How higher ed. institutions can keep pace with Gen Z digital natives on emerging platforms. How higher ed. institutions can keep pace with Gen Z digital natives on emerging platforms.

Just when you thought you mastered the art of the Instagram story for your higher ed. institution, TikTok pop-and-locked its way into your students’ hearts with expertly choreographed, how-did-they-do-that wizardry.

As a marketer in higher education, keeping up with the latest social media trends (and getting other stakeholders on board with your plans) seems like a losing (dance) battle. You’re tempted to wave a white flag in defeat and stay comfortably on Facebook. 

But in the highly competitive landscape of higher ed. recruitment, you know reaching Gen Z through their preferred digital channels is non-negotiable. In the same vein, you know that your current students expect to see their institution active on their favorite channels, too. The thing is, the preferred channels aren’t what they used to be. Instead, these platforms are the new TV, newspaper, and radio all rolled into one.

If your outlook on connecting with Gen Zers through the lens of their preferred platforms seems bleak, don’t reach for the white flag just yet. With a few insights and ideas, meeting Gen Z where they are, and bringing your stakeholders with you, is entirely possible. And maybe even a little fun.

Go ahead, lean in.

Move Over Millennials: Gen Z Rules the Social Media Stratosphere Now.

Today’s students use platforms like TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat for more than posting filtered selfies or watching influencers give makeup tutorials. 

They use social media for everything.

Gen Z has flipped how these platforms are used, expecting them to entertain, connect, and teach them all at the same time. Where millennials historically went to certain platforms for specific use cases, Gen Z goes to them for several. For instance, Gen Z will click on YouTube to catch up on a weekly vlog, get a makeup tutorial and find content to augment their high school biology lessons for help on their homework. 

So, not only are they using these channels to be entertained or connect with friends, like millennials. They’re hopping on these platforms to help them form opinions and learn about everything, too. This means Gen Z’s level of engagement with these digital platforms and their tie to them is inextricable. And it isn’t going anywhere. 

For higher ed. institutions, you know what you have to do to connect with Gen Z

To Reach Students, Higher Ed. Institutions Need to Speak Their (Social Media) Language.

As a marketer, you know that creating content that resonates with your audience is essential to gain any traction. Even in the social media jungle, this remains, because no two platforms speak the same language.

Therefore, contextually relevant content is the only content that matters. For instance, you can’t replicate a Facebook post for Snapchat. Not only will the format not translate, but you’ll also just look silly. You have to know how each platform speaks. 

The students who are on these platforms 24/7 expect to see cohesive content when they open their app, and they can sniff out anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing (and subsequently not take them seriously.)

To stay ahead of the game, your team has to produce content with a unique twist for each platform, speaking the languages of TikTok, Twitch, and Snapchat to be relevant, trusted, and attractive.

If you want to reach your audience in convincing ways, you need to have a deep understanding of the kind of content your students expect to consume when they head to these channels — and the creativity to produce material that will hit the mark.

When you get stumped strategizing, an agency partner can be a great resource. Not only are they likely to have Gen Z staff who use these platforms off the clock, but they also have the flexibility to hire for specific positions that fill a niche. A creative agency’s job is to constantly learn the languages of today’s trendiest digital platforms so you don’t have to.

Meeting Gen Z in the Media Middle: 4 Ways to Demonstrate Your Digital Aptitude to Prospective Students.

Unlike any generation before, members of Gen Z were born knowing how to navigate an iPhone (7 or above, to be exact). To them, it’s only natural to get their news, form opinions, be entertained, and do research all from their favorite social and digital media channels. 

Gen Z is the epitome of a digital-first generation, which makes them expectant of all things digital-savvy displayed in their learning environments as well. 

Remember, your digital outreach isn’t only for your current students. Your Snapchat stories, YouTube series, and Twitch live streams should be aimed at your prospective students, too. But beyond your social media outreach, proving to your prospects that you’re tech-savvy in all areas matters a great deal. And they’re paying attention. 

Here are a few abilities prospective students are looking at to gauge your institution’s level of innovation and digital know-how. 

  • Make virtual classrooms a permanent option to increase accessibility. The pandemic flipped everything upside down, including how students expect to be taught. As a result, students of all abilities are looking for increased accessibility options. What do you have to offer in terms of a virtual learning environment? How can you show prospective students what your institution is doing in a way that intrigues them?

  • Provide recording of lectures for students to playback at a later time. What did we do without recording devices? To be able to play, pause, and rewind a professor’s lecture to get the right information shouldn’t be a luxury in today’s digital world. How can you creatively communicate about the digital tools your faculty uses to help students succeed?

  • Encourage established faculty to have social media accounts that reflect authentic campus experiences. Gone are the days of the university having one voice to speak for the brand. Professors can launch social media accounts that turn them into campuswide celebrities (looking at you, Prof Galloway), touching on the experience at your institution and sparking conversation. Your professors and other highly visible staff are simultaneously a recruiting arm and conduit to the university. To not have established faculty and staff share their musings, research, and highlights on social media raises a big question mark in the minds of your prospective students who just want a candid glimpse of your campus culture in action.

  • Show that faculty used to traditional engagement methods are supported in this environment and are encouraged to make connections with students in a digital space. Look, not every tenured professor knows how to turn around and post their class notes to your institution’s learning platform, but they’re trying. In the past year, they haven’t had a choice. Your prospective students recognize that a lot has changed in the last year with the pandemic, but you have to highlight that you recognize the rules have changed too. Be transparent in the changes you’ve made, and what you expect of your professors in regards to their digital efforts. 

Getting Started on Your Higher Ed. Institution’s Strategy to Better Connect With Gen Z.

Whether you need to get the word out about a workshop series or highlight an alumnus’ recent award-winning magazine, translating your news to reach students in different digital formats takes strategy and social media savvy. If you know how to navigate the ins and outs of your various platforms, you’re better able to map out your content to tell your story in the most effective way. 

But no thanks to the rapid pace of change in today’s technologies, strategizing isn’t so easy (see: mastering Instagram and being bombarded by TikTok for proof.) To keep up, higher ed. institutions need to implement structural changes to make room for champions whose job it is to know what’s going on — and tackle creating the content.

In the end, sustainability in your higher ed. institution’s marketing and communications department (and within interdepartmental areas) can only be achieved if you’re committed to fostering a culture of accountability around the never-ending discovery of new technologies, channels, and content. This can look like hiring for certain social media positions or bringing in current students to contribute their content to your institution’s accounts. 

But if your institution isn’t ready to hire for positions that meet the demands of Gen Z’s ever-changing digital media consumption habits, drop us a DM… er, an email. We’ve helped higher education institutions develop strategies for the most-used social media platforms, and develop communication plans that win over students and legacy stakeholders alike. 

Connecting with Gen Z is only a CitiRokk away. (Ask a 15-year-old.)

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