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3 Student Engagement Channels to Utilize In Higher Ed Marketing

Administrative professionals in the higher ed field have begun, out of necessity, to view and push the idea of their school as a brand. Lately, schools have discovered cost effective, user-friendly branding tools that are increasing student engagement.

Note: This article was originally published on the Pepperland Marketing Blog, and has been republished here with permission.

Higher ed institutions are getting noticed by prospective students online, nurturing their relationships with current students, and easily connecting with alumni for honest feedback. Campaigns designed to increase engagement, programs that leverage students as loyal promoters of their universities, and alumni surveys that truly engage are great methods to add to your school’s bag of tricks.

Read on to learn how these mutually-beneficial inbound marketing tactics are currently elevating university brands in direct, results driven ways. Here are three student engagement channels to utilize in your higher ed inbound marketing efforts:

Social Media

When it comes to the college experience, from the attraction stage to the decision to enroll, students are hoping to connect with your school for information and to see what life is really like on campus.

Ninety percent of people aged 18–29 use social media, and Snapchat is the most-used social media platform by people aged 12–24. With this in mind, colleges and universities have begun to create social media campaigns that are interactive, quantifiable, fun, and attractive to prospective and current students.

For example, in 2016 Montclair University in New Jersey created a scavenger hunt-like checklist for students to complete for an invitation to watch the homecoming football game from a VIP viewing area.

Montclair challenged students on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram to snap and share a series of photos. Each item on the checklist kept students engaged, working toward a goal and showing off their school on social media.

Highly visual platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are most popular for photo-sharing, and on the latter, photos actually receive higher engagement than videos.

But let’s not downplay the power of video on social media. Check out this example from the University of Southern California. After seeing so many questions on Twitter about dorms on campus, USC created a popular YouTube video series called “USC Cribs.” This series leveraged the involvement of their current students to communicate an experience to prospective students.

Brand Ambassador Programs

Student ambassador programs help to build up college and university brands, establish trust with a skeptical student population, and provide minute-by-minute accounts of the happenings on campus.

Branding in any case is used to amplify the exceptional qualities and benefits of a product. Student brand ambassador programs work the same way, however, they tend to boast added benefits. They are often completely volunteer-based and have the unique ability to show the behind the scenes gems of the university in addition to all the loud-and-proud events traditionally seen on the university website and formally posted on the school’s official Facebook page.

Angi Roberts, Print and Digital Communications Manager for undergraduate student recruitment and admission at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, said she realized there was a marketing issue when her department couldn’t find authentic content, or the time to create it.

“We’d created a social media monster; the time required to manage our accounts—let alone create content—was beyond our capacity.”—Angi Roberts

They were wasting resources managing the school social media accounts which featured lackluster messaging and impersonal administrative posts. The team was missing campus events because they were in meetings, creating analytics reports and trying to develop overall strategy.

According to this article on, Angi said she knew U of G’s prospective students were seeking insight into the real life of current students on campus. Shortly after having this epiphany, she created the social media ambassador program which mirrored the general student ambassador program she had been running for years.

Angi Roberts wrote on Higher Ed Experts that the top three reasons a college or university needs student-operated social media brand ambassador programs are as follows:

  • The marketing/communications department doesn’t have time to seek out all the great things that are happening on campus every day.
  • They simply don’t have access to real things that prospective students want to see. What’s the dining hall food like? The cheerleaders’ view at the homecoming pep rally? The impromptu snowball fight on the quad?
  • The department, as administrative professionals, simply cannot authentically connect with the incoming student population. (Who better to market to 18–22 year-olds than their peers?)

Thanks to their new program, the Print and Digital Communications department at U of G reports seeing a 45 percent increase in engagement on Twitter during the first semester, and a 560 percent increase in Instagram likes.

According to Roberts, the school was able to turn these “vanity metrics” into real numbers by using social media engagement to link back to school webpages where the department could assess traffic and session times. They found that 40 percent of the traffic to the site was being driven by social media links.

Alumni Surveys

Tried-and-true methods like the alumni survey are not dead. The measuring of alumni experience to determine the level of satisfaction certainly helps a higher ed institution understand what to emphasize and where improvements can be made—especially on the marketing side of things.

From campus life and college resources, to academia, and extracurriculars, your school can use the alumni survey to obtain an all-encompassing impression from those who have been there and done that. Whether you already have one, or you are creating your alumni survey for the first time, here are some tips to use to help engage alumni and get accurate results from your survey.

Break It Up

Your alumni probably don’t have time for a 15–20 minute general survey. Instead of slaving away creating a holistic set of questions, break up the survey into sections and distribute them periodically to your alumni. Short surveys on specific topics will increase engagement and render more targeted data.

Use Data You Already Have

General information like graduation year, program of study, and geographic region are all examples of data your institution should already have. Not only do you not want to redundantly ask questions, but you want the survey to be as personal as possible. This can’t happen if the alumni perceives that your school has not considered his/ her most basic demographics before reaching out.

Don’t Neglect Recent Grads

Older alumni are often incredibly loyal and maybe even financially beneficial to your college or university. But, keep in mind that you are continually fostering a new generation of alumni.

Engaging young alumni can be challenging—data collected by the 2015 Voluntary Alumni Engagement in Support of Education survey revealed that “85 percent of alumni professionals believe their organization does a poor job, or needs to do more to attract and engage young alumni.”

Unsurprisingly, 75 percent of alumni professionals believe their school should update and improve the technology solutions/benefits they offer their alumni. Additional data indicates that this generation of post-grads want to use social media and web chat to communicate with their alma mater—and few schools feel equipped to provide this.

This reinforces that technology and young alumni engagement absolutely go hand in hand.

Summing it Up

When social media marketing for higher ed and student brand ambassador programs meet alumni surveying, it certainly merges the old with the new. Likewise, students and alumni, young and old, can be appealed to with the use of both modern technology and common sense questionnaires that are targeted, convenient and engaging.

Use these evidence-based tips to elevate the brand of your higher ed institution and shape your school to be the lifelong partner that it can and should be.