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Instagram Leads for Student Recruitment Outreach

Students' use of social media networks over time

Students' use of social media networks over time. Source: "Recruiting the Digital Native," from EAB Enrollment Services

Students are increasingly turning to social media to learn more about colleges and universities. And Instagram specifically is driving that growth. Between 2017 and 2019 the use of Instagram among college-going students rose by 10 percentage points, with 82.5 percent of students in a recent survey now saying they use the platform. Interactions included liking posts, following various college accounts and watching videos. And 54 percent reported that during their college searching, they'd seen online ads on Instagram for a school. Over the same period, use of Facebook had declined by 17 percentage points, now reaching half of all students.

These results surfaced in a survey that EAB Enrollment Services did among 9,476 college-bound high school students about their communication preferences and behaviors. EAB is an education advisory that works with both K-12 and higher education institutions on student support initiatives.

Among 75 percent of respondents, the survey found, the more interested a student is in a given college or university, the more likely he or she is to interact with it through social media. Three in 10 students said they use social media sites for schools to link through to the institution's website, and more than a quarter (26 percent) reported that they discovered a school they hadn't known about through social media.

Website-based chat isn't a preference among students; but for those who have tried it, half found the chat features "very" or "extremely" useful.

E-mail is still the preferred channel among respondents for receiving information from colleges, and e-mail is rated as the second-most helpful channel for getting information about prospective schools, right behind college websites. As EAB suggested, a good approach to e-mail is to mix in short messages with longer ones throughout a campaign; in testing, that approach boosted response rate by 10 percent.

Consistent with the results of a similar survey conducted by EAB in 2017, first-generation students were much more likely to discover colleges on social media than their counterparts — 38 percent compared to 23.5 percent. The same was true for "underrepresented" students, those from lower-income households and from families of color — 33 percent among African-American or Black students and 31 percent among Hispanic/Latinx students, versus 24 percent of White students.

According to the company, this rise in usage correlates with growth in social media use among these groups and among all students — overall.

Regarding content, most students (72 percent) said they were looking for information about majors and minors when they visited schools' websites. That suggested an opportunity, the survey report noted, for schools to use "major-focused website content as a gateway for other affinity-building content that bonds the student to the school." However, the report added, between the junior year and the point of application, more than half of high school students change their majors of interest. So those major-specific pages should be sure to link to "other engaging content" as well, advised EAB.

The report ended with three broad recommendations and links to additional information on each topic:

  • Use the right channels "at the right time." While websites and e-mail were of big importance, so were other avenues of communication.
  • The use of social media shouldn't be ignored. Use it, EAB advised, to help brand the institution and deliver organic content.
  • Make sure the website offers "robust content on majors" and sticks to "SEO best practices."

The full report, "Recruiting the Digital Native," is available with registration on the EAB website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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