but the statistics are pretty clear about why video works best, especially from a marketing and influencer standpoint. Videos influence decision-making.
- You increase the chance for an emotional connection when a student authentically tells their story. As I’ve told you before, stories persuade people and they can also help you achieve emotional engagement, which is a critical component in any decision-making process.
- Imagine you’re at a college fair or high school visit and instead of grabbing the same marketing materials and asking the same intro questions, you could have students pull out their phones and see what a real “day in the life” looks like on your campus.
- It will help to differentiate your school. A lot of your admitted but undecided students have narrowed their list down to a few schools. Outside of cost, if the profile of each school still being considered is similar (i.e. small, private, Liberal Arts colleges in suburban areas) students struggle to truly differentiate why your school is better than the rest. Showing them a current student who was in the same position as they’re in now and having that student talk about how/why they decided on your school and why their student experience is so amazing can help to differentiate.
- They’re already doing it on their own. A large majority of colleges already have one or more of their current students vlogging right now. Whether they’re doing it for fun or to build up their own personal brand, the point is they’re doing it right now.
- The amount of people (different ages, countries, etc) you can potentially reach with a single video is massive, not to mention the shareability factor. We’ve all seen viral content before.
I could add more things, but it’s already a pretty compelling list. I do however want to expand on that last bullet point a little, because it ties in with answering the where.
According to the latest Pew Research Center data, YouTube has become the most popular online platform among teens (13-17 years old) with 85% of them using it. YouTube is also now used by nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults and 94% of 18- to 24-year-olds.
With more than 1.8 billion users every month, YouTube is the perfect home for your student vlogs to live. And if you want even more data that supports this, my friend Dr. Liz Gross over at Campus Sonar tweeted recently that 84% will follow current students on YouTube for insight into student life at colleges they’re considering.
Knowing all of this, why is it then that more colleges aren’t finding and utilizing student vloggers as a student recruitment tool? When I ask that question to both admissions and marketing/communications leaders, I’m typically told two things. First, they’re worried it won’t “be on brand,” and secondly, they believe that coming up with content will be extremely challenging and/or time consuming.
I’m not here to debate either one of those today. I believe your people are your brand. I also believe it’s not about creating content in this case, it’s about your students simply documenting their day, their experiences, and their wins and struggles in an authentic way. College students across the country have been vlogging on their own for the past few years. And that authenticity is winning in a big way! Check out this move-in vlog by a Harvard University freshman student. It got more than 1.8 million views in the first month. (*Update – As of August, 2020 this vlog episode has surpassed 6.2 million views and over 5,000 comments)
To be clear, this is not a small project that won’t be time consuming…it will be. You’ll need to make sure that the appropriate people are on board that need to be, and you’ll want to clearly outline the goals of this project, individual responsibilities, etc.
Having said that, you don’t have to have a large budget and a dedicated social media person to execute this. Sure, both of those would definitely be helpful, but for a lot of you reading this, that’s not an option. Still, you can move forward without either.
When you’re ready to start a conversation on your campus about possible next steps, here are some initial things I want you to think about and discuss:
- Identify what kinds of students you would want to vlog. Think about the different groups of students that you target in a given cycle.
- Find those students. Ask around campus if you need to, or go to social media and search to see who’s active on YouTube, Instagram, or Snapchat. Identify those influencers or micro influencers on your campus.
- Decide whether you or not you will pay your students for their time. There are many who will do it for free because it allows them to create and/or grow their personal brand.
- Whether you have one, two, or five students vlogging, have them vlog multiple times throughout the entire school year versus just one time. Continuing to have them tell their story will allow for emotional connections to occur.
- Decide where the vlogs will live, and have a clear understanding of how that platform works and how your target audience uses it. As I said earlier, my recommendation would be YouTube as a part of your school’s official page.
- Clearly define the goal of the vlog for your students (i.e. to show potential students what it’s like to be a student at your school and to highlight some of the things and people that make your school special and unique), along with the ground rules (i.e. be respectful, no foul language, negative imagery, etc). Let me reiterate one more time that it’s not about trying to create content, but instead having current students just document their day – the good, the bad, the challenges, etc.
- Besides having your vloggers film on their cell phones, decide whether you will have an additional videographer join them at times. That person could also help capture b-roll and other event footage both on and off campus.
- Find a current student (an aspiring videographer who might be excited to have this be part of their portfolio) or a current staff member to handle video production. And try to keep the editing to a minimum.
- Decide how often you will post the vlogs. A lot of that will depend on how many vloggers you have, their schedules, and how skilled the person doing video production is.
- Decide how you will spread the word that the vlogs exist. This could include ad hoc communications, incorporating it as part of your campus visit info session, having the admissions counselors bring attention to it during fairs and school visits, getting assistance from high school counselors, and having current students share it on their social media pages.
- Decide how you will measure the vlogs and have a plan in place to increase the volume of the vlog should one or more of your student vloggers quickly gain popularity.
If you’re looking for some of the best examples of student vlogging, as well as what the progression might look like, check out what Colorado State is doing by clicking here, what Temple University is doing by clicking here, and what West Virginia University is doing by clicking here.
There’s a lot more I could have elaborated on, but I didn’t want this to turn into a 10 to 12 minute article. For example, I didn’t even mention the possibility of a parent or alumni vlog.
Hopefully I got you excited about the possibilities of student vlogging, and it will lead to more discussion or bring back a previous discussion in your office. There’s no doubt in my mind that the ROI of doing this could be enormous for your school right now.
If you’ve got questions about this I hope you’ll reach out to me. I’m happy to have a more in-depth conversation with you.